Google Docs Soon to Sport Offline Editing

While a few brave souls are already using Google Docs for long-form writing (eg, books), one of the most glaring shortcomings for the platform — that you have to be online to use it — is now changing. Over the coming weeks, Google is rolling out offline editing, with some important caveats (via Webware):

Google Docs will not, at first, let users create new documents while offline. The feature’s first-use case is, "I’m amending a document and I lose my Internet connection," Norton said. Document creation capability will come eventually.

Of course, users will not be able to collaborate in real time when offline, or see if other users are simultaneously modifying a document they are editing in offline mode. Google Docs will "do its best" to reconcile changes made by multiple users when one or more are offline, Norton said. If there are conflicting edits, a dialog box will pop up when an offline editor comes back online. [Emphasis added]

The collaboration piece is critical, but is also a very challenging problem to solve. On a technical level (meaning the conflicts and breakdowns in merging have been primarily as result of the people involved, not the systems), our best option for O’Reilly authors has been to use version control. That works fine for many of our authors who are already using a tool like Subversion every day in their development work, but it’s proven a high hurdle for less-technical authors and editors.