Thursday, February 11, 2010

Using Google Documents - Post 1

Do you want am easy-to-use online backup for your most important genealogy files? Do you want to be able to share documents or files with email correspondents or on a web page? Do you want to collaborate with other persons on a document, spreadsheet or presentation?

I've thought often about using online backup services like Mozy or Carbonite and others. Some of them are free for a limited number of files or gigabytes used, and all cost money for a large number of gigabytes.

I've been keeping copies of my desktop computer files on an external hard drive, on my laptop computer, on a Western Digital My Passport, and some of them on a 16-gb flash drive. However, all of these devices are currently stored in my genealogy cave. If there was a house fire or other disaster, then I would lose all of them. Sure, I could rent a safety deposit box at the bank, but that costs money too. I could keep the storage devices in a place away from my house also, but that reduces my control of them, and doesn't protect them from a local or regional disaster like a major earthquake, nuclear explosion or electromagnetic event.

Along came Google Docs ( offering up to 1 gigabyte of free storage for any file type. I decided to see how easy it was to use. I've uploaded 90 files so far, of all file types, that take up 317 megabytes of space. They include most of my presentations in OpenOffice format, my presentation handouts in MSWord or PDF format, my Christmas letters and Family Journal documents in PDF format, and my Family Tree Maker database (a 44 megabyte .FTW file).

Google Docs will convert and permit editing of files that are in .doc, .docx, .odt, .sxw, .rtf, .txt, .htm, .html, .ppt, .pps, .xls, .xlsx, .ods, and .csv, but the file sizes are limited. I haven't chosen to do those tasks yet.

When I click on the link for Google documents, my screen looks like this:

There are actions in the left-hand column, and the list of my previously uploaded files in the center and right of the screen.

If I click on one of the files that Google docs will not convert, I get a screen that shows the file name and file size and the ability to open or save the file:

Some of my Microsoft Word files don't open well in Google Docs - here is one of my CVGS Newsletter files that uses Tables:

It looks all messed up. However, if I download it and save it, it opens fine in Microsoft Word. The PDF files look fine when opened and can be printed directly from Google Docs.

The second task I want Google Docs to perform is to permit sharing of files with selected persons, or with anybody via a web link. On the list of files, I can select a file and click on the "Share" button above the list, and have a choice of "Invite People," "Get the link to share," "See who has access," and "Email as attachment."

I chose "Get the link to share" and saw:

I can copy the link (highlighting then pressing Ctrl-C) and put it in an email or on a web page.

If I click on the "Invite People" link, then I can select persons to receive it via email (I can select from from my Google Gmail contact list or type them in), pick whether they can only view it or edit it, add a message to those persons, send a copy to myself, etc:

This Google Documents service is very easy to use and serves the needs I have to save my important genealogy files out of my house and (hopefully) safe from disasters, and to be able to share files with specific persons (via email) or anybody (through a web link).

I can replace my Family Tree Maker database(s), and any other files, whenever I modify them, or on a regular basis. This doesn't save all of my files, but it does save the ones that are not easily replaceable.

I can sleep better tonight knowing that a home or local disaster won't completely wipe me out now. Of course, security is an issue - a Google account is only as safe as a user password, so I've taken steps to strengthen that also. None of the files I've uploaded contain any real private information like passwords, bank account or credit card numbers, financial data, etc.

In the next post in this series, I'll demonstrate how easy it is to upload a file to Google Docs.


Heather Wilkinson Rojo said...

Thank you, Randy, for posting this. I was wondering what Google documents was all about, and now I completely understand it- and I see great value!

Tim Agazio said...


What a great idea for backing things up! I just tested it out and it looks like a good place to stash important docs. Thanks for the tip.

Anonymous said...

If it's free space you're looking for, you could hack together:
2 GB from Mozy
2 GB from Dropbox (can also share files from here)
1 GB from (can also share files from here)
With your 1 GB from GoogleDocs, you're now up to 6 GB.

I'm sure there are others; EverNote 3's web-based service for instance, and I bet multiple other backup services. A gig here and a gig there. As long as you make a list of what you put where, you're way ahead. Otherwise you'll just be confused.

Unknown said...

The first thing I uploaded was my RootsMagic files. I finally have them backed-up somewhere besides my house. I found this service limited only by my ISP's slow upload speed.

taneya said...

I would find this much easier to use if they used a "virtual" drive system like Dropbox. Also, Dropbox gives you 2GB for free. I hope to see Google moving more in that direction.

Marky said...

DropBox is king. Every time you recommend it to a friend and they sign up you get another 250MB free! O am currently accessing 5.25GB and not paying a penny. Add to that the seamless integration with the Operating System (I use Snow Leopard) plus the version control (saved me when I overwrote a file by accident) and it is the best by miles.