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Kimberly Powell

Collaborate Online with Google Docs & Spreadsheets

By September 17, 2007

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One of the genealogical societies I belong to wants to increase the number of online databases it offers to its members, but the good intentions often get bogged down in the details. Now we're using Google Docs & Spreadsheets as an easy (and free!) way for members to transcribe documents and get them ready for posting online. It offers a simple solution for including more member volunteers without the need for special software or a lot of instruction. Having everything online in one place also makes it easy to keep an eye on the progress, offer suggestions, and schedule proofreading.

As with a lot of genealogical societies, many of our members do not consider themselves especially computer savvy. Personally, I don't think they give themselves enough credit. But when I start talking about setting up a database or using Excel, they get a bit worried. As a way to get more of these members involved, I'm setting up Google Spreadsheets for specific transcription projects in Google Docs with the appropriate column headings for the information that we want to have transcribed. When a particular spreadsheet has been completed, I then export the spreadsheet in Excel (.xls) format and convert it to a Microsoft Access database for posting on our Web site.

Once the Google spreadsheet is set up, all I have to do is invite a volunteer (or volunteers) by email to begin transcribing. Google's collaboration tools allow me to assign access permissions by document, so I can give someone access to a particular spreadsheet or document without giving them access to the entire account. If the database requires it, I can also type up instructions in a Word document and post that online for volunteers as well. Multiple users can easily work on the same transcription since it is stored online. They can even work on a spreadsheet simultaneously! If two people are editing the exact same cell at the exact same time someone's changes could possibly be accidentally overwritten, but this is a rare scenario. There's even a handy chat tool that appears right alongside the spreadsheet that allows you to see anyone else who is currently viewing the spreadsheet, and discuss editing and changes with them real-time.

Other handy genealogy uses for Google Documents:

  • You can use it as an alternative to your blog interface to prepare a blog post, and then publish it directly to Blogger or other blog. This option offers more sophisticated word processing tools and a larger window in which to work than are found in most blogging software.

  • Google Documents offers an easy, online place to collect family stories or recipes. Just invite all of your family members to participate. Because they can see what others are posting, they might be inspired to share more than they otherwise would.

  • You can use it as a handy place to track your online genealogy research. Create a spreadsheet to serve as a research log, or just keep notes, such as future research ideas, in a Google Doc. The positive side is that these are available online anytime, from any computer.

Overall, the ability to use Google Documents to create, store and share documents and spreadsheets instantly and securely from any computer, and collaborate online in real time is something that just about any genealogical society or family group may find appealing. And you can't beat free! To sign up for this free service, you need to create an account with an e-mail address and password. You can use your regular e-mail address - it does not have to be a Google "Gmail" address.

A similar offering that I haven't yet had a chance to try is Zoho. They also offer free online document and spreadsheet editing software, along with a slideshow editor (think PowerPoint), wiki, and other tools.

September 18, 2007 at 7:48 am
(1) Jasia says:

Great article Kimberly. I just love all these creative ways that free tools can be used by genealogy societies. You have certainly capitalized on Google Docs and Spread sheets (one of my favorite programs). Good for you and good for genealogy societies everywhere!

October 7, 2007 at 1:03 pm
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Foe years and years I’ve been trying (without success) to organize and find my info. This makes it so much easier. Thank you a million times for letting us know what’s out there

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