In this lesson, we explore a situation that might be common and one that I recently encountered. I thought it would be a great opportunity to share one of the hidden gems in Google Drive. By the way, I found this out as a result of a mistake I made during a training.

There are times when we need to share documents with several users and we can easily do this with the share link option. When we have lots of documents to share with lots of people, the easiest way to do this is to create a folder and share the folder once with all the users. Once the folder is shared we can place anything in this folder and it is automatically available to everyone with permission to the folder. This is a common and simple example, but what we have to do in the real world is rarely this simple.

Suppose we need to share several documents with multiple people but there are groups of people that need access to different sets of documents. For example, we may need to share information that is relevant for one group but not for another. We may have information that is to be seen by one group but not by another. In this case, we can create a folder for each group and share the information pertinent to that group in the folder. This is a little more complex but something that we might encounter regularly.

This is where the lesson begins. We have several folders shared with different groups and each has different sets of documents related to the group’s interests and needs. Into these folders, we need to share one or more common documents. We want to share it with each group in their folder but how do we do it? We could share the link to this document with each user but that defeats the purpose of sharing documents with folders. We could make a copy of the document and distribute the copy into each of their folders. This causes another problem. What happens when we need to update the information and what do we do if we need this document to be used for collaboration?

An answer is to use an alias. An alias is a link to the original document. This isn’t a link like a web link but a link like the one used to create shortcuts to applications, folders or documents on a computer. For example, the icon to your favorite application in the Taskbar on Windows, the Dock on Mac or the Shelf in Chrome is an alias to the application installed somewhere else.

To create an alias to a document in Google Drive we need to use a modifier key similar to the one we need to create an alias in Windows or Mac. In this example, we have several shared folders. There is a set of instructions that needs to go into each of these folders.

google_drive_with_folders_and_a_document

To make an alias to this document in each folder we will drag the document into the folders while pressing a modifier key. On Windows or Chrome, this is the Alt key. On Mac, it is the Command key. Press and hold this key while dragging the document onto a folder. The mouse arrow will include a circle with a plus symbol when we are over the folder.

movng_a_document

Release the document when the folder is highlighted.

google_folder_highlighted

A dialogue box will open confirming we want to share this document inside a shared folder. Click Ok to continue.

share_this_file_dialogue_box

The original document is still available to us outside the folder.

document_in_folder

Open the folder where we sent the alias. The document is right here with the other documents that are shared in the folder. Let’s open the document inside this shared folder.

alias_document_in_folder

Everything is as it should be. Let’s look at the power of using aliases. We need to change the title of this document from Cyber Safety Verification to Online Safety Verification Instructions.

document_open

We’ll go back to our drive and open the original document.

original_document

In the Chrome browser, we see the tabs open for both documents. The one on the left is the original and the one on the right represents the alias document.

documents_open_in_tabs

We’ve made the changes to the original document.

updated_document_content

Let’s look at the alias document. Click on the tab in the browser for the alias document.

content_updted_on_alias

The document shows the same information. This is because it is the same document. An alias points to the original, the changes we make to the original are automatically available when someone opens the alias to this document. It’s just like sharing the document with everyone in the individual folders but without having to send a separate link.

A benefit of using an alias is that whatever we do to the original is automatically reflected in the alias. This includes renaming the document file. In this example, we changed the file name and we can see the name change is reflected in the alias tab.

updated_document_file_name

The same is true if we delete the original. When we delete the original, the alias to the original in each document is also removed.