August 14, 2009
The Real Google Documents
Here’s an idea for a great Google web application - an online archive where you can tag, sort, and store all of your used-to-be-paper documents, i.e., PDFs - and to share the same documents with other people, or even everybody.
I use many, many applications that perform a similar service with the PDFs on my hard drive; Yep!, Papers, Zotero, Scrivener, Evernote. And I use Dropbox to backup and sync my PDFs between machines. I also use Scribd to read PDFs and share them with the world. But Google could easily offer a service that does everything these applications do and more. They’re already offering a web-reader for PDFs. What they need is something that actually lets you USE them.
Here’s how I imagine this goes. Let’s say someone emails you a PDF to your Gmail account, or appends a PDF to a feed you read in Google Reader. Instead of downloading it onto your computer (or, egads, a public machine), you have the opportunity to load it into Docs. Just like that, it’s in your archive. You can also have Google Desktop scan for and index your PDFs and auto-load them into your archive, too.
Once you import it, you don’t have to do anything else. It’ll either pull the text — or if there’s no text layer, it’ll OCR the document FOR you. You can auto-tag it or add your own tags to help you sort your docs together. It can also pull metadata, like Zotero. And you can create smart collections that link PDFs with text documents, emails, and stuff from Google Books, Scholar, even Maps or Groups.
You can also customize levels of privacy and security. Some files you might want to have public, like on Scribd. Maybe you’ll even create RSS channels so folks can receive your new images/PDFs/ebooks/XML documents automatically. Others you want to share with specified users, like Dropbox or Groups. Still others (tax and employment info, etc.), you’ll encrypt with extra passwords.
In fact, this is awfully close to the vision two enterprising chaps passed off years ago of the Google Grid.
Seriously; Google says it wants to index the world’s information. Well, let me tell you - I’m chock full of information that I don’t know what to do with. Why can’t it start by taking some of mine - and giving me some tools so that I can do things with it as payment?