Stop the Vicious Email Cycle, Collaborate with Google Docs

Posted On August 27, 2012 By Advance Blog

As ubiquitous as Google is these days, some of its lesser known features are worth some attention, especially when it comes to file sharing and collaborating on projects. Like many people, I was accidentally introduced to Google Docs when I inadvertently selected the “open as a Google spreadsheet” option on an Excel attachment I had in one of my Gmail emails. My Excel file opened in my Web browser, and unimpressed, I closed it right away reverting to my old method of saving the file to my Desktop. About a month later, I did it again with an updated version of the same Excel file, only this time to realize that the file I had opened a few weeks ago was stored in my account.

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Intrigued, I had to know more. I didn’t save that there…did I? Come to find out, I did.

By “opening as a Google spreadsheet,” my Excel file was converted into Google’s own proprietary spreadsheet application and saved to my Google account in my “Docs” folder. After a little light reading through Google’s tutorials, I was excited about the possibilities that Google Docs offered when it came to collaborating on documents. My notorious Excel file, was one that was regularly sent to a group of us from our committee chair, after our individual input had been added to the master file each month. Even more, one of our committee members didn’t even have Microsoft Office, so he could never even open the master file and had to rely on hand written edits he made in our meetings.

As a Google Doc, our Excel file could live as a universal file in Google’s cloud that we only needed a Web browser to open, edit, and print even. Even better, once shared with all of the members of our group, we could individually edit the data on our own, so we no longer had to send our changes to our chair each month. This not only made it easier for our chairperson, but it also allowed us to see everyone’s status in a real time. If two, or even all, of our group members are simultaneously working in the Google Doc, areas that we are working on are highlighted and there is notification at the top of the window who is in the file. Even more, the feature supports versioning, and keeps a detailed log of all of the documents’ edits so we always know who added what information, when.

Docs is really just the tip of the iceberg for Google. Earlier this year, the Web giant launched the compendium to Docs, Google Drive, touting 5GB of free storage, as compared to its competitors, DropBox, and SkyDrive who offer 2 GB and 7GB respectively. Like DropBox, Google Drive is an automatic file storage system involving a folder on your workstation’s desktop that you drag and drop files to which are synchronized to Google’s cloud, and/or any other devices you have designated, such as your mobile device or tablet. Additional storage up to 16TB can be purchased for a monthly fee.

I have to give credit to my aunt for investigating Drive, since she was the one who made the comment to me one day that she was going to start backing up all of her old home video footage on Drive. (genius!) From what I gather, Drive is really just an expansion of Google Docs, in that you can still create files and collaborate on them with people. The added benefits include the ability to drag files to your own Drive folder for easy storage, as well as a handy app for on-the-go file access for most smartphones (beware iOS users, there are still some kinks to be worked out in the app on the Apple side of the mobile spectrum). Drive also offers some advanced keyword, optical character and image recognition search capabilities. They even claim that you can upload an image of the Grand Canyon, for example, and Google’s Goggles image technology will tag that photo with the appropriate location for later retrieval. (Amazing!)

Google Docs and/or Drive is certainly not the be-all end-all of inexpensive document management—like all new technology, it has its shortcomings and may not be for everyone. For those just looking to end the vicious cycle of emailing the same file back and forth, or have a redundant backup file system (think 5GB of free storage=90 hours of music or roughly 1200 songs), I highly recommend it. To get started, all you need to access these Google products is a unique identifying account (ie., username and password), which can be your current email account (a Gmail or Yahoo mail, AOL mail, Hotmail, or any other email address will do). For more information, or to delve even deeper into document workflows, give us a shout…we are The Document Specialists you know!