Google Docs is not known for its superior word processing power (although it is getting better), instead it is known for its rich collaboration and sharing features. The sharing feature is not just about adding editors and viewers to a doc. Collaborators can now chat within a document, track and mange comments, simultaneously edit, and change the public visibility of a doc. Docs can even be shared with users who do not have a Google Docs via the attachment option.

Can comment

Over the next few days Google will be releasing a new sharing option called “can comment”. Users given this permission can not only view a doc, they can also make and respond to comments, without having editing rights.

Google gives you to the tools to share and collaborate on the docs, but these options are not appropriate for all audiences. As a Doc owner you should choose a collaboration method that is best suited to your audience’s tool set, technical ability, and the goal of the collaboration project.

The following will illustrate four scenarios, and the best Google Docs collaboration option to choose for each.

Scenario 1: Sending a copy of a doc to a non-Google Apps user

Collaboration Option: Send as Attachment

If you create a file in Google Docs, you can share this file with a non-Google Apps user by selecting the “Send as Attachment” action from the Collaborate menu (new UI) or the Share button (old UI).

When you choose to send a file this way, you can select which file type you would like to convert the document to. File types range from Microsoft Office files, to PDF, to HTML, to Rich Text Format depending on the type of file you are sending.

The recipient will receive the file as an attachment to an email. You can add a special message when sending the file via attachment.

The downside of this is that a record of the sent message does not appear in your Sent Mail label in Gmail. Additionally, if the recipient makes changes on their version of the attached file, you will not see those changes in Google Docs.

This method of collaborating is best when the doc you are sending is in its final revision and the user you are sharing it with does not have a Google account.

Scenario 2: Collaborating on a meeting agenda with a small group of Google Docs users

Collaboration Option: Add users as Editors

If you are creating a meeting agenda and you want all the attendees to be able to add their discussion items to the agenda you should create a Private Google Docs and then add all meeting attendees as “editors”.

By setting the visibility option as Private, only the users who you specifically invite will be able to view or edit this document. If the meeting you are organizing is rather small (less than twenty people) and you want everyone’s feedback, you should add them as Editors. That way they can edit the meeting agenda with their own items. This is a time saver when compared to having all twenty attendees email you their agenda additions.

Using the Revision History tool you can see which users made which changes. You can also use this tool to revert to older versions of the agenda in case one of the users made a mistake and erased someone else’s work.

Once the meeting agenda is set, you can change the collaborator’s status to “viewer” so that they can still see the Doc but cannot make changes to it

Scenario 3: Publishing a policy or procedure within your organization

Collaboration Option: Make the Doc Findable and Viewable Across your Domain

Let’s say you just revised your company’s policy on sick leave and you want to publish it to your intranet or share it via email. Instead of adding everyone in your company as a viewer, you could just change the visibility option of the doc so that everyone in your organization can find and access it.

When you select this setting, you will see a unique URL appear in the Sharing option window that you can share via email, chat, or post on the web. Only users who have a username and password on your domain will be able to view this document. This visibility option also allows users to find the doc by doing a search of all docs within your domain.

If you make changes to the policy doc, the changes will instantly appear to those people who are viewing or searching for the doc. You can also add additional editors to this doc if two or three people are authoring the doc. As the owner of the doc, you are the one has ultimate deletion control, so be careful.

Scenario 4: Writing up a client proposal requiring direct feedback from your colleagues

Collaboration Option: Add users as “editors” or “commenters” and use the Comment feature of Google Docs.

If you are working on a private doc and you want to solicit feedback from your colleagues directly on the document, you can take advantage of Google Doc’s newest comment features. Editors and Commenters can add comments and respond to comments on a Google Doc, but only editors can make changes on the document itself.

The new comment interface of Google Docs tracks the comment conversation between editors and commenters. There is also a “resolve” button that can be selected when the discussion has been resolved. This is a great way to track and manage the discussion around the document. The document owner can solicit feedback from multiple people, but ultimately has control over making changes to the document.

The new “Show Comment Stream” feature allows doc editors and commenters to see the entire comment history. Users can also tweak the way they receive notifications about changes and comments to a method more in line with their personal preferences.

The live chat feature within Google Docs is still available, but the comment feature helps capture the asynchronous conversation around the doc.

Power users

These features should not be used by Google Docs newbies or non-technical users without proper training and instruction. And while the collaboration features of Google Docs are powerful and can save you a lot of time, you should be sure to choose the collaboration option that is most appropriate for your project and your colleagues.

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