Sunday, March 18, 2012

Experimenting with Google Docs spreadsheet

The Two Rivers 200 was this weekend.  Although it's a small, local Alaskan race we always get a few ringers in there, and now that mushing has turned into a spectator sport interest in seeing results as they come in extends beyond just the participants and friends.  So, we decided to try using Google docs spreadsheet to share the data with fans online.

Throwing something basic together was trivial, but I'm terrible at user interface and esthetics so Chris cleaned it up to make it more legible and easier to deal with.  Here's what we ended up with, basically just in/out data.

Once we had that in place it took just another 1/2 hour or so to put together a sheet that contained run-time summaries for time between checkpoints (see the tabs on the left-hand side of the bottom of the spreadsheet).  Google spreadsheets does a nice job supporting multiple sheets and allowing referencing between sheets (and hooray for providing the ability to do arithmetic on time and date!).

Here's what we found:

  • This was quick and easy to put together, and having it embeddable in other web pages is a big win
  • Format and arithmetic support was richer than I expected
  • It's something that pretty much anybody who's ever worked on a spreadsheet can figure out how to use
  • We did lose a little bit of data in what appeared to be a race condition situation - two people working on the same cell at the same time.  When we noticed it we added it back
  • We really needed to be more systematic about how we gathered the data in the first place, since there were checkpoints with no phone or internet, etc.
  • There appears to be a data validation glitch, in that stuff I didn't want displayed if it didn't meet some criteria were displayed, anyway
  • I think we can code our way around that last one (for example, if a given value is less than 0 display 0).
  • I love being able to provide different views into the same data and that's definitely something we can do here.  Fans are often interested in things like run times, average traveling speeds, etc., and that's something we can do pretty easily with spreadsheets.  We can do it with web pages, too, but frankly it's a lot more work.  I cannot overstate how easy this was.
  • The big drawback was that you need internet connectivity to be able to update the spreadsheet, and that's not always available.  
So, basically I think it was a win, and certainly the data display was superior to much of what we've seen from a number of other small races.  The biggest challenge is definitely the internet connectivity question.

[edited to add: I don't think this is a great approach for major races, since I think the question of who owns the data and what happens to them later is not a trivial one]


  1. Very interesting, I'm a great fan of Google Docs and the way I can access data and documents from virtually any place in the world, and share ownership of it. The race condition you mention is interesting. You can always back up to a revision, but that's kind of awkward.

  2. Nice article, thanks. I have been using Google docs for quite some time, but there are some issues which Google has to overcome, Issues when it comes to sharing a portion of a Google spreadsheet with team members. There is no way I can do it without copying the data and pasting it on a new sheet. This increases redundancy. There should be an option where I can just share a part of my spreadsheet – isn’t it?
    Well read a nice blog about sharing its from CollateBox the article speaks about making sharing better than Google docs
    Frankly speaking I am expecting it to be a strong tool when it comes online sharing and collaboration