Google Docs is a pretty handy alternative when it comes to making sure a large number of people can view and collaborate on a document. In the olden days, everyone got a print out and made marks on it in pen. Then came the ability to email groups of people a Word document, which they could mark up and send back. The problem with each of these efforts was that the sender would have to coordinate edits from multiple sources all at once. Today, Google Docs allows multiple people to edit and collaborate on a single document at the same time, without losing track of who’s doing what.
If you or your organization uses Google Docs, knowing who on the team viewed what document and when can be useful information. From ensuring everyone read a draft, terms and conditions, your latest submission, policies and procedures, or some other important document, being able to see who did what and when is an essential ingredient in any situation where accountability matter.
Until recently, you couldn’t see who viewed your Google Doc. You could see who edited it, but not who just read it. If they didn’t save, edit or leave a comment, you had no idea if a particular person read the latest version of a document at all. Also, since you can share Google Docs with read-only permissions, you can share the document with some people with the intent that they review the document but not make any changes.
Current versions of Google Docs allow you to configure settings so you can see who viewed your Google Doc.
The G Suite Activity Monitor
G Suite is typically used by organizations in which sharing documents, calendars, Gmail and chat, and more are very important, and this package is really taking off. If you use G Suite within an organization, and you’re the document administer who has shared a Google Doc with others, you can use the Activity Monitor to see the “view history” of the Google Doc file.
- Open the Google Doc for which you’d like to look at the view history
- Then click on the upward trending arrow icon in the upper right or go to the Tools pull-down menu
- Open the Activity Monitor
- Next, click on the All viewers for your organization tab
This process will enable you to track views in the document, including the date and time of the last view for each viewer. If you don’t see the Activity Monitor option in your Google Doc it likely means you’re logged into the free version of Google Docs, or a personal account, rather than a G Suite version.
Viewers and Comments Trends
In addition to seeing who viewed your Google Doc and when, the Activity Monitor also enables you to see trends on when people viewed or commented on your document.
Viewers Trend – shows you a bar chart of the number of unique viewers over any span of time you choose from 7 days to “all time”
Comments Trend – shows you bar charts of the comment trend over any span of time from 7 days to “all time”
Turn off View History
You can turn the feature off to if you’re working on a confidential file or something not for public consumption. While it doesn’t add to privacy, it’s a setting to set the mind at ease.
- Open the Google Doc
- Click on the upward trending arrow in the upper right side of your doc or go to Tools from the pull-down menu
- Open the Activity Monitor
- Under Document Setting, toggle Show my view history for this document to off
This option is also available in the personal or free version of Google Docs, as well. If you’re working on a document, but you don’t want your collaborators to know until you’re ready to share your final revisions and thoughts, you can turn off your view history.
Start by opening Google Docs, and clicking on Settings.
The Settings menu you allows you to turn off your view history with the “Activity Dashboard” settings. Once you’ve toggled this to the “off” position, click OK to save changes.
See who changed your Google Doc
Counting views is useful for accountability and to make sure people actually read the documents you share with them. At the same time, version control is very important, especially if you work in a regulated industry. Version control is something Google Docs has done for a while and will show who has edited a document, saved or shared it. This actually works not just with G Suite, but with personal Google Docs, as well.
If you’re interested in version control or want to make sure nobody has made changes they shouldn’t without locking the file down, you can find out.
- Open a Google Doc you want to track
- Select File and Version History
- Select See Version History
A slider window should appear on the right of your screen showing every save and edit for the document in question. Depending on how you have G Suite or Google Docs set up, you can also see this data by selecting the ‘Last edit was…’ link at the top of the document. It takes you to exactly the same place.
Within that slide window, you should also have the option to view the previous version of the document before the edits were made. This is essential for version control as you have an audit trail of what changes were made, when and by whom. It is also useful if you made some changes, sleep on it, change your mind and want to roll them back.
See who has shared your Google Doc
You can also see who has shared your Google Doc and when. You can also see the sharing settings so you can better control access to your document.
- Go to drive.google.com
- Click on MyDrive on the left
- Click the small i button, for Information, on the upper right corner
- Click Activity
- Either click on each file or folder individually, or review the scroll bar to the right of the screen. This will show you all recent history.
- You should see whether the Doc is or has been shared, who last edited the document and when the last action was taken on it. It’s brief but tells you what you need to know.
You can also check from within the document by selecting Share. The names of individuals will appear in the popup window. If there are multiple people, select a name and the list of all names will appear.
Your ability to determine who has viewed, shared, and edited your documents is limited if you do not have access to a G Suite account; however, there are still ways to get some basic information. When in doubt, there are plenty of tasteful ways to follow up with parties who haven’t submitted revisions, of course. The tried and true, “Just a reminder- all version edits must be entered into (document name) by (time, date)” is a not-so-subtle message that gets your point across, and activating read receipts on your email can be a great help. But we digress… .