The Value of Traditional Spreadsheets
Over the past ten years, I have learned the power of spreadsheets. I first started to leverage them as a business founder and owner. I had a three-way system of checks and balances for my cashflow accounts. I was extremely paranoid about making payroll and spent many hours entering "what if" scenarios to determine how we would make next months goals.
Then a few years later, as I got away from the required financial monitoring, I began to understand the power of spreadsheets as a tool to analyze resources within our projects. Labor hours, capital investments, and return on investment (ROI) for training activities. There is real power in a modeling information quickly and easily.
But now, we are moving these documents or even applications, to the web. This will represent a fundamental change in the way we use spreadsheets. Sure, using Excel we were able to model a particular data set, then send that spreadsheet to a friend or peer for their review. However, I have often found that many of us failed to provide enough context within the spreadsheet to allow the reviewer to successfully understand the spreadsheet or if the spreadsheet moved beyond simple column or row math, the complexity quickly become too much for someone who wasn't part of the initial setup of the document. Additionally, I think that much of the usefulness of the spreadsheet comes from the cognitive processes that occur when you create the spreadsheet. Having the ability to think logically about how the data sets are related and interact with each other gives you the mental insight necessary to make decisions based on the information.
A spreadsheet that is native to the web?
So what will be different about a spreadsheet that is native to the web? I think a lot. One critical distinction is that the creator of the spreadsheet can engage a peer or friend much earlier in the creation process. This will lead to a better understanding for everyone as the spreadsheet is developed. The spreadsheet will also become a collaborative project, leveraging the "Two heads are better then one" concept. This will make "clarity" a higher priority in the development process. As the data sets are implemented into the spreadsheet, each developer will add to the context of the data providing more understanding of how that data interacts with the other data sets.
Beyond Static Data
Another critical step for the spreadsheet that is native to the web, will be dynamic data. This type of data is not currently part of web-based spreadsheet applications, but I think it will come soon. It would make a lot of sense to connect a cell within your spreadsheet to a dynamic data source, such as stock quote or the current price of gas. These dynamic data points will allow web-based spreadsheets to be continually useful.
It would seem that spreadsheets that are native to the web, are like many other web 2.0 applications, they are about collaborative engagement. This is a real force in business processes and learning.