I love google docs for quick and easy online word processing. It’s easy to use, fast, and has lots of collaboration features. I can start writing a document, let someone else edit it, and even work on the document with multiple authors at the same time. Plus, the document lives in “the cloud” so I can access it whenever I have a web connection. But there’s only one problem: I can’t easily import googledocs files into InDesign. Until now.
Em Software — a company with a very long history of plug-ins and add-ons — has developed DocsFlow, a plug-in for linking google docs files into InDesign. Yes, I said “linking,” meaning that DocsFlow doesn’t just let you import the documents, it also lets you maintain links to them.
(Note that this isn’t that different than InDesign CS5′s built-in Place from Buzzword feature. The difference is that acrobat.com’s Buzzword service currently pales in comparison to Google’s product. It’s slow, ungainly, and — most galling of all — it doesn’t even support paragraph styles, much less character styles.)
DocsFlow has just entered public beta, which means it’s still a bit clunky and em software really wants feedback — what works, what doesn’t work, what could be made better.
After you install the plug-in, you can choose File > Place from Google Docs. You’ll have to sign in to your google account the first time. Then you can choose a document to place it. If you look in the Links panel, you’ll see the file:
The “modified” icon in the above image indicates that after I placed the story, someone edited the file in googledocs. The change shows up here in a matter of seconds. When you double-click the modified icon, it updates in InDesign. Also, check out the path and other info in the Link Info section of the Links panel above!
In this beta, paragraph styles are currently mapped to special styles the plug-in creates. I’m pushing them to let us map to our own styles, but that’s not in there at the time of this writing. Also, if you have comments in the googledoc, those show up as notes in InDesign (so you can see them in the Story Editor, Notes panel, or by hovering over the note icon):
A Breakthrough in Linked Stories
If DocsFlow just let you link to a googledocs file, it would be enough. But they’ve gone a step farther than Adobe ever has: They allow editing in either InDesign or GoogleDocs (or both!). That means if you make a change to the story in GoogleDocs, and then make a different change in your InDesign document, and then update the link… DocsFlow merges the two edits together! That’s far nicer than InDesign’s old behavior of trashing any and all edits in the InDesign version.
That said, I’m quite sure there will be plenty of bugs in this merging — especially with complicated changes. The whole “diff and merge” technology is exceedingly tricky to do. And yet, here’s the coolest part: DocsFlow keeps track of the changes using (yup!) Track Changes! So you can see what was added or removed in InDesign vs. GoogleDocs by opening the Story Editor:
DocsFlow requires CS5 or later. And at this moment, they only have the Mac version available; check back soon for the Windows version.
What do you think? Can you imagine using this for small workgroup collaboration? For your own workflow?