Google Raises the Cloud Apps Bar With Powerful New Docs Features
I got a round of approval from my wife, a seventh grade English teacher who has struggled with trying to get a classroom full of students on the same Web page at the same time. With the classroom sharing feature, the teacher loads a Web page, and then pushes the address to each of the students in the classroom at the same time. If a student subsequently finds a page they want to share with the class, they can send the page to the teacher, who can then re-share it to the rest of the class. My wife also pointed out something that Google hasn't mentioned and may not be aware of. It turns out that much of the standardized testing in schools these days takes place using Web-based forms. This means that at the beginning of each testing session, each student has to type in a long and complex URL so that they can get the right test loaded. It seems that a great deal of time allotted for testing is spent while students try to type in the right address. The classroom sharing feature would eliminate this problem entirely.There are several reasons for this, ranging from lack of exposure to physical limitations. But while voice dictation has been around for years (I first reviewed it for PC Magazine around 20 years ago), the fact is that it was never easy or cheap. In fact, computer voice recognition with accuracy sufficient for accurate dictation is only a fairly recent development. Part of the problem was a series of processing algorithms that were inherently error-prone. Recently, Google developed a set of neural networking models that are far more accurate. To give those networks as much experience as possible, Google funneled its own voicemail traffic through the recognition circuits. The voicemail provided what are essentially grammatical rules as well as recognition material. Now the new voice dictation system is said to have fewer than half the errors the best of the older models had. These are all nice features, but what's probably more important is that they're all relatively available to most people. While the Research and Explore functions don't work on iOS devices, at least not yet, the other functions and templates will work with most platforms. This means in areas where collaboration is necessary and training is hard to come by, Google has set the new bar much higher than where it was before. Now we can wait to see how Microsoft and Apple respond to move that bar higher yet.
Google's changes in voice transcription could have similar importance in both education and in the corporate world. It's an inconvenient truth that not everyone types well, and in many cases people really can't effectively communicate by typing.