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    Credit: Frank J. Borkowski

Google’s free office suite, Google Docs, includes document management, a word processor, a presentation package, a basic drawing program, and a simple spreadsheet that has a cool Web trick called “forms.”

“Forms” lets you create Web-based forms for gathering information. Add questions using a simple Web interface and then publish your form by e-mail or by embedding it in a website.

The usual types of questions/responses are available: single-line text for gathering names and contact info; multiline text for longer answers; select from a list; multiple choice; and scales and grids, where users can rank or categorize. And you can insert a section header and some basic logic so that a question can lead to a new page.

Google has several templates that make the form attractive. Each form has a “submit” button that writes respondents’ answers to a Google spreadsheet that’s automatically set up as a simple flat “database.” This can be exported as a delimited file — where fields are separated by commas, for example — and imported to other programs. Or use Google’s one-click “summary” to generate a graphical summary of responses.

20% of organizations are currently using public cloud computing*

You can also use “forms” to:

  • Embed a “Contact us” or “How can we help you?” form on your website set up to e-mail your salesperson
  • Set up customer satisfaction surveys that you can send via e-mail
  • Survey users of appliances or other equipment you install to see what they like/dislike
  • Follow up warranty service calls with a form
  • Gather referrals

While I’d like a little more flexibility, for the most part, Google has hit a home run. It’s simple enough and powerful enough that you can collect meaningful business information. http://docs.google.com

*Source: Tech Journal South survey

—Joe Stoddard is an industry consultant helping remodelers be successful with their technology. twitter.com/moucon; jstoddard@mountainconsulting.com.