March 16, 2011, 3:39 PM — Remember Google Wave, the innovative although sadly unloved e-mail and chat hybrid that was retired last year? Well, it sounds like Google couldn't stand to turn it out into the cold, and several of its features have made their way into Google Docs.
As of Wednesday, the Google Docs word processor features a clever group discussion feature that offers Wave-like features, such as the capability to edit chat comments once they've been made. Like Wave, the new feature borrows a little from chat and e-mail, and the intention is to make it much easier for people to communicate when collaboratively working on a document.
Previously comments could be inserted into documents just like within any word processor, and would appear as call-outs in the gutter at the right. Additionally, if a document was edited by more than one person, all parties could text chat in a primitive way by clicking the sharing notification.
The new feature introduces a button marked Discussion to the top of the page that, when clicked, opens a floating chat window. When users type comments they're time and date stamped, and the user's name and picture appear alongside.
Crucially, users can edit the comment at a later date (including replies to comments), and also mark comments as resolved. They can use the @ sign to specify an person to whom the comment will then be sent as a message, along with a link to open the document (although this only works if the document was previously shared with the individual). Google Docs is clever enough to raid your Gmail contacts book to autocomplete e-mail addresses.
If the individual who receives the e-mail replies to it, it will be automatically added as a fresh comment (a specially formatted and unique e-mail address is used). Alternatively, the recipient can open the document via the link that's provided and add a comment manually.
Additionally, any in-document comments inserted (by clicking Insert - Comment) are also added to the discussion flow within the floating window, and can also be sent to individuals using an @ callout.