In my last blog  I wrote about some useful cloud based services that could be used by development professionals for their convenience, and also for understanding the broader implications of moving towards the cloud. Today we will look at some innovative uses of cloud services.
A service or a tool is only as good as the use you make of it. Two interesting uses of cloud services are the use of Google Docs to do surveys, and the potential for real time collaboration.
Google Docs as we saw, is typically used to create documents, spreadsheets and Powerpoint presentations. One little known use is the use of Google Docs to create surveys using HTML forms. Google Spreadsheets allows you to create HTML forms from Google. They offer over 60 themes and 7 question types that allow you to create professional looking forms. What I liked best about it was that you could see live responses in the spreadsheet form. You can automatically add responses to a spreadsheet that are connected to your survey, view the collected information, and generate charts and graphs. Here's how you can do it:
Using Google Forms to make surveys
Go to docs.google.com 
You may have to create an account if you don’t already have one.
Create a new spreadsheet by going to Create New >Spreadsheet
A new spreadsheet opens up. Now go to Tools -> Form->Create a Form (see below)
This opens up a new form that you can then complete. See how the first question is filled out below:
There is a header at the top, where you can fill in the title of the survey, along with any helpful text below. Next you type in the question and the help text. On the right are three useful icons, the pencil icon is to edit, the two sheets are to duplicate or copy and of course the last one, we all recognize, trash or delete the question.
Now click on the duplicate or copy icon to copy the first question into the second question. Create the next question. This time, let’s review the question types - we can have the participants type in free text, paragraph text, multiple choice, checkboxes, list, scale and grid.
Let’s ask for the gender of the participant, using the option, multiple choice.
We will add one more query on salary and then save the form.
Once we save the form and go back to the spreadsheet, we will see that the questions have been added to the spreadsheet.
The survey is now ready to be sent out. You can embed the survey on your web page, send it out via email or share on your social networks. As people start to fill out the survey, your spreadsheet will automatically get populated. No need to physically compile responses and put them together! It is all automated.
You can now send out the form if you wish either through the spreadsheet option “send form” or from the “send form” option on the form itself. Other options, as you can see are go to live form, embed form in web page and show summary of options.
Sending the form results in an email window popping up like the following:
and off you go!
The “live form” even without modifications looks quite nice. See below:
Collaboration. The lack of tools for online collaboration can seriously affect the quality of work. Consider a common situation:
- One person produces a report and wants input from others. She sends it out to her colleagues
- Each colleague provides feedback. The tech savvy ones probably use Word to mark up the changes and send it back. Others will list the revisions on each page and para and send back a list via email
- The originator now has to combine all the revisions and then prepare the final document
Compare this to using Google Docs for collaboration
- The originator sends the document to everyone using Gmail (or not)
- Each person logs into Google Docs to make their changes
- Multiple logins allow each person who is logged in to see both his/her own changes as well as the changes made by others
- The originator logs in after the deadline and has the edits included in one single document
The latter is much more efficient. Here are the collaborative features that make Google Docs specially useful for online collaboration:
- Ability to share: You can mail the link, opting to paste the entire document in your email or send just the link.
- Access control: Users can also give multiple people access to the document
- Live editing: With Google Docs you can have two or more people working on a document at the same time, with both being able to view the changes that the other person is making.
As you can see, Google Docs is great at enabling collaborative work.
All in all there are enough cloud based services out there to allow one to completely give up desktop software during travel or for short periods of time. Admittedly, none of the services out there come close to professional software (although Google is getting closer everyday). However by learning to use these services, development practitioners can become familiar with cutting edge cloud based services and understand the challenges and promise of the cloud for achieving development outcomes.
Photo Credit: Flickr user leolintang