Google Docs Outage: Offline Editing Needed, Now

An outage on Wednesday reminds me that Google Docs never should have been launched without full offline storage and editing. Why doesn't Google make this a priority?
Google's cloud-based services may be energy efficient but on Wednesday the company delivered too much energy savings: Google Docs Lists--the filelist component of Google Docs--went offline about 2:18 p.m. PT. As indicated on the Google Apps Status Dashboard, Google Documents and Google Drawings failed shortly thereafter.

So much for the cloud computing. I've been working in Google Docs since January 2010 and the service is almost always available. But the frustration of a cloud service failure is disproportionately higher than it is with local software crashes.

I've experienced plenty of Microsoft Word crashes over the years and usually recovery has been fairly rapid. But with cloud services, all you can do is wait for an update. You feel powerless, because frankly you are powerless. And that's a problem, one that goes beyond the relative merits of a product to the emotional connection we have with our tools.

Google doesn't seem to appreciate this. The company recently introduced limited offline functionality, so you can store a limited number of Gmail messages, Docs files, and Calendar entries locally and access them when there's no network connection. Offline editing has yet to be implemented.

Google group product manager Rajen Sheth suggested offline functionality was more of an edge use-case than a critical function.

If you ask me, Google Docs never should have been launched without full offline storage and editing. Some Google engineers clearly recognize the importance of offline functionality: The company made a big deal over Google Gears several years ago because it was a big deal.

Yet Google hasn't made reinventing Gears in HTML5 a priority, perhaps because it's in the business of online ad serving or because it has been focused on Google+.

If it had, its Chromebooks might be more useful. For months I've wanted to use one while covering an industry conference of one sort or another. But I dare not, for fear that poor network connectivity might prevent me from taking notes. And probably half of the conferences I attend, even big events sponsored by major companies, have a network issue at some point.

Even a brief network slowdown is enough to ruin writing in Google Docs. I've had to switch from Google Docs to trusty old Word or Notepad probably four or five times in the past two years during conference keynotes, due to network issues.

At 2:40 p.m. PT, Google posted another update: "We're aware of a problem with Google Docs List affecting a majority of users. The affected users are unable to access Google Docs List. We will provide an update by September 7, 2011 3:40:00 p.m. UTC-7 detailing when we expect to resolve the problem. Please note that this resolution time is an estimate and may change."

And at 3:18 p.m. PT, the cloud returned.

"The problem with Google Docs List should be resolved," Google said on its Apps Dashboard. "We apologize for the inconvenience and thank you for your patience and continued support."

I appreciate the apology but I'd rather have offline editing support in Docs. This story brought to you by TextEdit.

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