Guest Blogger Series: Andy Yang, Principle UX Designer

A few weeks ago, we released an update to our Flite ad showcase page where users can go to view a sampling of Flite ads that have been run in the past. One main feature we added was the ability to filter ads by several criteria; Industry, Size and Functionality. The user experience team worked with our marketing and operations teams to define and capture all of the data that would be used to power these filters, and it’s probably not surprising to anyone that our collaboration tool of choice in organizing all of this information was a simple shared Google Docs spreadsheet.

Now, when it came time to implement the new features, it dawned on us that the data we needed to build out the new functionality already lived in a nicely structured format in the form of that Google spreadsheet. We figured, rather than build out a content management system to manage our showcase data, we could just use Google spreadsheets as a simple, lightweight CMS. One of the nicest features of Google Docs is that it’s dead simple to create a feed based on your worksheet data. All we would need to do would be to write a basic script that parses that feed and builds out the showcase markup using that data.

Also, by using Google spreadsheets as our simple CMS, we get some nice features for free (like revision history and permissions). However, one of the best benefits realized is that the hard-working people whose job it is to update the content are able to do so using an application they’re already deeply familiar with. There’s no need to train anyone on a new content management system. All they need to do is update the spreadsheet, and the new content is automatically updated on our site.

Of course, there are some caveats to all of this. Google spreadsheets are not a replacement for a full-featured CMS; they should only be used for pretty small-scale stuff. Also, it’s pretty easy for somebody to inadvertently modify a spreadsheet and break the data structure, so a few checks should be built in to the parsing script to protect against this (this is also where the revision history thing comes in handy). However, all in all, we’ve been pretty happy with the way that the end product turned out (and how quickly we were able to get it out the door), thanks to Google Docs.

Check out our new Flite Showcase and play with our filters!