Google Docs Basics: uploading and sharing.

This is another in an occasional series of “howto” instructional documents.

To use Google Docs, go to If you already have a Gmail or Google Docs account, log in with that username and password. Otherwise, create an account by following the instructions in this howto doccument.

The first time you log in, there will be a “Getting Started” box with an arrow pointing to the Upload button. This button is, naturally enough, what you use to upload files. Next to it is the “Create New” menu; we’ll get to that in a moment, but first let’s talk about uploading.

When you click the Upload button, you’ll be taken to a separate page which tells you how much storage you are currently using, and gives you upload options. Let’s look at these:

  • The Files to upload box shows what files you have currently selected to upload. When you first see open the page, it will say “No files selected”; click the “Select files to upload” link to open a file browser box that lets you choose files from anywhere on your computer or network drives. Navigate to the file you want and click Open to add it to the list of files to upload. You may then click the “Select more files” link if you want to upload more files now.
  • Below this box are conversion options. Regardless of whether you want to cooperatively edit files online, or merely store them for others to view or download, you probably want to leave the checkmark in the box labeled “Convert documents, presentations, and spreadsheets to the corresponding Google Docs formats”. Word processing documents, spreadsheets, powerpoint presentations, and similar documents will be converted into Google Docs formats. This makes them take less storage space, and allows you to edit them online (and optionally allow others to do so.) Images and other file types like PDF documents are unaffected.
  • The other conversion option should probably be left unchecked. However, if you upload an image or PDF document and want Google to attempt to convert it into editable text, check this box. This is a new feature of Google Docs and is not foolproof.
  • Below the legal notice about the Terms of Service, you have two important menus and the upload button. Before clicking “Start upload”, make sure you understand the settings in the menus.
  • The first menu is labeled “Destination folder”. If you don’t choose anything here, the document will be uploaded into your main folder, but you may also choose to put it into any folder you have created, or any folder that others have shared with you. If you are sharing documents (see below), you will probably have a folder in which you want to upload the document into.
  • The second and more important menu lets you choose the document’s visibility setting. By default, it says “Private”, and this is where you will want to leave it most of the time. It is important to note that private documents can still be shared if you specifically designate people to be able to view or edit them, or if you put them in a shared folder. Your other options are “Public on the Web” which makes the document available to anyone and findable in searches, and “Available to anyone who has the link” which means the document won’t be found in searches, but the link to it can be used by anyone to whom you give it (and to anyone those people share it with, and so forth) without requiring a Google Docs account. I strongly recommend leaving documents private unless you have a specific reason the whole world should be able to see them.
  • Finally, you have the Start Upload button, which uploads the documents you’ve selected and converts them according to the options you’ve chosen. While this is happening, you’ll see a progress indicator, and when all files are done you can either click “Upload more files” to, obviously, upload more documents. If you don’t want to upload more documents, just click the “Back to Google Docs” link near the top of the page to return to the main page.

You can share individual documents by clicking on them and then using the Share menu on the details page, but if you have many files to share it is easier to create a shared folder and then simply put documents into it. Here’s how to do that:

  • First, you need to create the folder. Remember that “Create New” menu I mentioned a bit ago? Click it, and choose Folder. This will pop up a window asking you to name the folder; name it something that will make sense to everyone who will be sharing the folder, and click OK.
  • The folder will now appear under “My Folders” in the sidebar. Its name should also be showing in the colored header bar to the right of the Upload button; that means you have it open as the current folder. If it is not open (for example, the header bar it might say “All Items” instead) then click on its name in the sidebar.
  • Once you have the folder open, find the Share menu just below the header bar. In an empty folder like this one, it will only have one item, with greyed-out text saying “Use the checkboxes to select one or more items, or share this folder”. That last part should be a link; click it to bring up the sharing settings window. Note that if you share a document individually, the sharing settings window will be the same, so you can follow the same instructions in that case.
  • The Sharing settings window lists the visibility setting of the folder (the settings are the same as when you upload documents) and anyone who can currently access it in any way. Currently, the folder should be set private, and the only name in the list should be your own. Next to your name, the text “Is Owner” designates that you won this folder and have full rights to it.
  • Below this list is a text box labeled “Add people:” when you click in it, more options will appear, but before you do that, take note of the text below the box. On a newly created folder, it should say “Editors will be allowed to add people and change the permissions” and there will be a Change link next to it. This is very important: if you leave the settings this way, you need to trust everyone to whom you give editing rights, because they will be able to give rights to additional people or even set the folder to be publicly viewable. If you do trust everybody, you can leave this setting alone, otherwise click the “Change” link and choose the other option. This one says “Only the owner can change the permissions” and explains what this means, I highly recommend choosing this more restrictive option if you plan to share any sensitive data in this folder. Whichever you decide, click the Save button to return to the main Sharing settings window.
  • Now, click the Add people box. It will transform into two separate text boxes and some other controls will appear as well. If you have a Gmail account, you can use the “Choose from contacts” link to find people who are already in your Gmail contacts list. Otherwise, you can type the email address of another person who uses Google Docs; however it will only work if you use the exact address they used when creating their account. You can type more than one address if you separate them with commas.
  • Next to that, you will see the permissions menu, which by default says “Can Edit”. If you don’t want these people to edit items in this folder, choose the other option, “Can view”. The larger textbox just below lets you type in a message to be sent to these people along with the automatic notification that this folder has been shared with them.
  • With the first checkbox below the personal message box, you can choose whether to send a copy of the notification to yourself so you see what it looks like; this isn’t really necessary but you can check the box if you wish. The other checkbox is checked by default, and indicates that you want to send the notifications via email; if you uncheck it, the people will only see the notification when they log in to Google Docs. Unless you know they log in regularly, you should leave this box checked.
  • Below the Save and cancel buttons, the editor setting is displayed again, and you have another chance to change it as described above. If it is the way you want it, click Save. The names of the people you added should now be visible in the sharing list, along with the permissions they have; you can change the permission setting by clicking on it, or completely remove their sharing rights by clicking the X.
  • When you are done adding people, click the close button. They should now be able to see this folder in their list of “Folders shared with me” in their sidebar, and click it to see all the documents in it.

Once you’ve shared a folder, you can simply upload documents into it, or drag them from the All Documents list onto the folder name in the sidebar. Now here’s something that will seem weird if you don;t already use Gmail: documents can be in more than one folder. If you share one folder with a certain group of people, and another folder with a different group, you can share a document with both groups by dragging it to both folders. Whether you’re looking at All Documents or the contents of a folder, each document will show the names of the folders it is in; if you want to remove it from a folder, just drag it to the All Documents item in the sidebar (though this only works if you have editing rights on the document.)

Now, you might be thinking “but what about viewing and downloading documents? All this uploading, sharing, and foldering is pretty useless otherwise.” Fair enough; luckily this is easy. Whenever you see the name of a document, you can just click it to get to its details page. This will show you a preview if one is available, and give you links to download the document or open it. Note that some documents, such as video files, cannot be previewed or opened in Google Docs, but can be downloaded.

Anyway, this was just the basic introduction. Like most Google services, there’s a Help link next to the sign our link in the upper right; explore that for lots more about Google Docs!

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