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Google Docs Takes My Docs Hostage: A Lesson on Dependency

Posted on July 9, 2008 by Tim

I’m a huge fan of web applications.  Moreover, I’m a huge fan of Google’s web applications.  The less dependent we are on applications tethered to computers, operating systems, licenses, and updates, the better.   The more we can share, network and collaborate, the better.  And of course, the free-er, the better.

At the Gordian Project, we’ve been taking interesting steps recently in an effort to capitalize on the value associated with web applications, especially Google’s web applications.  One product that we continue to integrate more and more into our environment, is Google Docs and Spreadsheets.  Google Docs and Spreadsheets is a great web based application for small and medium sized business.

Google Docs is Great, Great, Great

The features and functionality of Google Docs are great: Create new documents, upload existing documents, familiar desktop feel, easy editing, sharing tools, choose who can edit or view files, everyone sees the most updated version of your file, a record of who added and deleted what and when, all you need is a web browser, secure online storage, save a copy to your computer to work on documents offline or distribute them as attachments, invite people to your documents, make changes together at the same time, sharing tools are integrated with your Gmail contact list, and, last but not least, the Coup de grâce… its free!

Great, great, great.  Google Docs is great.

This assumes, of course, that Google docs is up, working and isn’t holding my documents hostage.

If I can’t access Google Docs, then I can’t receive any of those great benefits.  Even worse, if I can’t get to any of the documents I’ve already created in Google Docs, then I can’t get any value out of those documents, until they release the hostages.  Although Google gives me the ability to save my documents offline, saving my documents offline as a defense to Google going down defeats most of the reasons one would use Google Docs in the first place.

Um, Google Docs is Down, No Longer Great 

Yesterday, Google Docs & Spreadsheets appeared to be down.  I needed to work on a document that I created in Google Docs and that my team was collaborating on.  I went to the Google Apps Start Page and clicked Google Docs & Spreadsheets under the Google Apps Links section. 

Here is a screenshot of the error I received:


Google Docs Error


Then, I went to the Google Docs home page, to try my luck there.

Here is a screenshot of the next error I received.


 Google Personalized Start Page Error

Hmmm.  That’s not good.  Now I can’t work on the project I started in Google Docs.  Neither can my team.  We don’t have the document saved on anyone’s system, since, again, that would defeat the purpose of using Google Docs in the first place.  Now that I’m stuck, frustrated, and wondering when Docs will be back up, I’m wishing I hadn’t used Google Docs at all for this project.

Now what? 

I know!  I’ll blog about the negative consequences associated with becoming dependent on free web applications supported by third party vendors.  Oh crap.  I usually write blogs in Google Docs so that I can receive all the benefits enumerated above.  Now I have to use Microsoft Word.  No collaboration!  No sharing!  No web browser access!  No secure online storage!  Well, at least Word isn’t down. 

A Dependency on Web Applications and the Cost Benefit Analysis

So what’s the lesson here?  Earlier, I ranted and raved about web applications by implying that the less dependent we are on non web based applications, the better.  However, today’s circumstances exemplified the other side of the coin.  The more dependent you become on third parties and web based applications, the more opportunity for failure you introduce, such as having documents taken hostage.  The more critical the area is that you outsource, the more painful the consequences are when they arise.  The free-er the product, the less support you’ll receive at all, let alone in an emergency.


  • What if your business utilizes Google Apps for email and Gmail goes down?
  • What if your eCommerce site uses Google Checkout as its payment method and Checkout goes down?
  • What if your Search Engine Marketing ROI is calculated based on data pulled from Google Analytics and Analytics goes down?
  • What if your videos are hosted on YouTube and YouTube goes down?


As sophisticated businesses continue to charge down the path of web applications, Software-as-a-service, cloud computing, outsourcing almost all features and functionality to third party vendors, and free everything (sans AdWords), we must understand the consequences associated our decisions every step of the way.  The Google Docs web application has a plethora of benefits that are absent from Microsoft Word.  For those reasons, I use Docs every chance I get.  However, the costs associated with the worst case scenario, when and if that scenario plays out, are high, very high (think disappearing documents, not just temporarily inaccessible).  As businesses charging forward, and making strategic decisions associated with the web and the future of our companies, a cost benefit analysis is critical every step of the way.  Every decision that introduces a benefit while introducing a dependency must be made with that dichotomy in mind: buy v. build, outsource v. inhouse, web application v. stand alone, SaaS v. hosted.  Google Docs isn't really free, it's costs are just difficult, if not impossible, to quantify.  However, if you understand that this cost exists, you know that the cost benefit analysis equation isn't one sided, which means your headed toward a good decision.

Hey, Google Docs is back up!  Web App Hostage Negotiators = 1, Google Docs = 0…

Now, I’m going to import this blog post to Google Docs, so that I can share it with a colleague, who can collaborate online using only a Web browser, edit it quickly at the same time, and make sure it’s stored securely online!!!  Hmmm, I’m having Déjà vu.

To give you an idea of where I currently am on the cost benefit analysis, I’m not going to back up the original before I import.  Let’s see if I regret my decision…

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