Spreadsheets Dot Google Dot Wow

My approval to try out the Google Spreadsheets beta came through just recently. I’m mightily impressed. Every time I tried to do something, it worked. Someone thought long and hard about what the smallest subset of spreadsheet functionality required to make a painlessly usable product would be, and then implemented just that subset. Granted, I’m not a demanding user, but still.

Gmail and Google Maps were revelations, not just because they were useful and usable, but also because they showed off some extremely clever Ajax design techniques. Just from a reverse-engineering perspective, they were substantial gifts to the world. Google Spreadhseets, I predict, will be the same.
It does several things in Ajax that I’ve never seen done before, and it does them well. Moreover, the import/export and sharing features strike me as heartening harbingers of a more interconvertible and accessible age to come. Whether or not Google Spreadsheets ever becomes a dominant or major product in its own right, it strikes me as a nice model of how to use technology well.

I may be late to the party in proclaiming this one, but Ajax is the real deal. The elements aren’t new, the combination isn’t even that new, nothing about it is new new new, but it is the right technology at the right time. Conditions are set for a paradigm shift. We are in the process of having our expectations upended by a set of overlapping technologies that are socially situated such that together they create conditions of extraordinary creativity. It’s happening on the back end with collaboration and sharing technologies, and it’s happening on the front end with interface technologies. I can see the frontiers of our collective interface imagination expanding; each new dingus and doodad (Flickr’s rotate-this-photo widget; Del.icio.us’s suggested tags autocompletion highlighting) provides a new way to do things right.

It’s a great time to be alive and online.

It is, however, very slow, at least when I used it. I think this is a general problem with Ajax. Even del.icio.us’s relatively simple auto-complete sometimes grinds. I have a poor understanding of how Ajax works, so I’m not sure if this slowness derives from Ajax itself, inefficient Ajax programming, or my Jurassic-era system.

(JG: A combination, I think, but I find both Google Spreadsheets and del.icio.us autocomplete fast enough for my needs. Page load times bother me more than Ajax responsiveness. What computer are you using? Is it really Jurassic or merely Cretaceous?)

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