Tuesday, 14 December 2021

Google Shared Drives on the Cheap

The Problem - Google Shared Folders

All those monthly per user fees add up, especially for little volunteer organisation that run on the smell of an oily rag. Google offers some fantastic free tools for online teams, including Drive and Docs. Most small teams end up sharing files and folders with each other, thinking quite naturally, that they are doing the right thing. On the surface, everything looks fine, until you suddenly can't find any of those files that Maria shared last year before she left the team. The longer you use shared folders the more deleted files and orphaned files you are likely to suffer without even knowing that it's happening. 

The Solution - Google Shared Drives

Google Shared Drives (formerly Team Drives) is the solution to this. Ownership of every file and folder rests with the drive. It is clean and simple and operates the way many people (mistakenly) assume that Shared Folders operates. If you have an extensive set of Shared Folders then have a read about the migration process before jumping in.

The Price

Google Shared Drives comes at a price. You need a Google Workspace (formerly GSuite) Business Standard account - AUD$16.80 per user per month - about AUD$200 per user per year. 

If you are a registered charity in Australia you may be eligible for a 75% discount on Google products. But it takes a fair bit of firepower to jump through all the hoops to get charitable status and so it's generally not the little community groups that have the required status. 

A Cheaper Alternative

You can get your own Google Shared Drive solution for an unlimited number of users (who have free gmail/google accounts) for about AUD$220 per year. Google was quite okay with this when I checked it with them a few years ago. You can stretch your dollar further by sharing your Google Shared Drive platform with other little community organisations and splitting the cost (I haven't checked this with Google). Users will see no difference with this solution but it probably works best if you are sharing an IT admin volunteer who sets up all the drives for you. I will explain broad steps below (and assume that you are pretty comfortable using Google):

1. Set up a new Google Workspace Account with only a single user (the super admin). 

Choose the Business Standard version - AUD$16.80 per user per month 
Only one single user - never set up any more users in that account
You will be asked to buy a domain name (e.g. billblogs.com) that will be allocated as the primary domain for this Google Workspace. Choose something short and simple and general that you will never want to actually use for a website. It doesn't really matter what the domain name is because users will generally never even see it. For example, if your current domain is grannies.org.au then you might choose a new domain grannies2.com (as .com domains are often a little less hassle to setup and cheaper).
Make sure you enable 2 Factor Authentication (2 Step Verification). This is a critical security measure.

2. Optional - Set up free Google Groups for different types of users

If you have more than just a handful of people involved, then I recommend setting up some Google Groups. It's a little more effort upfront but it simplifies ongoing administration.The usefulness of this will become more apparent when we set up the Shared Drives themselves.
I prefer to set up free Google Groups rather than doing it within Google Workspace. Free Groups are independent of the Google Workspace account and can continue on, even if the Workspace account is closed. So, you need to setup the Google Groups from within a free Google/Gmail account.
The kinds of Groups you may set up could be things like:
  • grannies-admin (a group containing the grannies admin people)
  • grannies-volunteers (a group containing all grannies volunteers)
The Groups provide both an easy way of emailing all group members and an easy way of assigning access permission to the Google Shared Drives that you will create.
I won't describe the steps involved with setup or populating the Google Groups here as there are plenty of tutorials online.

3. Set your Google Drive App settings

In your new Google Workspace account go to your Admin Dashboard and then in the lefthand navigation menu choose 
Apps > Google Workspace > Settings for Drive and Docs
There are a range of settings that you can adjust here but the key ones of concern are in Sharing Settings, as per the image below to enable users that are not part of the Google Workspace to use the Shared Drives that you give them access to. These users can include free gmail/google accounts and free Google Groups. In particular, you need to make sure that "Allow people who aren't shared drive members to be added to files" is unticked.

4. Create your individual Google Shared Drives

There are plenty of online tutorials for the simple process of creating Shared Drives. So, the following notes are supplementary to that.
You can create as many Shared Drives as you want. 
I think the best way to do this is to think about who needs access to what files and then create each drive so that the whole drive and all its subfolders and files are only accessible to the relevant people. (The settings in Step 3 provide these defaults whenever you create a new Shared Drive). This is much more secure and easier to administer in the long-term as you know that any file placed in a specific drive is only available to those who have been given permission to access that drive.
This is where Google Groups are extremely useful, as you can assign permissions to individual google users as well as to specific Google Groups.
Shared Drive names can be long. Use this to your advantage to make permissions explicit to everyone. For example, instead of naming the Admin drive just "Admin" it is better to include all permissions in the name itself. eg "Admin and Policy (admin can edit, all volunteers can comment)" where you have a google group containing all admin volunteers and another google group containing all volunteers.
Unless you only have a few people involved, I think you are generally better off putting them into groups and assigning permissions to the Groups rather than to individuals. Then, when you have a staff change, you just update the group membership and the Drives look after themselves.

That's it - very general but hopefully it's enough to get you started.

Sunday, 31 May 2020

Migrating from Google Shared Folders to Google Shared Drives

Migrating from Google Shared Folders to Google Shared Drives

Don't let the names fool you; Shared Folders are very different from Shared Drives. Formerly known as Team Drives (and a much clearer name, in my opinion) Shared Drives were established in part to overcome some of the problems with Shared Folders. Generally, if there is more than one person creating and sharing documents, you will want to be using Shared Drives.

Often groups will have started off using Shared Folders because it is easy and free and already available in your standard google/gmail account. Migrating across to Shared Drives is easy enough but a planned and structured approach will save some pain in the longer term. 

Structure your new Shared Drives

You only need one Gsuite User

As I mentioned in my previous post, If you are a little organisation doing things on the cheap, you only need one Gsuite Business Account to benefit from the main features of Shared Drives. Essentially, this Gsuite user account will become the administrator that will set up sharing permissions on each Shared Drive to share the drive with other standard google/gmail accounts. 

In the drive settings for a particular drive you need to edit
Sharing outside [Organisation A]
and tick 
People outside [Organisation A] can be given access to the files in this shared drive

Set User Permissions at the Drive Level

Be aware that you can't define user permissions at the folder level, only the file level or the drive level. So, setting user permissions at the drive level provides the cleanest way of keeping control of who has access to what file. The only other option is to allow users to define sharing permissions on all individual files within a drive, which can become quite a mess (and far too time-consuming to track if you are allowing drives to be shared outside the organisation). 

In the drive settings for a particular drive you need to edit
Sharing with non-members
and tick
Only members of this shared drive can access files in this shared drive

You can then add individual google/gmail accounts as members of the drive and define their permission level to all files and folders within. Permissions levels are: Manager, Content Manager, Contributor, Commenter, Viewer.

Create Shared Drives Based on Who Needs Access

Related to the previous point, it is logical to create shared drives based on who needs access. For example, you may have the following drives:
- Admin - Common (editable by all staff)
- Admin - Confidential (editable by Admin staff only)
- Program Resources (editable by Program staff, visible to Admin staff)
I find it helpful to include who has access to the drive as part of the drive name. This reminds all staff using the drive who the audience/user base is.

Try to avoid creating too many shared drives. Content Managers cannot move files between drives. Only Managers can.

Consider the staff/volunteers in your organisation, the work that they do and the files that they store. From a master account, take a look through all the different sorts of files that are stored in your organisation's existing shared folders and consider who needs access to what. From here, create a list of the Shared Drives that you need and who needs access to each shared drive. 

Look through the list of Shared Drives you have created. Do any of them have the same or almost the same members and access levels? If so, ask yourself if these Shared Drives could be merged into a single Shared Drive (perhaps with a slightly different name)?

Moving files and folders to the new Shared Drives

Assuming there is only one Gsuite user account, then they are also the admin for the Gsuite domain. Only this account can transfer folders (including their contents) from MyDrive to Shared Drives.

Google now only lets you transfer file ownership between personal google accounts or between gsuite/workspace accounts on the same domain. This makes things harder.

If all contributing accounts are personal google accounts (or are in the same workspace domain) then get them to transfer ownership of all relevant files to a single google account. To do this, in Goolge Drive, do an advanced search on all files owned be me and then transfer ownership of all of these files in one go (you will probably need to chunk it down to 50 or so at once or the system will be grindingly slow).

People can, move files (but not folders) in Shared Drives owned by a different Google Workspace account as long as they are members of that Shared Drive.

So, either have all contributors move their relevant files over or do it for them. This can be a very long-wided manual process. Google Workspace Marketplace app called Folgo  can be very helpful for analysing folder structures and copying them (with or without the files contained within). 

Quick and dirty alternative: just download the entire directory. All files and folders (including subfolders) will be downloaded. Then upload this to your Google Shared Drive. (NB: Google docs and Sheets will be converted to Microsoft Word and Excel format and version history will be lost. Google forms and apps scripts will not be downloaded).
How to delete files and folders whilst preventing orphans
If you have transferred ownership of all relevant files and folders to the one google account then you can safely and cleanly delete them all in one go. However, if some of them are owned by different users (e.g. if you used the Quick and dirty alternative above) then you will have more work to do to delete all files and folders, as follows.

In a shared collection within MyDrive, you need to be careful when deleting folders to make sure that you don't end up with orphaned files and folders

To prevent this from happening for each Gmail user account:
1. create a new folder in Mydrive and call it "to delete"
2. using the google drive advanced search find all files (but not folders) that are located in the root folder that you wanted to transfer. A list of files will be shown.
3. Select all these files and move them to the folder "to delete"
4. delete the folder "to delete". (You have deleted the relevant files for this owner without deleting the folders).
Once you have gone through the above for each Gmail user account, go through it again for all the folders (instead of files). 
I know, it's a pain but it's better than trying to work out which orphaned files are the ones you want to delete and which ones are ones that were orphaned at some other time.

Some tools that may help you

WARNING: I am not recommending any of these tools as I have not necessarily tested them. For these tools to work they need deep access to your google drive files and folders - which is clearly a significant security risk. It would be simple for a malicious actor to create and promote such a tool and compromise your data. Or, a bug in the application could destroy your data or mess up the structure of your folders.

Google file and folder management tools are very restrictive, including:
  • Google Workspace does not allow you to transfer ownership of files or folders from the organisation to external accounts. This is such a pain!
  • You can move folders (with all the files and subfolders they contain) from your google mydrive across to a google shared drive only when both the mydrive and the shared drive are owned by the same organisation
  • You can only move files (including groups of files) but NOT folders from your google mydrive across to a google shared drive only when the mydrive account is a member of the shared drive but is external to the organisation that owns the shared drive.
  • You cannot move groups of files/folders if any of them are not owned by the account that you are currently using.
Some tools have been created by random people, to attempt to work around these limitations.

  • The winner: Google Workspace Marketplace app called Folgo which provides a bunch of useful tools for bulk copy of folder structure (with or without the files) and bulk transfer of ownership, auditing a drive etc. Active responses to reviews and good website. Active developers. 200,000+ users/downloads. 4.7 stars.  I have just used this and it is extremely helpful.
  • Google Workspace Marketplace app called Workspace Tips & Tools which offers tips plus functions similar to Folgo. Most people seem to use the tips. Reviews are old and fairly inactive. 600,000+ users. 4.4 stars
  • Chrome extension called Copy Folder can copy a folder with its subfolders and files. 100,000+ users. 4.7 stars. app updated Sept 2019
  • Chrome extension called Google Drive Migrator can copy a folder with its subfolders and files to a different account. 30,000+ users. 4.1 stars. app updated Aug 2017
  • Chrome extension called Transfer Ownership to transfer ownership of files and folders (and all contents and sub-contents). But you cannot transfer outside your orgnisation (if using google Workspace). 4,000+ users. 3.7 stars. 

Monday, 4 May 2020

The danger of sharing folders in Google Drive - if you don't understand this you may lose a lot of files

I had used google drive and docs for many years in various community organisations and then discovered to my horror an unexpected issue (that resulted in the loss of many significant documents) and, after some searching, a workaround.

Here's an example of the problem....

I created a shared folder in my google drive (MyDrive) for my community organisation as a central repository for all documents of our organisation. Our retiring president had already shared her google drive of docs with me so I moved them across and organised them in the new shared folder that i had created for all of us. 6 months later, the ex-president cleaned up her own google drive and deleted her old folder of community docs, understanding that I had all the docs in the new community shared folder. However, in doing so, she actually inadvertently deleted those documents for us, too.

The problem is that google drive is a bit unintuitive here, from a traditional perspective. So, there is a high risk of people unknowingly deleting key organisational documents. Documents in a shared folder may be deleted from the shared folder even if the owner is only deleting them from their own separate private folder.

When someone in their google MyDrive shares a document with me it looks like I then have a copy of that document in my own google drive but I don't. I only have a link back to the original document. The ownership of the document remains with the other person.

If I delete this document I am just deleting the link. But the original document still remains in the owner's google drive.

However, if the owner deletes the document, it is deleted for me, too! 

The same is the case if I share a folder. It will contain a mixture of documents that I own and documents that others own. If I delete any document owned by someone else, then it is deleted for me only (as I have really just deleted a link to that document). However,  If I delete any document that I own, then it is deleted for everyone.

Another problem is that files and folders in google MyDrive can become "orphaned". This happens if you put a file in a shared folder owned by someone else and then the owner deletes the folder. Your file still exists (because you own it) but you can't get to it through the directory structure. The solutions below will prevent this problem, too.

Some Solutions:
1. Ongoing manual transfer of document (and folder) ownership to a central google account. Then that central account owns all relevant documents and no-one else can accidentally delete them. However, people will often forget to transfer ownership of new documents they create and whoever is responsible for this system will get sick of hounding people. Various other permutations of this system are all labour intensive (but free).

2. Implement Google "Shared Drives"
Formerly known as Team Drives (I wish they had kept this name). Not to be confused with the sharing of folders in google My Drive that I have been talking about above. This is the best solution.

The most important difference is that document control functions intuitively, like a simple file system on a basic home file server. i.e. when you put a document into a "shared drive" then ownership rests with the drive. When a file is deleted it is deleted for everyone. When it is moved, it is moved for everyone. etc

The catch is that you need Gsuite Busines or Enterprise, or Google Drive Enterprise to access "Shared Drives". If you are a non-profit, you may be able to get it for free. Otherwise, the cheapest workaround is to implement a system whereby you purchase a GSuite account (and a new domain for it) and just a single GSuite user account. You then have this user account manage your "Shared Drives" and grant access to other regular gmail users (google calls it something like "users outside this domain") to be "Content Managers" or "Content Editors" or "Viewers" on the various shared drives s/he sets up. This way, you only pay a monthly fee for a single GSuite Business account (about USD$12/mth) plus annual domain registration fee (about USD$10/yr). 

Here's some more about Shared Drives

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Are you overwatering or underwatering?

Being into permaculture I'm generally not into watering. But, it's hard to avoid sometimes.

An overwatered and underwatered plant can look very similar - dying leaves. However, generally the brown dead leaves of an underwatered plant will feel crispy, whilst the brown dead leaves of an overwatered plant will still feel limp.

So, when to water? To work out it you need to water, poke your finger a few centimetres into the soil. If it's damp you don't need to water. If you water too much, the soil will not have enough oxygen in it for the roots to breath.

Binley has some good detailed information about saving overwatered plants.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Best travel money options for Australians

I have spent a lot of time overseas and settled on these as my top picks for ways of getting the most for my Australian dollar abroad.

Citibank Visa Debit Card

This will be on a Citibank Plus Transaction Account.
  • No annual fees
  • Visa card bulk exchange rate
  • No commission on foreign currency purchases
  • No fees or commissions on foreign ATM withdrawals*
  • A huge international network of Citibank banks and ATMs. You can use these to withdraw money fee free in places where local banks impose charges.
  • You can set up an Australian account with citibank Australia from any country where you can access a Citibank branch. 
  • No travel insurance associated with the card

Bankwest Zero Gold Mastercard

  • No annual fees
  • Mastercard bulk exchange rate
  • No commission or fees on foreign currency purchases
  • Free automatic travel insurance when you purchase travel tickets in advance on this card (there are certain conditions that apply - so make sure you fully understand them in the fine print to ensure that you are actually insured)
  • You will be charged a fee/commission by Bankwest if you get a cash advance at a foreign ATM*

Honorable Mention: Latitude 28 Degrees Travel Card

  • No annual fees
  • Mastercard bulk exchange rate
  • No commission or fees on foreign currency purchases
  • You will be charged a fee/commission by Latitude if you get a cash advance at a foreign ATM*
  • No travel insurance

* Foreign banks may impose a fee for using their ATM. In some countries all banks charge. In some countries none do. And in other countries some banks charge while others don't.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Work Coordination Manual for Community Organisations and Ecovillages

As a community development worker and especially since co-founding the Bellbunya Community, I have been interested in the way workload and responsibility naturally seems to distribute itself in voluntary organisations. It appears to me that, in general, a small group of overworked people tend to carry the majority of the responsibility. At the other end of the spectrum, another small group of people rarely get beyond good intentions when it comes to sharing the workload and responsibility. The majority of people are willing to contribute as long as there is someone to coordinate and tell them what to do. As one of the small, overworked group at the centre of things, I have spent a lot of time wondering about how to more evenly distribute workloads and responsibilities, to make things more efficient and enjoyable and avoid resentment and burnout.

This downloadable document represents the best of my thinking so far and builds on a model used by the Americana Leadership College and explained to me by Paul Mischefski. It provides effective tools for simplifying coordination of tasks across numerous dimensions and for supporting people who would normally be followers to gradually and safely take on higher levels of coordination responsibility.

The system that I explain here is no silver bullet but, if applied diligently, it makes a big contribution towards a more equal sharing of the load. I provide examples from my community which you are welcome to adapt to your own needs. Its greatest weakness, as with all systems, is that it won't work unless people actually use it.

Download the Work Coordination Manual for Community Organisations

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Colours of Empowerment - A Simple Tool for Effective Meeting Facilitation

In meetings, how do we make sure that topics flow, that everyone is heard, that everyone understands the topic before discussion about the topic happens, that frictions that may arise in the group do not prevent it moving forward, etc? And what if no-one is comfortable or highly skilled in facilitation?

The larger the group and the more complex the topic the more inefficient a meeting can become. This is because our traditional approach of raising your hand and waiting your turn before you speak does not recognise the multidimensional nature of meetings. A skilled facilitator can greatly help but, even then, will occasionally miss something.

Remember meetings you've been in where people are debating a controversial topic and lots of people want to speak. Lots of opinions and arguments are put forth and the fourth person to speak couldn't understand some key elements of the initial concept. So, everything from the initial point onwards has been lost in understanding and needs to be re-explained once the initial understanding is clarified.

Colours of Empowerment to the rescue! We started using this process for the complex and busy meetings in the early days of setting up the Bellbunya Community to ease the pressure and seemingly endless discussion on so many topics. It worked.

How it Works

1. Everyone participating in the meeting receives a set of five coloured cards, as listed below (in priority order):

  • Red - Process. There is a process issue - e.g. The discussion has gone off topic or over time. We need to stop and reassess.
  • Orange - Acknowledgement/ Emotions. To acknowledge emotions (my own or those I sense in the room) - e.g. expressing appreciation, recognising anger or tension or hurt feelings in the room.
  • Yellow - Clarification. I want to ask a question to help me understand (gain clarity) about what is beeing discussed.
  • Green - Information. I have information that could help others in the mtg understand.
  • Blue - Opinion/ Comment / Idea. I have an idea or opinion to share.
It's good to create coloured cards with the words in bold written on the back to help jog meeting participants' memories. It is also good (especially whilst learning how to use the system) to have a poster on the wall, listing the cards in priority order that meeting participants can see during the meeting.

2. Whenever someone wants to speak or ask a question, they simply hold up the coloured card that indicates the category of what they wish to say.

3. The facilitator gives the next opportunity to speak to whoever is holding up the highest priority card, regardless of the order in which cards are actually held up. Red is highest priority and Blue is lowest priority. So, if, for example, there is someone holding up a blue card, another person holding up a yellow card and another person who later holds up a red card then the red card holder gets to speak first. The blue card holder only gets to speak if there are no cards of any other colour being held up.


The Colours of Empowerment bring everyone along at the same pace. In a meeting, we can only progress at the rate of the slowest person and this process makes sure no one gets left behind. We give priority to making sure we are firstly on topic/time (red) and then that emotional needs arising within the meeting are being met (so that they don't get in the way of the process) (orange) and then making sure that everyone's understanding is clear (yellow and green) so that everyone can engage in the sharing of opinions/ideas etc (blue).

This system is not only faster and more efficient than the traditional system, it also:

  • Makes a meeting much easier to facilitate because people are showing what is going on for them with the coloured cards, rather than the facilitator trying to perceive what is happening. This produces good results and makes it less scary for inexperienced facilitators. Group members will help the facilitator by pointing out (for example) a red card that the facilitator has not noticed.
  • Increases group participation. 
  • Democratises the running of meetings through reducing dependence on a skilled facilitator, increasing participation of all people at the meeting and enabling less experienced/skilled people to step up and faciliate
  • Encourages quieter people by providing a level of non verbal communication that validates a whole range of different states.
  • Facilitates greater connection through enabling the sharing of emotional content effectively.