Monday, 20 July 2020

The huge, huge problem with Google Shared folders.

Let's say you collaborate on a project with some people. You decide between you that Google Drive is the way you're going to share the work and you find for the initial period, workflow is good and you're contributing, editing and sharing in equal measure. The way collaborative work should be.

Then as the project matures, so do people's intentions and goals. Maybe one goes on to start and collaborate with another group of people, their contribution to the project was more relevant at launch and now they want to respectfully go their separate ways.

How do they reclaim the space back from their drive. How do they (or you) remove them from the share and how do we ensure confidentiality on future work?

Well that's where things get interesting. Lets call the guy who is part of the remaining team, the new leader, A and the person leaving Z.

Before we dig in, I'd like to point out that I am admin for other G Suite partners, and a Google Certified Educator. I know my way around Drive, mostly. Removing a partner from a G Suite establishment deletes their drive, with the option to copy their content to another colleagues account is straightforward. With unlimited storage, this rarely causes a problem. It's the way cloud storage should work when colleagues separate from a partnership.

For clarity, I use the word 'files' to refer to pieces of work, presentations, images, etc, and 'folder' for the containers in which the files are stored. The share we're talking about has well organised files and folders within folders, within folders.

So, back to our issue. It's now time for a team member Z to step out of the workflow and this is where the problems arise. The shared folder is accessed by around 14 colleagues. Some of the work is owned by team member Z wanting to leave, and many of the folders are also owned by the same team member. Across the folders, there are literally hundreds of files owned by different team members. The drive folder is likely added as part of every colleagues 'Drive' too. That is to say, it's not just in 'Shared with me' but it's also copied into 'My Drive' and using storage space.

Changing the owner of the parent folder to colleague A, (still in the group) changes nothing of any meaning. The files and folders inside the share, previously owned by Z, are still owned by Z.
Colleague Z, although he's no longer able to access the Shared Folder that contains everything (via 'My Drive', can still access them, via his Storage tab.
These items won't show up in Z's 'My Drive'. But they will show up under Storage. In addition, the individual files will show what Shared Folder they're in, which colleague Z can access via the link under Details and Location.

Colleague Z has no easy way to help, and for the existing colleagues there's no easy way to ensure Z's removal is smooth, they can't change permissions on files he owns. If he deletes the work (from his Storage tab... the only way he can access them) they the existing colleagues will still have access to those files. But this laborious process is done one file at a time, and there could be hundreds.

We've called this convoluted process, Drexit. It's that bad, colleague Z's files are so deeply entangled and intertwined that unraveling them is proving to be a laborious and unnecessary.

Google Drive, as of this moment is a truly exceptional tool for multi share contributions and collaboration, but although it's set up is simple enough, it's set down is enough to make people reconsider their options. Folder and Project owners need overall control of everything within a folder hierarchy. Ownership should be easily be transferable and an 'apply permissions to each file and folder contained within' should be a simple tickbox available to those who want to respectfully remove themselves from an existing project folder.

When a colleague leaves a Folder share, the process should be simple, currently it's overwhelmingly complex.

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