Tracking Changes in Your Google Drive

I’ve been working a lot lately with smaller teams in our organization on various projects, and keeping track of what is up-to-date, who has changed what, and whatever else has happened can be a real challenge. Some new functionality in Google Drive has made keeping up-to-date and effectively tracking changes easy. Let’s explore a few ways to track changes and manage the flow of information.


1. Bold = Changes You Haven’t Seen


When you’re working in Google Drive, or even in Google’s email, you’ve probably noticed documents that turn bold – especially documents that you’re sharing with others, or emails that are new. And that’s just it – documents and emails with information you haven’t read yet turn bold in your lists. Well, the title turns bold, not the whole document!


The bold, as in “regular vs. bold,” indicates changes have happened, and you either haven’t read the email yet, or haven’t been in the document to see those changes. This is great from a visual perspective, as you can get a good idea of work happening, or editing taking place. Teachers, for example, can easily manage entire classes turning in and editing documents with Google Drive, and instantly tell whether or not students are actively working, since the bolding feature is real-time, and will update immediately when changes are made.

Fig 1. – It’s easy to tell which documents I’ve seen, or which have been edited or added to after I last visited the folder. You can easily tell that everything in bold needs reviewing if you’re working in a team structure and you’re managing the whole process.


2. Visually Manage Sharing


Another challenge when working in a team environment, or in the classroom, is to keep track of who has access to what documents and folders. There are some great third-party applications that can do this for you, and report on your document exposure levels, but it’s just as easy on the individual level to manage access when you leverage the tools already available to you within Google Drive.


By paying attention to the symbols Google Drive uses within the list view, it’s pretty easy to tell what is shared, and with whom. Each document will indicate this information. It can get a bit tricky if you have multiple people accessing files and folders, but you’ll be able to tell right away who owns the folder or document, and that’s usually a good start when trying to troubleshoot and solve for issues.

Fig 2. – The List View in Google Drive exposes who owns the document or folder, when the last update was made, and by whom. But, working with more than a few contributors can still be a challenge.


Google just released a new feature, exposing folder owners and collaborators in the top row, in the top right hand corner, using the pictures set for one’s Google+ profile. That’s a great step in the right direction as you get immediate feedback on who’s involved with the project, and what the sharing settings are for each folder.


However, if you don’t work with the collaborators on a frequent basis, it might be tough to keep track on the profile pictures and actually identify them by name. Of course, if you hover over each avatar, you’ll get the name, and sometimes more information.


In addition, if you’ve shared the folder using a link or within a group or organization you’ll see that information as well, but not visually without having to open the share settings for each folder.

Fig 3. – The new visual folder information pane quickly shows who has access to the shared folder, and what kind of access they have. Depending on how many people have access to your folder, you may or may not see all of them – in the above example, there are +581 ‘others’ that have access, for example.


3. Details & Activity Pane


A new feature in Google Drive is the Details & Activity pane, called the Activity Stream. Now, when a folder or document is selected you can click the ‘i’ symbol located next to the list/folder view toggles. This opens up the activity stream for that item, and expands the information about said item. You now have quick access to more about documents in a folder, changes and updates made to documents within that folder, or access to permissions for a single document.


I have begun actively using the Activity Stream, and keep it open by default. If you’re on a small screen it may take away from some screen realty when working in Drive, but on my 13” laptop it works just fine.

Fig 4. – Quick access to folder activity is key when trying to track a large project, especially when working with lots of collaborators. Notice it shows you what documents have been touched, by whom, and at what time. Perfect for time management or workload tracking.

Fig 5. – The Details part of the new Activity Stream shows quick information about your item (in this case a folder):  share permissions, documents and folders within the parent folder, and when items were modified.

Fig 6. – The Activity Stream for a folder – great, and quick, insight into folder activity, who’s involved, and when.


4. Revision History for a Document


Don’t forget the old standby for an individual document:  you can always use the Revision History, especially if you need up-to-the-minute edit tracking by collaborators. This information isn’t available yet in the Activity Stream, and in many cases might be information overload, but it’s nice to have in Revision History for those times you do need it.


For example, when working with many collaborators on a single document, and you need to keep track of small changes, you’ll find the Revision History tool located in File > See revision history.


5. Keeping Track of Multiple Google Apps Accounts


If you’re like me, you probably have more than one Google Apps account. How do you keep track of them all, especially when working with others, and sometimes with yourself, in sharing from one account to the other?


Here’s what I do: I manage my accounts using different avatars, or profile pictures. That way, when I see myself in a sharing stream, I can identify which account I’m dealing with.


Below, I just used the same picture but made one black and white, so I can keep track of ‘personal’ Andreas, and ‘at work’ Andreas. For social reasons, I only keep one social media account active for myself – that is, one Twitter account, one Google+ account – that I update on a regular basis. You can probably tell which one is more active here.

Fig 7. – Keeping track of yourself can be a challenge too, if you have more than a couple of Google Apps accounts. Playing with the avatar, or profile picture, might help you separate your identities.


So, keeping track of changes is easy – no more lost data, or lost productivity. Teach your team how today, and start working smarter – tracking every bit of your success along the way!


Andreas Johansson is the Director of Technology Integration & Curriculum for Kenston Local Schools in Ohio, a Google Apps for Education Certified Trainer, and tracks his data with precision using the built-in Google Drive tools! You can find him here.