Google Docs Viewer is a handy little service that let’s you view documents and presentations within the browser without having to open a third party application. It eliminates the need for students to have additional applications (such as PowerPoint or a PDF reader) installed on their computer to view PowerPoint or PDF files.
Here is an example. I am using an old PowerPoint presentation on podcasting done by a colleague of mine a few years ago that lives on our web server. The link to the original PowerPoint file (2.2 mb) will either download to your computer, or force you to open PowerPoint to view the presentation (depending on how your browser is configured, assuming you even have PowerPoint). Now, here is a link to the same PowerPoint presentation (which opens in a new window/tab), but this time viewed through the Google Docs Viewer.
It’s important to note that I did not upload the presentation to the Google Docs Viewer site – the original PowerPoint file still lives on our web server. The Google Docs Viewer is not a repository to store documents. If I delete the original file on our web server, the link to the Google Docs Viewer breaks since the original file is no longer available. I retain complete control over the source file, but the user gets the benefit of not having to download and open a PowerPoint file.
How to use Google Docs Viewer
There are a couple of ways to use Google Docs Viewer; either directly from the site, or you can construct a special url that will link your document with the document viewer.
To use the site, go to the site, enter the url to the PDF or PowerPoint document, and click Generate Link. You then get a few different options, including a link that you can tweet, IM or email, HTML link code that you can paste in a website, blog or LMS, or embed code that will bring the document into your blog, site or LMS (I’ve embeded a PowerPoint presentation at the end of this post for you to see how this works).
The second way to access the service is by crafting your own URL. You can create links that pull documents through the service. You don’t even need to use the website to use the service. To create your own URL start with the base path of http://docs.google.com/viewer, followed by a question mark (?) and the path to the original document (url=path) The path needs to be encoded so no spaces or special characters. Knowing this, I can build a url to any PDF or PowerPoint, so a link to our example above would look like this: http://docs.google.com/viewer?url=http%3A%2F%2Fdisted.camosun.bc.ca%2FDE%2Fpodcast.ppt.
So, Why Use Google Docs Viewer?
Why would you even do this and not just link directly to, say, the original PowerPoint file? Well, from a technical perspective, there are some barriers for students when they try to deal with PowerPoint files (and, to a lesser extent these hold true for PDF files as well, although PDF is by far a more web friendly format than PowerPoint).
- The files can be large, especially if you use animations and transitions.
- They require students to have additional software installed on their computer, in this case PowerPoint or the PowerPoint Viewer.
- Depending on the browser, how it is configured and the security settings, PowerPoint files can cause strange and unexpected behaviours. One user may have their system set up to have PowerPoint open in a browser window, while another may be prompted to download the file. A third may get a security warning that a potentially malicious file is about to be opened.
- The files take a long time to load. In most cases, when someone clicks on a PowerPoint link, the first thing that has to happen is that PowerPoint has to open up, which eats up time. No one likes to wait for content and those few seconds add up to frustration for users.
By using a service like Google Docs Viewer (or Slideshare, another free alternative) , you can mitigate some of these barriers and provide a better experience for students.
Here is the same presentation embeded using Google Docs Viewer.