21 June 2013

An Analysis for Transition from Spreadsheets to Fusion Tables, part 3

This is part of a multipart post taken from my essay entitled "An Analysis for Transition from Spreadsheets to Fusion Tables". It may sound boring, but a questioning reader may find it rather useful to understand the value of Google Sheets and Google Fusion Tables in the workplace and readers may also find additional ideas for improving their usage of either product.

Costing Evolution

While Fusion Tables promises much in the way of streamlining operations and improving managed data sharing, it is not without some drawbacks. Even when entering the Promised Land, some of the wonders of Egypt had to be left behind.

Return to Structure

To start with, Fusion system would be a return to the database structure abandoned by Company data. While column changes would still be possible, they would be more difficult than currently supported (but still much easier the previously). Further, Views and data merges are non-additive. Once they have been completed columns can be removed but no new ones—or old ones, including one previously removed—can be added. To accomplish addition requires building a new merge or View (unless introducing a completely new data set). Because of this, it is likely to take several attempts to get the proper blend of data. Removing old attempts will invalidate links and bookmarks requiring them to be updated.

Lack of Presence

Those “feel good” social markers (namely the cell highlights) are completely absent from Fusion Tables. In fact, working on a Fusion Table is a bit like working in a black hole: there is no indication that any other user has a Fusion Table open let alone where they are working. The only indication that one is not working alone is if data changes after a browser refresh.

Stale Data

There is no real-time updating. All updates to a Fusion Table happen on refresh. This can increase the chances of overlapping work, duplicate data entry or functioning on old data.

More Data, Less Interpretation

Fusion Tables does not permit anything near the robust formulas of a spreadsheet. While they permit basic math and a few other limited functions, if/then and other comparative functions are limited at best but are frequently missing entirely. Useful features like links to clients folder based on online enrollment suddenly become impossible.

While it is possible, and even likely, that more powerful functions will be added as Fusion Tables continue to develop, they are not available now. The same is true for our conditional formatting. This shifts some of the analysis that Company data does automatically back to the user. Missing information will blend in with complete information, poor ratings will sit quietly beside good ones and words will go back to being just a number relying of the user to remember what the values mean. These issues can be migrated with concerted training but it is less elegant to have to track such drab details manually.

No Printing

Perhaps one of the most glaringly absent features is an inability to print. None of the data sets, Views or reports can be printed. Instead, they are locked securely in their digital existence. The nearest ability to print them is to export them and print from the exportation.

Dismissal of Menus

Currently, Fusion Tables lacks the ability to be scripted with custom menus. This means that running custom scripts will no longer be as simple as going to the Scripts menu and telling it to run. In fairness, this will only effect two scripts that were tied directly to Company data directly and thus should not be considered a major concern.

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