Web Forms in Google Docs

Yesterday Google Docs users where given the ability to define spreadsheet-backed Web Forms for gathering feedback from people. The interface for doing this is very clean and it is a piece of functionality that could prove to be a real time-saver for those wishing to conduct quick surveys or gather structured feedback on a topic. Even though Google Docs doesn't compare well in a straight-up comparison with Microsoft Excel it is Web-centric functionality like this that put it ahead, especially in environments where spreadsheets are used more for communication than data crunching.

Below is a screen-cast demonstrating the use of Web Forms within Google Docs. It runs for a couple of minutes and covers the creation of the form, filling it out and receiving the data.

Although this new functionality is very powerful there are many areas where Google Docs need to evolve in order to become a compelling application suite.

Copying Documents

It may seem trivial but there does not seem to be a way of making a copy of a document within Google Docs. Setting up a Web Form takes time and the ability to make a copy of an existing form without modifying the original would seem like a simple yet very useful piece of functionality to include.


Along the same line of thought the ability to define and share document templates would be very useful especially in a business environment. When it comes to data collection a lot of companies have standardised forms that need to be completed at various times. The ability for staff to create a new document based on one of these templates would save time and ensure that data/form consistency is maintained. Even better would be if these templates could be exposed as list of hyperlinks so that staff could browse and instantiate documents from websites outside of the Google Docs environment (i.e. the company Intranet).

Smart logging of respondents

Whilst a timestamp is recorded in the spreadsheet for each set of results there is no option to automatically record who responded to the Web Form, it is up to the Web Form designer to ask. It would seem relatively straight forward to embed an id key into the returned Web Form so that respondents could be more efficiently monitored. Also as currently each response is in effect anonymous there is no validation that someone has not submitted the form multiple times. Again including some form of identification within the returned form would mean that respondents could be limited to only one response. In a casual environment this is not such a big deal, but in formal studies or for business use having this level of validation is a necessity.

Embedding Web Forms in Text Documents

The current client-side presentation of Web Forms is pretty sparse even by Google standards and quite often a Web Form will need to relate to a larger document. This maybe because the feedback sought is about the referenced document or there maybe legal requirements to satisfy such as a statement of ethics and privacy terms. It would seem like the best way of solving this problem would be to enable Web Forms to be embedded within other Google Docs document types. This would provide a flexible tool-set for presenting and gathering feedback from people, especially if more than one Web Form could be embedded within a document or presentation.

Even though these functional shortcomings currently exist the Web Form functionality in Google Docs is a brilliant step towards creating a collaborative office suite that isn't just a striped down copy of Microsoft Office. Hopefully this represents just the tip of the functionality iceberg and over time we see its feature-set and integration with other Google offerings expand and evolve.