Microsoft is starting to test a new to-do feature in Word today. The software maker found that a lot of people leave notes in their Word documents as placeholders to add more text, images, or charts. Microsoft is now making these notes a lot more powerful with a to-do feature that automatically tracks when you’ve left these little notes for yourself or others.
Word has had comments for years, but this new to-do feature will automatically find where you may have written “todo:” or “<<insert something here>>” in a document, and it will collate these instances as suggestions. Word will then provide a list of these items, and you can use them individually or even @-mention colleagues to notify them to add content into a shared Word document.
The notification will trigger an email to a colleague, but you can actually take action on the document and notification by replying to that email. For example, if a colleague has asked for an image to be added to a document and tagged you in it, you can simply reply to the email with the image and it will be inserted into the document.
Microsoft is using machine learning to discover these notes in documents. In time, even phrases like “<<insert graph here>>” will be detected, and Word will suggest recent documents to add content. You don’t even need to open that document to see the graph; a sidebar will simply highlight the graphs in those documents to let you quickly insert them.
It’s a clever new feature that will certainly speed up collaborative work in Word, especially as the email notification can be used to insert content into docs. It makes Word more collaborative and similar to Google’s approach with Docs, which lets you tag multiple people in a document. (Google Docs doesn’t have the automatic to-do suggestions, though.)
Surprisingly, Microsoft is making this available initially to testers of Office for Mac today, with a Windows version set to be tested in the coming weeks. Once testing is finalized, this will be broadly rolled out to existing Office 365 customers. Microsoft is also planning to bring this to other Office apps in the future based on feedback from testers.