It is easy to start an online presentation on Google Docs, but do you know how stop it?

Paul Thurrott recently published  two interesting articles about user interfaces and the difference between a simple UI and a UI that is easy to use:

“Google’s Web applications are simple—they are—and a certain audience out there really appreciates that.”

“Today, we take it for granted, and while the details may change, the desktop UIs used by systems as supposedly diverse as Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux are all in fact very similar. But they’re “intuitive” only in the sense that if you’ve used one you should be able to adapt to the others.”

Google Docs as any other Web Office application is mostly easy to use because it is leveraging the user experience we all got used to in the past through interaction with desktop applications. Because Google Docs is web based it adds to the expected set of desktop features (“File-Save as” etc.)  rich online sharing and collaboration features.

There are two special features of Google Docs default behavior for “Started Presentations”:

  • People will not have to ask you in the future to access the latest version of your presentation and
  • you will not even be able to notice that others are accessing your presentation, Google Docs will tell you instead that there are no Viewers for that presentation.


Google Docs online presentation mode is a concrete example where a user interface (in this case of the Google Docs 2008 UI) looks simple but is in reality not always easy to use.
If you would like to know how to stop others from accessing a presentation on Google Docs after you presented then please find all details after the click.

If you are giving a presentation in a sense you are sharing the presentation with your audience. It is very common that presenters (either physically in a room or using webex or any other online presentation solutions) provide copies (paper/digital) so that people can refer in the future to that presentation.

Google Docs online presentation behaves slightly different, not only you provide potentially access to every future version of a once presented presentation but also you will not notice that others have access to the presentation.

The essence:

When you are starting an online presentation on Google Docs your are giving to those who should join a URL like this (please note: You will need to login into your Google account to be able to see the presentation!):

Alternatively you can also try to access this presentation (that is not shared and not published) through this slightly modified URL (if it works – and it does at the moment of this writing, but as usual hopefully Google will fix this issue asap – you can view the not shared and published presentation without having to sign in into a Google account):

The “docid” part of this URL identifies the presentation itself, the “invite” is a specific key for this presentation that allows that someone with whom you are NOT sharing a presentation (through Google Docs normal sharing functionality) can still participate in your online presentation session.

Side-comment: Because we are expecting that Google will fix this whole issue soon also the link above should not work anymore when you are reading this. For that purpose we have created a copy of the presentation on Google Docs (some technical details: the docid of the original presentation that is still not shared and not published is dchrr3kn_20d6qnq8cr, the docid of the copy is dchrr3kn_32g7dg6hg9) . Because this copy is shared it is also accessible to everyone and therefore you will be able to access it even after the link above will not be active anymore.
Published copy with details:
Direct link to the copy:
The fact that the corresponding link to the original presentation does not allow you to access the original presentation proofs also that the original presentation is indeed not published and not shared. Try yourself, with this link you will not be able to access the original presentation. But to proof anything you have to be carefull, if you accessed the original presentation with some of the links above before you have now to close your browser, clear the cache etc … so that you see the Google Docs security working:

After you closed the online presentation session the link that you gave to your audience remains valid. This means that everyone can use the URL at any point in time in the future to access the presentation. But they will not have access to the version of the presentation that was presented but instead to the latest best version that includes all updates and modifications that the owner made after the online presentation.


There is another specific aspect of  the invite URL for online presentations. Even while others are accessing the presentation (through the specific URL) Google Docs will tell the owner that the presentation is not shared and that there are no viewers.


The described Google Docs behavior for online presentations is exactly what you are looking for because it meets your needs?

Well, we also like this simplicity of sharing but sometimes we want to make sure that those who were invited in the past to a presentation on Google Docs can not access the latest version (at least without asking). Call us “old school”, but basically we would like to have the same power of giving access to our latest best improved presentation as we had in the good old days of Microsoft PowerPoint and mail attachments. Or at least we would like to see who is accessing it.

The good news is:
You are able to stop people accessing your presentation on Google Docs if you want.

The bad news is:
It is not as intuitive as you maybe would have thought (we did).

How to stop others from accessing a presentation on Google Docs after you presented?

It is simple to make the invitation URL invalid, but it is not easy in the sense that it is not intuitive. You have to de-select the “Advanced permission” named “Invitations may be used by anyone”. It looks like that Google Docs is then immediately removing the invite key so that future access through the old invitation URL is stopped.


This behavior of Google Docs for presentations is not a security or privacy issue, it is a usability issue. For those users who understand the fundamental difference between Desktop and Web applications this is not at all a problem. They are aware of the minimal control they are given about what maybe is their own “private content” and they make the right decisions about what type of documents they put on Google Docs and other Web based Office suites.

And there are many possible workarounds for this usability issue: A user could save a copy of the presentation and then start a presentation based on this copy. The invite URL would then point to the copy, the audience could continue to access the presented version of the presentation also in the future while the owner can modify the original without having to even think about that others maybe accessing this presentation while it is maybe temporarily in a state of “work in progress”.

But even if Google would decide to fix this usability issue the fundamental issue of a misguiding user experience that leverages existing desktop application based experience for web based applications will remain:

Will those users who are not experts and that even do not want to become experts understand that they better have a different expectation about the behavior of web based Office suites versus desktop solutions especially when it comes to the control of access to their documents?

What do you think? Is there a way so that the user interface of web based applications can help users understand the implications of putting their documents=content on the web?

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Dezember 13th, 2008 at 12:15 pm and is filed under Issues explained. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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