Saturday, October 1, 2016

First Look: Explore in Docs, Sheets, and Slides!

This past week Google announced several updates and changes to their suite of tools. The most notable was the name change - previously called Google Apps for Education, that same collection is now called G Suite for Education.

In that same announcement Google rolled out a new feature called "explore" for Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides. This feature puts computer intelligence (machine learning) to work for you making it easier to find trends in data, create a stunning presentation, and find relevant material for your document. According to Google, the Explore feature can reduce the time it takes to create a Doc, Sheets, or Presentation by 30%.

Here's a quick overview of what Explore does.

Explore with Google Docs

Explore in Docs will scan the content of your document and suggest relevant websites, images, and other content from your Drive Account. The idea is to present and provide information relevant to your current topic of work so that you don't have to leave the Doc to open a new tab, search for an image, etc. Explore is essentially a unique Google Search within the document.

Educators familiar with the "research" feature of Google Docs will be quite disappointed to discover that it has been replaced by "explore" but is missing many of the much loved and used feature of the research tool. Citations are no longer inserted as footnotes and can not be configured from MLA, APA, or Chicago style. The ability to search creative commons images has also been removed.

Unfortunately, I have to give the explore feature of Google Docs two thumbs down. The features is has don't seem all that useful to me and the features that were eliminated were some of my favorites. 

A grassroots petition is currently underway to have Google bring back the research features that were eliminated. To add your voice, open a Google Doc, click on Help > Docs Help > Send Feedback. 

Explore with Google Sheets

The Explore function of sheets will be particularly helpful for individuals who don't consider themselves to be "spreadsheet people." If you aren't comfortable running formulas and functions, you will love the Explore feature. Simply type in a question and Google's machine learning engine will attempt to answer it for you.

I am particularly impressed that not only can Google answer your data related question, they also show you the formula that was used to get the answer so that you can replicate it on your own. Kind of like Wolfram Alpha for your Google Sheet!

Take a look at the video below for an easy example!

Explore for Google Sheets gets two thumbs up from me! It adds functions and makes working with spreadsheets easier for adults and students. 

Explore with Google Slides

The explore feature in Slides is particularly interesting as it is designed to help you improve the visual appeal of your presentations. Click on a slide and the Explore window will show suggested layouts for your content. I tested several existing slide decks that I had created and some of the suggestions were really bad, but others were decent. 

Explore in Slides also includes the same content search features found in Google Docs. However, like Docs, the beloved Research tool is no longer available. I am particularly disappointed that the ability to search for and insert video into my presentations is no longer available. 

I give the Explore feature in Slides one thumb down. It does provide some new and helpful functions, however it is a shame that those new features cam at the expense of the research tool. If you would like to send your suggestion to Google, you can do so by opening up a presentation and visiting Help > Slides Help > Send Feedback. 


  1. Absolutely agree with your comments - the Research Tool was incredibly useful and I have had students in tears after it's removal!

    'Grassroots Campaign' starts here:!msg/docs/tqHYZHX-mAI/Pa7wLeBaAQAJ

    1. Just tried the new explore for Docs. And Google really blew it!!!!!! I like the specifics I could specifically query in the old research tool not a bunch of search engines. Please bring back the research tool. Thanks.

    2. Hi Charlie! I agree with your distress over the removal of the research tool. I would suggest sending feedback to Google via the help menu in Google Docs rather than in the product forums. Google takes product feedback very seriously, but there are only so many channels they can monitor.


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