How to share a Google Drive document with the public

If you have a document you want to make public, an easy way to do so is through Google Drive. Learn how to share documents in Drive for public consumption.

Image: Jack Wallen

Google Drive offers a feature that can come quite in handy, under the right circumstances. You've probably seen this feature in action when someone shares a particular document from within Google that anyone can view. The ability to share with the public is a great way to distribute certain forms of documentation, and even better when sharing that document, via Google Drive, becomes visible to search engines.

You might be asking yourself, "Why make a document public, when you can just share it with the specific people you want to view the document?"

The answer is simple: When you have non-proprietary documentation that you want to go wide-spread, manually sharing that document with individual users or groups, via Google Drive, can be incredibly time consuming. Every time someone new wants to view/edit the document, you would have to then share it out with them. This is not an efficient means of disseminating information. That's where public sharing comes in.

There are two caveats to this. Although the shared document is available through search engines, the best way for users to reach the public document is via the link; so you will have to share out a link for the document. Of course, those who have the link can then also distribute it to help spread word of the document.

The second caveat is that Google has a hard limit of 200 people who can simultaneously view a document, and only 50 people who can simultaneously edit the document. That's still a considerable amount of users that would be far more time consuming to reach, if you're sharing manually.

With that said, let's see how to make your Google Document public.

Public sharing

Although I shouldn't have to write this disclaimer, I will. Remember, if you're making a Google document available for the public, that means anyone can read it. To that end, you will want to make sure the content in the document is not only worth sharing, but doesn't hand out sensitive company or personal information. Again ... if you're sharing a business document, make sure the content of that document best represents your company.

I'll demonstrate how this is done through the browser version of Google Drive. The steps for doing this on the mobile app is very similar. To share a document out to the public, open Google Drive and navigate to the folder containing that document. Select the document to be shared, and then click the share button in the upper right corner of the window (Figure A).

Figure A

Figure A

The share button in Google Drive.

In the sharing popup, click Advanced. From within the resulting popup (Figure B), click the Change link associated with Who has access.

Figure B

Figure B

Changing the access of your document.

In the next window, click On - Public on the web. This will then reveal the Access option (Figure C), which allows you to set what the public can do with the document.

Figure C

Figure C

Setting the permissions for your document.

You can enable three possible options for public sharing:

  • Can view (default) -- public only has read access.
  • Can edit -- public has both read/write access.
  • Can comment -- public can read and add comments.

Most likely, you're going to want to stick with the default option. If you do want to gain public input, I would recommend going with the Can comment option. However, you must understand this means the public can add what they want, so you open yourself up to scrutiny, or users adding language not safe for work. But, if you want input on a document, it's a good way to go.

Once the document has been shared, you will be presented with a link to use for distributing the document. Share that link on social networks, email, your company website ... or whatever means necessary.

Mind your security

In case you need another reminder, please remember to not making sensitive information public. The last thing you need to do is make a Google Drive document, containing proprietary company data, public. But for PR information, documentation, and other non-proprietary data, sharing with the public, via Google Drive, is a handy means of dissemination.

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By Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic, The New Stack, and Linux New Media. He's covered a variety of topics for over twenty years and is an avid promoter of open source. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen....