google-spreadsheets-formIn case you don’t know, Google Spreadsheets  is basically an online version of Microsoft’s Excel.  It’s got most of the basic functionality and a few of the advanced features with the added benefit of being hosted online and accessible to/editable by multiple users at the same time. If you need super hardcore analysis features, Excel is still your best option (though I’ve been known to start a document online then export to Excel at the end for the one feature I needed).

I’ve used Google Spreadsheets for everything from making to do lists and managing projects to collecting information from friends.  Today I’m going to talk about a handful of features that can be used in fairly powerful ways (some of these features are things you could also do with Excel and some are not) to make you and your business more efficient.

List View

List view is a very simple, clean and fast way to interact with a spreadsheet.  It keeps the formatting of the spreadsheet and functions more as a static page with filters and basic add, edit and delete functionality.  This makes for a nice way to present a table to end users while the administrator of the spreadsheet can use the standard view for easier/quicker updating and changes.

You can read a bit more about this feature here.

Use Live Google Search Results in your Spreadsheet

The GoogleLookup function has got to be one of the most under discussed but potentially powerful features in all of the Google arsenal. Using a simple 2 argument function call in a cell will return data from a Google search.  For example, let’s say you need to get the distance from the Sun of all the planets into a spreadsheet.  You could quickly search this information and type it into a spreadsheet OR you could use the GoogleLookup Function. All you would need to do is type the planet names into columnA and in columnB type ‘=googlelookup(“A1″,”distance from sun”)’.  Bada-bing Bada-boom you’ve got your data.  For anyone that uses spreadsheets a lot or had to do lots of data lookup there are an almost infinite number of uses for this feature.  It is worth noting that you can use the function GoogleFinance in basically the same way to get live stock prices into your spreadsheet quickly.

I’ve only recently stumbled across this feature, but you can sure bet I’ll be looking out for a good ways to put it to use.

For now, you can read more about these functions here and here.

Surveys and Forms

If you’ve ever needed to collect data from a group of people be it administering a survey or collecting t-shirt orders for your kickball team then these features are for you!  Using a Google Spreadsheet as the back-end you can create a custom form with custom fields including drop-downs, radio buttons, calendar pop-ups, and more.  All you have to do is share the form with anyone you need answers from (or just make it public for the whole world) and sit back.  You can even go as far as requiring login and having the users information automatically captured (along with date and time).  All of the data will show-up nicely in your spreadsheet ready to be analyzed, downloaded, edited, etc

You can read a bit more about this feature here.

What can you do with all this newly collected information?  More on that coming up!



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Visualizations

The Google Visualizations API allows developers to create gadgets and visualizations using Google Spreadsheets as the data source. Basically Google has made it easy for people to create ways to display data.  There are obvious options like gantt charts and pie charts but there are also much cooler options like the geographic heatmap and the piles of money.  The visualizations are basically Google Gadgets and can be embedded in your spreadsheet or directly in a web page or Google Site.

Google already has a substantial library of visualizations, but you can also create your own.

I’m thinking that when combined with the GoogleLookup Function and embedded somewhere useful the visualization API could be used to create some powerful and meaningful dashboard and tracking widgets.

Embed Spreadsheets and Charts Almost Anywhere

Pretty much all of the Google Apps provide you with code to embed that app (or some piece of it’s functionality) almost anywhere you can post HTML.  This is useful when you want to create a form (as described above) because you can use the same form on a website as in an e-mail.   Calendars can be created under your account but embedded in your blog.  Of particular interest is the ability to embed a spreadsheet (including list view) anywhere you might need it allowing you to create a simple to manage and update (and potentially dynamically updated) table or chart that you can place anywhere.

Like I said, all the Google Apps have ways you can embed elements in your website or blog, but for more thoughts on ways you can use this feature check out this list of 20 ideas for embedding a Google Spreadsheet.

Create a Simple Store!

Seriously… Through a combination of Google Checkout, the Google Checkout Store Gadget and the Google Spreadsheets API you can create a simple online store that supports all the basics including inventory updates, product sizes, and, most importantly, secure credit card transactions.

You can read about the specifics of the implementation here, but the fact is that now anyone with a basic website can sell through their site.  This lowers the barrier to entry for a ‘mom and pop’ online retailer to the point of having something up and running in under an hour.  I’m sure there are other simple solutions for setting up a store, but I’ve never seen one that requires as little effort, but still provides as useful a feature set.

I hold this as one of the best examples of Google’s ability to combine seemingly simple features to create something that is greater than the sum of the individual parts.

Well folks, that’s all I got for today.  6 features that range from super basic to setting up an online store, but are all backed by Google Spreadsheets.

If you have any examples of how you’re using these or other features please post them in the comments.  I’m very interested in how other people are putting Google Apps to work.



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