Sharing Your Google Docs with the World?

At its core, Google Docs is really a wiki tool.   It's essentially a web page that anyone with access can edit.  What makes it different from other wikis are the more powerful word processing features, as well as the ability to save your documents to multiple types of formats.

To make sure you don't turn a Google Doc into a wiki that the entire world can edit, it's important to make sure you use the right sharing options.  Wired wrote about it this past week (Google Docs Design Flaw May Fool You Into Making Your Docs Editable by Anyone), and I figured it was worth an explanation over here.   Head over there for the full article, but the gist is this:  when you share a Google Doc with someone, make sure you select the right options so that you don't grant "edit" access to the whole world.  The "Sharing" interface could be a little bit confusing, leading users to unintentionally make their documents visible -- and editable -- by anyone, just like Wikipedia.

The Wired folks say (as do I) that this may not be news to anyone -- but in the event someone reading this blog may get confused when choosing privacy options, we've done our part in passing the message on.

Google Docs -- Still a Risk for the Casual User?

How secure are your Google Docs?  If you use Gmail, you may recall that a few months ago Google turned on SSL (Secure Socket Layer) encryption -- the protocol that encrypts connections to prevent your email from being hijacked.  So, great -- your email is reasonably safe from hackers.  But what about your Google Docs?  According to ReadWriteWeb in Your Google Docs May Be Open to Hijacking, not if you have a basic account.  If you happen to be using the paid Google Apps Premier or Education editions, you have SSL encryption.  SSL is not, however, an automatic option for users of free Google Docs.

Now that's not entirely true -- if you're a free Google Docs user and you want to encrypt your documents, all you really need to do is type in HTTPS when entering the URL for Google Docs; that will give you an encrypted connection.  Also, according to ReadWriteWeb you can also get a secure connection if you click to other services from the Gmail navigation menu (at the top left of the page).  However, for most of you this probably isn't the best solution.

Again, another reason why, at least for now, Google Docs (the free version, anyway) is not quite ready to permanently store your legal documents. 

Can You Trust Your Data to the Cloud?

Dennis and I use Google Docs frequently to collaborate on articles and other types of documents.  We advocate the use of these cloud computing tools as great ways to work with others.  But lawyers are concerned (and rightly so) about the security of handing over their data to someone else's computer.  Last month a number of Google users lost access to their Google Docs for about an hour one day, and just this past week a Google Apps subscriber was completely locked out of his Google account -- no Gmail, no Google Docs, no pictures, etc.  His account was ultimately restored, but not before panic, fear, and no doubt a queasy stomach set in.

What's a collaboration-minded person to do?  Strong service-level agreements (SLAs) may be one answer -- Google promises a 99.9% uptime level to its paying customers, but there are no SLAs for Google Calendar or Google Docs.  In Can You Trust Your Business to Google's Cloud?, Stephen Shankland reports that in addition to SLAs, many companies are offering more communications tools to their users, to help them feel more in control of the situation -- for example, some companies provide service "dashboards" where users can view the company's uptime, when problems occur, and what causes the problems.  Check out the rest of the article for more information.