Easy Collaboration On The Cheap

Today we look at some free tools out there that allow you to do some things with documents (today we just look at spreadsheets) that you simply can’t do by emailing copies all over the place.


1. To give normal spreadsheet capabilities to all users. This also means more than one user can view/edit the document at the same time.

2. To let multiple users edit the spreadsheet online, without any software installed beyond an everyday web browser.

3. Allow seeing who did what & when, rolling back to earlier versions, and all the essential things collaboration requires.

4. Allow the downloading of the document (as it is in that specific moment) in a variety of formats. Users work off the master online, and each download is only a snapshot of the master at that time, and will not reflect subsequent changes.

There is more than one way to do this (with different tools), but we’ll focus initially on the best & easiest (free) one there is: Google Docs/Google Drive (they are going through a name change crisis now).

Note: You do not need a Free Google account to access/edit a document, only to host one. Let’s start first with an existing account, and create a document for us in this tutorial:

My user on Google will be my main one, Pat Trainor (Pat.Trainor@gmail.com). I will now log in and create a test spreadsheet for our use today:

1. I go to https://drive.google.com, and see all my documents, including the documents & folders others are sharing with me. Yes, you can share a whole folder online, and include all folders under/within it. I click on CREATE, selecting SPREADSHEET:


2014-10-27_Screenshot_3442. When I do, I see a normal looking spreadsheet, with all the goodies accessible at the top, inside my web browser. Hovering my mouse over SHARE, I can see that initially this unnamed spreadsheet is private:

2014-10-27_Screenshot_3463. You can also see my name at the top right, as the owner. I’ll name this spreadsheet by clicking on the name it has by default (see top left), Unnamed spreadsheet, and changing it to Test Spreadsheet:

2014-10-27_Screenshot_3474. Let’s add some random stuff into the top left cells…




2014-10-27_Screenshot_3495. OK! Now it wouldn’t be collaboration without other users, so let’s SHARE the document. To do this, as you’d expect, we click the big SHARE button at the top right. Doing so, we see:

2014-10-27_Screenshot_3506. Users you add can either View or Edit your document. Click on Advanced, and see:

2014-10-27_Screenshot_3517. Since we no longer want the document to be Private, click Change. You now can choose:

2014-10-27_Screenshot_3528. Your 3 choices are very simple:

-Anyone, anywhere can locate (search for) and find/access your document.

-Only those who have the link (see previous highlighted URL for that address) can get to it.

-Specific people only, and they need to log in (to any Google account) for us to know who they are, and what they are allowed to change.

9. Simplified:

2014-10-27_Screenshot_353I, as the creator of the document, am naturally the owner.

2014-10-27_Screenshot_354For most people, opening the doc up to those that have the link is fine. If it is more sensitive, then require Google logins.

10. So for this initial test, my document sharing looks like this:

2014-10-27_Screenshot_35511. Click SAVE. You are now brought back to the screen allowing you to fine tune these settings, and to copy the link for the document:

2014-10-27_Screenshot_35712. So first, let’s copy & paste the Link to share in the above shot.  In another computer, I am logged in to a Yahoo account:

2014-10-27_Screenshot_356I do this to show that I am not logged in to any Google account.  In that browser, I’ll paste the URL of our test spreadsheet into the browser.

13. This is what I now see with no Google account, and not signed in (see top right of below image):

2014-10-27_Screenshot_358Success! I can at least see the spreadsheet.

14. From the top of the sheet, there is a lot we can tell about it:

2014-10-27_Screenshot_359For example, We can see that Pat Trainor was the last one to make any edits. You can also see a green bar under my Google user icon. This color is used to help show which edits I have made. Other users wold have other colors assigned for clarity.

15. But there is also something really cool going on. Did you notice 2 screens up that cell D15 was green, too? That is because that cell is the one Pat Trainor has highlighted right now! Don’t believe me? Let’s go back to Pat’s browser, and see how our user logging into it has changed how it looks to him (the owner):

2014-10-27_Screenshot_36016. Above is Pat’s browser. I hovered my mouse over the red icon, and as you can see, an anonymous user is logged into this sheet. But look at cell A1. You can see that it is red in color as well. That is because our anonymous user is indicated by the color red in their icon.

Because this user (Bogus Exception) did not log in, I have no idea who they are as I look at the screenshot above. Remember, I said anyone with the link-so some may not have a login that shows me their name. This is due to our choice way at the start for how we were going to share this test spreadsheet.

17. So now for the fun (FINALLY!). Let’s have our anonymous user change the sheet in some dramatic, easy to see way. As the anonymous user, I selected C1:C11, and clicked BOLD:

2014-10-27_Screenshot_36118. In addition, I put a note in cell A5:

2014-10-27_Screenshot_362But… Will Pat Trainor (the owner) see this change in his browser?

19. What will that look like? Let’s check his browser:

2014-10-27_Screenshot_363Nifty! We can see the bolded column and the comment in cell A5 (little triangle at top right of the cell), just like in Excel.

20. I can also see the change status just by hovering my mouse over the text at the top that says “All changes saved in Drive“:

2014-10-27_Screenshot_364Very nice!

21. Better yet, CLICK on that text, and you can see all the changes made, and by who. You can even roll back the document to a state before at any edit! Check it out:

2014-10-27_Screenshot_365You can see how the system assigns each user a color, and allows you to revert (go back to) any of the previous versions (where my mouse is in the above shot).

How great is that? No limit to # of changes, no limit to # of users, and all for the low price of FREE.

Any questions, please reach out to me at PatTrainor@gmail.com

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