Software

4 tips to help you configure Google's G Suite activity dashboard

The activity dashboard gives Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides collaborators a way to quickly answer these two questions: Who viewed this document? And when?

Illustration of Tools > Activity dashboard privacy menu (shows option within an abstract Google Doc frame)
Image: Andy Wolber

As of March 2018, a new activity dashboard lets document editors who use G Suite in organizations see when other people have viewed a file. Activity dashboard data may be viewed by people in organizations that use G Suite for business, education, or enterprise.

The activity dashboard serves as an additional collaboration signal within Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides showing every document change, suggested edit, or comment. When a person accesses a document, their profile image indicates their presence, so the activity dashboard eliminates the need to ask if someone has viewed a document.

Here are four things to know about the activity dashboard.

1. Activity dashboard can show views inside and outside your organization

Activity dashboard supports internal collaboration. If allowed by your G Suite administrator, you can see which of your colleagues viewed your shared Google Docs, Sheets, or Slides.

The activity dashboard also lets you see when people outside the organization have viewed a file as well. Open your Google Docs, Sheets, or Slides file, then choose "Share" and enter the person's email address—outside of your organization—for this to work. You'll only be able to see view history for people outside the organization with whom you specifically share the file. "You will not see all external viewers by simply sharing via 'Anyone with the link' or 'Public on the web'—this is to protect viewers' privacy," Allen Yang, product manager at G Suite said.

View history information will only be available after people receive an initial notification and have the opportunity to select privacy settings.

Screenshot of initial view history notification (left); right user options to either enable/disable view tracking on ALL docs/sheets/slides, or enable/disable on the current file.

People will see a notice (left) before view data is tracked, and have the option to disable view tracking (right) either for all documents or the current document.

2. A G Suite administrator can restrict activity dashboard view tracking

If you use a G Suite version that includes the activity dashboard, a G Suite administrator may modify settings in the Admin console (admin.google.com) > Apps > G Suite > Drive and Docs > Activity dashboard settings.

A G Suite administrator may adjust both view history tracking and access to the activity dashboard. The first setting allows view tracking for either all user views, only for accounts and files within your organization, or not at all. The second setting allows people access to the activity dashboard. The recommended setting in both cases is to allow view tracking for all user views, and to allow people access to the activity dashboard. If you adjust the first setting to "On - only within (your domain)" viewing activity won't be available outside of your organization.

Screenshot that shows recommend Admin settings selected: Users' view history "ON", and Access to view history "ON".

The recommended G Suite admin settings allow the system to track views and give people in organizations the ability to access view data. If desired, a G Suite administrator may choose less collaborative options.

3. Individuals can restrict activity dashboard view tracking, too

Every person can choose to hide viewing history for all files, or for an individual file. Your selection applies retroactively: If you choose to hide your history—for all files or for a single file—it will no longer be available. This setting sticks. "In the future, if you decide to turn on view history again, any views you made while view history was off will never show up," Yang said.

The bottom line is that the activity dashboard view tracking respects the most restrictive settings.

Screenshot of Tools > Activity dashboard privacy... menu

You may adjust the setting for specific Google Docs, Sheets, or Slides files by selecting Tools > Activity dashboard privacy.

There's also a workaround to avoid view tracking while leaving the feature on. If you make a copy of a file, you can view the copy and your views won't be linked to the original file. "A copy of a file is technically a separate file, so views on the copy are not reflected in the view history of the original file," Yang said.

4. Culture matters

Consider your organization's culture when you configure your activity dashboard settings. Much like email read receipt features, behavioral norms may affect how people interpret activity dashboard data. If you work in a combative culture, people may see the activity dashboard as another way to "catch" people who don't view a document, or use it to call out those who view a document, but don't respond promptly. Conversely, in a collaborative culture, people may welcome the activity dashboard as a helpful signal that a colleague has or has not yet seen their work.

Your thoughts?

If your organization has access to the activity dashboard, what settings has your G Suite administrator configured for the organization? What activity dashboard settings have you selected for your account? Why? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter (@awolber).

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About Andy Wolber

Andy Wolber helps people understand and leverage technology for social impact. He resides in Albuquerque, NM with his wife, Liz, and daughter, Katie.

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