Cloud spreadsheets — not ready for statistics?

More of our computing lives are shifting to “the cloud” — organizations are seeing some costs savings, users are seeing more convenience, collaboration, and mobility advantages. But the shift may not be for everyone, yet. For instance, folks who are trying to do statistics using cloud-based spreadsheets — Google Docs, Excel Web App, Zoho Sheet were examined and all were found somewhat lacking, at least according to one study.

via John Walkenbach’s Spreadsheet Page

In a paper published in The Journal of Statistical Software, the authors ran a series of tests on the more popular cloud spreadsheets, and concluded they “cannot currently be trusted to perform statistical operations with accuracy.” This isn’t entirely surprising, since most traditional spreadsheets also have issues with these same tests.

What really caught my eye was some issues underlying the trust of the calculated results, since “the developers do not provide sufficient information regarding the software and the hardware, which can change at any time without notice. Indeed, rerunning the tests after several months we obtained different and sometimes worsened results.” For the cloud software, version changes often lack sufficient details, version numbering (to be able to replicate or verify results) is missing or insufficient, and the change process (updates and upgrades) itself is opaque to the users.

tl;dnr: Cloud spreadsheets are fine for things with only a few decimal places, not good for things that need many decimal places with accuracy.

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