22 Cool Things You Can Do With Google Drive

05/05/2016 12:31 pm ET Updated May 05, 2017

Google drive, launched on 24th April 2012, kickstarted a new era of synchronization and storage. By allowing users to store files in the cloud and share files and empowering users to collaboratively edit documents, spreadsheets, and presentations, the Google ecosystem has attracted more than a million active users. In addition to providing new collaborative features, Google services are often more secure and often cost less than competitors. Who doesn't love the cloud, right?

Google Drive is the file storage service portion of Google Apps. Sometimes indistinguishable from Google Docs, Google Drive is just one part of a large, comprehensive ecosystem. Similar to Box and Dropbox, there is so much that can be done through Google Drive, but what are some things you might not think to do? What are some of the coolest options available? Google Drive of course has a great search engine that is changing how people access files. Remember those huge, complex, nested hierarchical means of storing files - yah, no need any more. So, let's explore some other cool stuff you can do with Google Drive!

Save Layered Maps to Google Drive
You can create a layered map in Google Drive. This allows you to save multiple pieces of data in layers. For example, let's say you're attending a conference. The conference organizers might be kind enough to show you some great places to eat, some cool breweries to meet up in, and where all of the events for the conference are. Each could be in a layer so attendees can view or hide layers to find the things they want more quickly!

Use Recent items to keep up with what's going on
It's hard to communicate change to an organization. It's easy to look at your recent items for a document that you'd like to edit. An innovative approach to watching for change in organizations is to look at what anyone has changed, especially when there are only a few people (e.g. Human Resources) that can make changes to certain documents.

Use Starred items to go back to the important things
You can favorite a website by bookmarking it. You can also bookmark a file from Google Drive that you routinely need to access. But you can Star a file as well, which provides a third dimension to file access. You can view only your Starred files, sort them by the date they were last changed, and have a very quick way of performing change control, or change management of files.

Share files between users in the organization
We've been sharing files between users over a network since the inception of networked computing. So there's nothing innovative here. But given that all of the files in a Google Drive account live on "the cloud" you can also share them instantly to people, and once shared, people get an update that files are shared. You can also share files with users in other organizations without them needing to VPN into your network and do other complicated and technical tasks in order to access those files. When doing so, the user will access a Google Drive account using the email address used to share the files, thus meaning that they will have to authenticate. Keep in mind though, a typo on an address can cause a file to be shared to the wrong party!

Restrict documents from being shared outside your organization
Because of the dangers of sharing files with email addresses that might not exist and because organizations are increasingly concerned about data leaking outside of their control, you can also limit the ability for users in your domain to share files outside of your domain.

Install a desktop client
Desktop clients help to bridge the gap between the native experience of having files stored on your computer or having files on a file share, and using an online experience to access data. The desktop client also allows you to access files even when you're not in your office. But, doing so definitely restricts the native experience of accessing files through Google Drive, as they don't provide all of the features available using the web client.

Create a Google Form
Many of the surveys you've filled out are likely Google Forms. A Google Form is simply a set of fields on a web page that end users fill out. Ask questions, provide a set of responses or open text fields, and give visitors a native experience to a website by embedding the form on a page. And then, all of the data is accessible in a Google sheet (similar to an Excel spreadsheet). Surveys, signups for the latest pizza party, and other form-based needs have never been so cheap, or easy.

Draw all the things!
Google Drawings allow you to create flowcharts, diagrams, and other things that you just need a drawing tool to build. It's basic, but the options available in Google Drawings do a lot of what many people use tools like Photoshop for. And when you're finished creating or updating a drawing, you can save it as a .pdf, .png, .jpg, or .svg (which you can embed into a Photoshop shop file or open in Illustrator). In fact, sometimes I can get more done quickly in Google Drawings and then smooth out the rough edges of a file by starting a project as a Google Drawing.

Watch people work on Google Docs while they're working
I know I said this article wouldn't be about Google Docs, per se. But the first time I opened a Google Doc, I was absolutely amazed at how cool it was to be able to watch my coworkers type. I could see the position of their cursor, see what they were typing when they were typing, ask about what was being put into a cell in a Google Sheet, and make comments on the phone or during a Google Hangout on what they were typing. I believed (and still believe) that this was a game changer.

Convert all of your uploads to Google Docs
Users often employ tools that you just don't support. And when using Google Drive as part of your workflow, you can actually automatically convert supported file types to other file types. This allows for a normalization of disparate file types to help ease any manual document management in your workflows.

Manage music with DriveTunes
DriveTunes needs to be enabled manually. But once enabled, any file that is a song that gets saved to a Google Drive account can be listened to in a web browser using Google Drive.

Change color codes to build workflows
We've discussed using Starred files, Recent Items, and the dates a file was saved as part of a workflow in this article. But what we haven't discussed is color coding a file. As a Mac user, I've been doing this for years, even for files stored on Apple servers. However, to do this organizational for people no matter the platform they are accessing files through, is a great enhancement to how an organization accesses data. For example, each color can be used to indicate an attribute of a file, or a status of a job that the file describes (e.g. for a services business)

View the revision history of files
We've all had someone ask "who changed that file I was working on?!?!" And the fact that people changed our files has led to locking down which users in an organization can actually edit a file. With Google Drive, each of the changes in your file is tracked by date and who made the change. And inside each of those, you can see what was added, altered, or removed from the file. You can revert to a previously saved state of a file, or create a new document and paste lost content into the document. Yet another way Google is changing the way we access data: organizations are much less prescriptive in their management of files than with file servers where the journaled information of what was changed within a file is lost.

Use a Shareable link to share to the world
I have a web server with a blog on it because I've written thousands of blog posts. But what if I just had an easy document that I wanted to show people. For example, the terms and conditions for a product. Or instructions for driving to my house. Or a confession of my love to my dog. You can choose to limit who can access files, or you can just make them public, for anyone in the world to access, when you don't need to restrict that access to certain people.

Use folders to sort things
I know, I know, I said that you didn't need to use hierarchical means of accessing your files. But you can, because some people want to! And this is a great way of keeping files for specific projects, jobs, customer, etc, together.

Embed a folder listing into a web page
You can also share a folder, making it simple to disseminate press packs, customer assets, and historical notes, to name only a few examples. If you have a folder, you can create a file listing (as an iframe for the nerdy types) that can be embedded into a web page. Then you can show all the files and attributes of those files to the world, helpful for product documentation, public facing meeting minutes, etc.

Disseminate photos as a part of workflows
If you have the Google Drive iOS app, you can also backup your photos library to a Google Drive account. As a backup, this is built into iCloud as well, but real estate agents, building contractors and other job functions that need to quickly share photos will find the ability to backup your images to an account, sort them into a folder and then share them to customers to be an efficient means of providing access to these assets quickly and without using 3rd party tools to do so.

Research alert!
Working between several browser tabs or windows can become a problematic and disrupting process. With Research Tools - available in Google Docs, Spreadsheets, and Presentations - you can search from within a project to find images, video, quotes, or references. Not only does Research Tools allow links and media to be swiftly inserted from the research panel, but illustration information can also be added as footnotes or annotations (since you should acknowledge all the things!).

OCR graphics to text
Google Drive comes with an OCR (Optical Character Recognition) function, allowing you to search for words in scanned documents. For example, finding a city or someone's name in an old newspaper article that was scanned and saved on Google Drive previously. The OCR function in Google Drive can be used to eliminate much more expensive OCR-based software in some workflows, while providing more automation around importing documents as text into a file.

Show you care by commenting on files
Google Drive lets you share photos and videos with your contacts. Similar to Google Docs, files can be commented on. A notification is automatically sent when a comment is posted in response to yours. This can also be used as a Question and Answer on files, or to commit refinements that don't belong within documents to the document. I've also used comments to provide instructions on how to use files, especially those that are difficult to use Google Sheets, Form Fillable PDFs, etc.

Deal with large files easily
Google Drive allows you to send large files to people you might not otherwise have been able to send to previously. Receivers will need a Google Drive account, but downloads are often faster through Google Drive than through other means of transferring, and storage is free for up to 5 gigabytes!

Open it! Open it!
Google Drive allows users to open countless types of files, like .ai (Adobe Illustrator) and even .psd (Photoshop) files.

There are so many other things you can do with Google Docs. From additional image recognition options (cities, monuments, etc) to voice comments on files, Google Apps is a great tool. And... Google Labs is an option that gives access to new features Google might not be ready to provide access to. And Google has an Add-on store, that allows you to find new features for Google Apps that extend the functionality in ways you may never have thought of. The possibilities are endless. Do you have any features about Google Docs that you love that we didn't mention?