Cyrus Stoller home about consulting

Google Drive isn't professional grade yet

Sharing documents between team members is hard. And like everyone else, I hate emailing documents back and forth. While Google Drive is useful, it’s not professional grade yet. In this post, I’ll share some of my biggest gripes and why you should prefer files that can be stored locally. Don’t be fooled by the short-term benefits. Google Drive will create more headaches than it’s worth the longer your organization uses it.

1) I can never find the file I want

Because each user has a unique file structure, in practice the only way that I can find files is through the search box at the top of the screen or scrolling through my Recently Opened files. This would work well if the whole team was disciplined about following good filenaming conventions, but in practice filenames are pretty generic (e.g. 20170701 Brainstorm). While descriptive of when a document was created, this is hard to find unless you know the date.

The Google Drive UI encourages users to create files and figure out where to put them later. If users end up organizing their files, they will typically just put them into the file structure that is visible to them, but not necessarily to the rest of the team. Essentially, organization schemes are hard to enforce because it’s hard for users to understand where the files live.

1a) Collaborating with external people

But, even if you’ve been able to wrangle your team to be disciplined about filenames, you’ll quickly run into the problem of Google Docs that are shared with you by people outside your company (e.g. vendor contracts). When I open that document, where does it go? In practice, the only way for me to find the file again is for me to find the relevant email that shared the file with me and click on the link again. I’ve gone as far as making documents that I store locally that are filled with links to documents in Google Drive that I use regularly, so that I can reliably get back to them.

Unfortunately, these problems only get worse the longer your team uses Google Drive. If you’re not careful, search results quickly start to get polluted with unrelated documents. While some of this could be cleared up if there were a portion of the URL that was human-readable, most of these issues would continue.

2) Tracking versions

Users can make suggestions in the same way that they would with Track Changes in Microsoft Office, but the problem is that it’s hard to look back at previous versions of the document. If the changes are accepted in quick succession it’s hard to distinguish the order in which changes were made. In other words, it’s hard to do partial rollbacks, especially in cases when suggestions were erroneously accepted.

Moreover, it takes a concerted effort to go back and see all of the changes that a user suggested if they were already accepted. Before with track changes, I could at least see a copy of the changes that were being suggested. In other words, it’s frustrating to no longer have the analog of a pull request as our team works to finalize documents.

2a) Hard to remember file permissions

On top of that, it’s easy to forget who has access to a document. As a result, files get shared that people don’t have permissions to open them. And worse, vendors often have visibility into how your team is considering redlining an agreement; unless you are disciplined about making a separate copy for internal use from the one they send you, they can see everything you’re doing - an easy mistake to make when using Google Docs.

3) Vulnerability to outages

Unfortunately, no company can guarantee 100% uptime. As a result, your team is at risk of not being able to work at a critical moment if Google has an outage. Other solutions provide local copies that can continue to be revised even if they cannot be synced immediately. But, Google Docs can’t even be accessed if they haven’t been explicitly exported ahead of time. This feels like an unnecessary level of dependency.

4) Design

The default themes for Google Presentations look amateur. Just look at the difference between the defaults for Keynote or InDesign and Google Presentations. The difference is obvious. And that’s based on no difference in effort from the user.

5) Lack of performance inhibits creativity

Page load times especially for large documents are atrocious. Sometimes I’m not even able to scroll on screen. This would never happen with a file that’s stored locally. While I can understand this being the case for large documents that are hundreds of pages long, this also happens sporadically with smaller spreadsheets (< 300 rows).

The uncertainty about whether this will be the case makes me resistant to even opening these kinds of files. So, it’s not uncommon for me to do my work locally and later copy it up to Google Drive only when it’s ready to be circulated. I’m frustrated that I need workarounds to make working on simple documents palatable.

5a) Extraneous clicks

Links need to be clicked twice to get to the external URL, which makes no sense. If Google Drive presumed that my default behavior would be to edit the URL, that’d be one thing, but it just shows me a truncated view of the URL before I need to click it again from within a tooltip. Why not make it so that I follow the link by default and allow me to right-click on it if I want to edit the URL that it points to or change it back to plain text? The current behavior leads to a lot of unnecessary clicks!


Use Google Drive for scratch work. It works well for real-time collaboration, but for anything beyond that, it’s a struggle.

Category Opinion