Wow Google Spreadsheets

I’ve long been a fan of Google Spreadsheet. Like all disruptive technologies, it doesn’t meet the needs of most customers of the incumbent product, Excel. I’m no banker, but even my relatively neophyte hands keep trying to hit F4 to lock a cell reference or hit F2 to edit a cell. I miss being able to right click to format a cell, the lag time of javascript sometimes annoys the crap out of me, etc… I would not try to convince a Wall Street number jockey to switch from Excel just yet. No way.

BUT, also like all disruptive technologies Google Spreadsheet is quietly getting good at things that Excel can only dream of. Since it launched, Google Spreadsheet has had great sharing and concurrent editing capabilities. A team at school used a shared Google Spreadsheet as a “factory information system” in a simulated factory exercise and it was amazingly powerful.

More recently, Google has added amazing data extraction techniques. Put =GoogleFinance(“Oil”, “Price”) in a cell and you’ll get the price of oil updated in realtime. The following will pull all the headlines off Techmeme: =importxml(“http://www.techmeme.com”, “/html/body/div[2]/div/div[4]/div/div[2]/div/div/div/strong/a”)

There are also functions for trolling arbitrary HTML, for parsing RSS and Atom feeds and for importing CSS feeds.

Where the mind really starts to boggle is when you think about how every cell in every google spreadsheet effectively has an URL. So it should be almost as easy to publish from your sheet as it is to pull in from somebody else’s. Suddenly, there are network effects for spreadsheets, where your work can leverage off the work of others. This ability to ref a cell in someone else’s sheet doesn’t seem to be enabled just yet, but I can’t imagine Google isn’t working on it. I’m sure there are some issues around permissioning and detection of dependency loops.

Throw in a little work on keyboard shortcuts and a little Google Gears magic to make the app more responsive and workable offline and Excel will be starting to feel the heat…

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