By Susan Metz | Saturday, September 15, 2012
UPDATE 7/22/14: Check out our new article on how to Share a Google Doc with a Non-Google User for the very latest tips.
You’ve just completed a Google spreadsheet with charts, formulas, and data galore. Now you’re ready to share your spreadsheet with your colleagues and you realize that you don’t know whether or not they have a Google account. The good news is that there are many ways to share a Google Doc with a non-Google account holder. The easiest solution is to simply ask your colleague(s) if they have a Google account. But in this case, we’ll assume that you either don’t have time to ask, you need to share a document with several colleagues under deadline, or it is a situation in which you simply can’t get that information ahead of time. In this post, we’ll discuss three of the most common scenarios for sharing a Google Doc with a non-Google account holder, but first we should probably get clear on some vocabulary. A Google account is not a Gmail account. A Google account is a unified sign-in system that gives one access to Google products like Docs, Groups, AdWords, and so on. A Google account can be associated with any email address—not just Gmail addresses. It’s very likely that the person you are trying to share a Doc with already has a Google account that they have created at one time or another. A Doc is a Google document, spreadsheet, presentation, drawing, or form. Docs can only be edited within the Google Docs application. A Google account is a user name and password that allows a person to sign into Google Drive. This may be an @gmail account, a Google Apps account, or any email address associated with a Google account. You can associate any email address in the world with a Google Apps account. Three scenarios for sharing a Doc with a non-Google account holder Scenario one: You’ve created a document, spreadsheet, or presentation and you need to share the completed version with a non-Google user. In this case the best thing to do is send the document as an email attachment. With the Doc open, click the File menu and choose Email as attachment. A dialog box will appear where you can adjust the format for the file, enter the email address of the recipient(s), and send a message along with the Doc. You can send your Docs in the MS Office format, as text files, as HTML files, or even as PDFs. This is the best option if you are sending a completed file, like a report. However, if your recipient makes edits to the file in Microsoft Excel or Word and sends it back to you, you can always convert the file from MS Office format back into a Google Doc to edit. Scenario two: You need to share a doc with a group of people who do not have Google accounts and you would like them to make edits to the doc. If this is the case, the best thing to do is to change the visibility options of the Doc to Anyone with a link. You can change the visibility options by opening your Doc, then clicking the Share button at the top right and selecting Change under the Who has access portion of the Sharing settings dialog box. This will bring up the Doc’s visibility options. Select the second option, Anyone with the link, and then select Can edit from the dropdown menu by Access. Finally, click Save to keep your changes. Note: If you are a Google Apps users and you do not see the option Anyone with the link it may be that your Google Apps administrator has disabled this type of sharing. If this is the case, you should move on to scenario number three, below. Once you click the Save button you will be back at the main sharing screen. Copy the link in the Link to share field. This is the link you should share with people who need to make edits to the Doc. Once you share the Link to share link, your editors will be able to access the Doc in edit mode without being asked to sign in. Do not share the URL you see in your browser’s URL menu because that is a private link only for you. If you are in the Doc at the same time as another person, the people that do not have Google App accounts will show up as Anonymous User You’ll also see these non-Google people show up as anonymous users when you look at the revision history. The anonymous users with which you share your Google Doc link do not automatically become what Google calls collaborators, so be aware that you will not be able to use the Email collaborators function (as mentioned in scenario one) if you share the Doc using the supplied link. It should also be noted that it is a best practice to change the visibility settings of the Doc back to Private when people are done editing and the Doc is complete. That way, no one can use the link you shared to come back into the Doc later and make more changes. I would not consider using the Link to share functionality a best practice for sharing confidential Docs because this system of sharing creates a link that anyone can access. If you need to share a confidential Doc, see scenario three, below. Scenario three:You need a non-Google user to edit your Doc and you don’t have the option to change the Doc’s visibility settings to Anyone with the link. Or you need to share a confidential Doc with someone who does not have a Google account. If you want to share a private Google Doc and you want to use the Google Doc editor to edit the file, and the Google Doc list to manage the file, then you should ask your contributor to create a Google account. As mentioned aboved, a Google account is not a Gmail account, but rather a unified sign-in system that gives one access to Google products like Docs, Groups, AdWords, and so on. A Google account can be associated with any email address—not just Gmail addresses—and it’s likely that the person you are trying to share a Doc with already has a Google account that they have created at one time or another. When you share a private Doc with someone they’ll be sent a link to the Doc via email. When they click on the Doc link they’ll be taken to a sign-in page where they can enter their Google account user name and password. If they don’t have a user name and password, they can click the Sign Up link to create a new Google account. With a Google account created, the person can now access the Google Doc that you have shared with them. They can receive email notifications about the file, and based on your permission settings, they can now edit the file online. When they have the Doc open, you will see their user name appear in the upper right-hand corner of your Doc, rather than the Anonymous User moniker that appears for non-Google editors. These are the three best ways to share a Google Doc with a non-Google user. I would also keep in mind that as more and more people are using Google products in one way or another, it is very likely that many of the people you need to share a Doc with will already have a Google account. To learn more about Google Docs and Google Drive, check out Google Drive Essential Training on lynda.com.
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