Google Document URLs as Simple Machines

We learn from the study of physics that a simple machine is a mechanical device with few or no moving parts which changes the direction or magnitude of a force in order to perform … Simple, Powerful, Work.

In like manner, Google Document URLs (acting as simple machines) assist G Suite users in changing the direction or magnitude of those documents to perform … Simple, Powerful, Work.

Let me explain…

Google Document URLs As Simple Machines

Image of Clouds

Being “Cloud Native” has its advantages — including being identified by a unique URL.

URL is short for “Uniform Resource Locator” and is a fancy term for a “web address” or a “reference to a web resource”.

Understanding that URLs are really just web addresses to web resources sheds light on a powerful concept. That is … by changing the URL you have a link to a new web resource!

As “Native Citizens of the Cloud”, Google documents take advantage of this concept. By slight modifications to the URL, the format or direction of the Google document can be changed to produce new web addresses or web resource links. In other words … new representations of the document!

Utilizing this knowledge, G Suite users can perform … Simple, Powerful, Work.

Leveraging the Power of Google Document URLs

So, what kind of work can be accomplished by modifying a Google document URL?

John Mills [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Let’s say you’re a school administrator using G Suite for Education wanting to publish a monthly newsletter for parents using Google Docs. You’d like a nice clutter-free view of the newsletter (minus the Google Docs editor toolbar) while retaining the power of Google Docs for edits and updates.

  • One way to accomplish this is to publish the Google Doc.
  • An alternative is to publicly share the document and leverage our newly discovered “super powers” to modify the Google Doc URL — replacing /edit (and any other extraneous characters) at the end of the Google Doc URL with /preview as shown below.

Change “/edit”…/edit

To “/preview”…/preview

But now … an unexpected turn of events! Your newsletter becomes SO popular that parents request the ability to download it as a PDF.

Well you could download it as a PDF from the Google Docs editor and upload it to some kind of file sharing service (or Google Drive) but what if you need to make edits? Your clutter-free version picks up the changes … but your PDF?? Lots of unnecessary work re-downloading and re-uploading.

Instead replace /edit (and any other extraneous characters) at the end of the URL with /export?format=pdf and voilà! You now have a link to a downloadable PDF to share with parents without any extra work.

Moving on.

Let’s say you’re the owner of a small financial consulting firm who has migrated your business to G Suite. As part of your bonus client service offerings you provide some excellent financial planning resources hosted in Google Sheets. You’d like to make it easy for your clients to make copies of these resources in their own Google account.

Well you could share “view-only” versions of the Google Sheets with each of your clients and tell them how to make a copy — OR — you can utilize your new knowledge and replace /edit (and any other extraneous characters) at the end of the URL with /copy (after sharing with appropriate permissions) and include the links in an email sent to your clients. Wow! That was easy.

But wait! Your clients are now requesting to see a “preview” of your planning resources before they make a copy. No problem. Replace /edit (and any other extraneous characters) at the end of the URL with /template/preview.

Perhaps you’re a community organizer for a local non-profit (using G Suite) and just presented a Google Slides presentation at one of your community meetups. Some members of the community are so impressed with your presentation they request a copy. Unfortunately, they’re not yet on G Suite and ask if you can provide your presentation to them as Microsoft PowerPoint.

You could download your Google Slides as Microsoft PowerPoint and share with them — OR — you can replace /edit (and any other extraneous characters) at the end of the URL with /export/pptx (after sharing with appropriate permissions) and provide the link on your community website so anyone can download a Microsoft PowerPoint version of your slides.

And there’s much more!

Maybe you need to:

  • Export a Google Drawing as a JPEG image
  • Export a single sheet of a Google Sheets document as a PDF (with gridlines)
  • Enable your co-workers to make a copy of a Google Doc including all the comments from the original document
  • Download just the text from your Google Slides presentation

ALL possible with your new “super powers”.

Remembering all variations is difficult, however, so in upcoming blog posts I’ll share some tools I’ve developed (using another “super power” — Apps Script) to make the process easier and help G Suite users take advantage of Google Document URLs to perform … Simple, Powerful, Work.

Need help automating processes inside your Google Sheets or G Suite domain? Get in touch

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Google Developer Expert for G Suite passionate about Workflow Automation and Productivity —