Starting now, Google is rolling out a new commenting system to all Google Docs users except those Google Apps customers who opt-out through the new system we told you about yesterday. The company expects to have the new feature fully deployed by the end of the day.
Google is attempting to address a common document collaboration problem: how to manage comments and conversations around a document. 'Document comments aren't really conducive to a conversation,' says Google Docs Group Product Manager Scott Johnston. 'So we end up having conversations in e-mail instead.' But when you use e-mail, conversations end up separate from the document. And sometimes those conversations are as important as the document itself.
So how is Google trying to solve this problem?
The new comments system works like a conversation thread on a Facebook, complete with @replies. When someone is tagged in a conversation, they will receive an e-mail notification. The user can then either click-through to the document, or simply respond to the e-mail. All the conversation is captured and stored in Google Docs with the document. If the notifications become too much, users can mute notifications.
There is no activity stream view of comments on documents, but Johnston said that something like that would make sense.
Once a conversation is complete, it can be marked as 'resolved' so as not to clutter up a document with comments. Archived comments can still be accessed for review or, if necessary, re-opened.
This sounds like a much better way of dealing with document collaboration, and I expect this is the direction document collaboration is heading. Box, for example, is already doing something similar with its discussion tools.