In April, at his company's F8 Developer Conference in San Francisco, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg surprised his audience by announcing Facebook had been working with Microsoft on a new service: Docs for Facebook.
Developed by Microsoft's FUSE Labs, Docs enables Facebook users for the first time to discover, create, and share Microsoft Office documents directly with their Facebook friends, using the Office tools they know and love, like Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. Built on Microsoft Office 2010 and utilizing the new Office Web Apps, Docs is available at docs.com.
With Docs, Facebook's more than 500 million users can share documents just as readily as they share photos and videos today. Since releasing this new beta service to the web a couple of months ago, we've been pleased with the response from early users and have continually updated the service based on user feedback (see below).
Docs exposes another facet of Microsoft Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie's long-held vision for social productivity by bringing together the best of software with the best of Internet services. Documents can be created directly within the service at docs.com, or they can be uploaded from a user's PC, utilizing the client version of Microsoft Office installed on the PC or Mac. After working on a document alone, an individual might choose to share it with a subset of Facebook friends. That individual's friends can then view and edit the document directly within a browser or, with a single click, view and edit using Microsoft Office client software installed on their PCs or Macs.
Our early users have been extremely impressed with the Office Web Apps that have been adapted for docs.com. The Office Web Apps are online companions to their desktop brethren, enabling individuals to view, edit, and share their Office documents from virtually anywhere.
What makes the Office Web Apps so important to Docs is they allow us to provide Facebook users access to Office capabilities, even if they don't have Microsoft Office installed on their PCs. An individual without Office can simply create and edit documents online, in a web browser, using the Office Web Apps. Facebook users who have Office installed benefit from knowing they can share their documents with others, even if they don't have Office installed.
These Web Apps render text and layout beautifully, displaying documents just as they look in the rich-client Office apps on your PC or Mac. They also support full fidelity round-tripping of edits between rich-client Office apps and the web, something no other document service can provide today.
Our small FUSE Labs team faced a couple of key constraints: We had a short amount of time to develop the service (less than four months), it had to integrate seamlessly with Facebook, and it had to run at Internet scale from birth. The only way we could overcome those constraints was to leverage Windows Azure, our cloud operating system.
Because of Windows Azure, our team didn't have to worry about complex service hosting or management; instead, we got to focus 100% of our energies on delivering a quality experience for our users.
With that as background, here's an overview on how you can get started with Docs.
How to Get Started
Getting started with Docs for Facebook is easy, and as I indicated previously, it doesn't require that you have Microsoft Office installed on your PC.
You begin by going to docs.com.
If you have an active Facebook session going, you are set to begin. If not, just log in using Facebook Connect.
To activate your account, you simply upload a document from your PC, or create a new document by clicking the 'Add a Doc' tab, and choosing to create a Word, Excel or PowerPoint doc.
Let's assume you begin by creating a Word document. You can compose and edit text, just as you would if you were using the rich client software version.
To save your browser-based version of the Word document when you're finished composing, you simply click the 'Save' button at the top of the web page. Then click the 'Finish Editing' button just to the right of the 'Save' button to exit the document.
At this point, you might want to share the document with some or all of your Facebook friends. This is the sweet spot for Docs for Facebook. Whether you're sharing a spreadsheet or inviting a classmate or two to help with a PowerPoint presentation, we think connecting Docs with the social web will enable some new and very interesting sharing scenarios.
Your controls for 'Sharing' appear on the right side of your browser frame. There you can click to add "viewers" of the document. You can share the document with as few as one person, or as widely as all Facebook users. It's up to you.
When you're done adding viewers, you simply check the "send a message to people" box and click OK. You can add editors (full read/write capabilities) in exactly the same manner.
To make accessing your docs easy, you'll want to add Docs to your Facebook profile and add a bookmark to your Facebook homepage.
Go to the docs.com homepage and simply click "Add Profile Tab on Facebook." Your Profile Tab will serve as a shortcut to your documents and, when your friends view it, it'll showcase the docs you've shared with them.
With that you'll be set to go, and hopefully begin to explore how easily you can share Microsoft Office documents within Facebook, just as you share photos, videos, and article links today.