Whenever we're asked "how do people use Google spreadsheets?", we always struggle with where to start. It's not that we can't think of examples, it's just that the examples are all so different, so unique. Sure, there are definitely favorite themes -- sports, finance and, yes, knitting -- but then the examples become so particular to the people and groups who are using them: The beer taster's results. The nursery school class schedule. The biker's riding log. The family reunion plan. The ski-trip sign-up form. Endless examples, all of which, to spreadsheet junkies like us, are interesting.

But while we've always wanted to give people more options to view and use their information in Google Docs, we knew that trying to build all of these one at a time would simply serve too few people, given all the different ways people use and share spreadsheets.

So today we're starting a new path to better enable developers to customize and build on top of Google Docs with two new tools we are releasing today: Gadgets-in-Docs and the Visualization API.

Instead of delivering just one or two new types of reports, or a new visual map mashup (can you ever get enough of those?), we decided to deliver a platform on which anyone, not just Google, could build the next best thing. We even invited a few developers to try this with us, and they join us in this launch by featuring just a few of their creations, like Panorama's pivot table, or Viewpath's Gantt Chart, or InfoSoft's Funnel Charts -- all great tools for the student and enterprise user alike. We also built a few early gadgets ourselves which you might find useful.

We borrowed the Gadgets-in-Docs concept from the iGoogle team, so it's only fitting that you can also publish your spreadsheet gadgets to iGoogle, where you can see your data-based-Gadget right next to all that other stuff that's important to you (even if it is just a picture of your dog).

To try it out, go into Google Docs and open up a spreadsheet. Click on the chart icon, and click 'Gadget...'. Pick your gadget, customize it to fit your data, and then publish it out to iGoogle or to any webpage.

If you're a developer and want to reach millions of people with your latest creation, check out the Google Visualization API, courtesy of our visualization team engineers. The Visualization API provides a platform that can be used to create, share and reuse visualizations written by the developer community. It provides a common way (an API) to access structured data sources, the first being Google spreadsheets.