Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Google sites - Perfecting permissions

In my last post, I went through the use of Google sites to make an intranet (or a simple site for your school, department or classroom). However, perhaps the real power in sites is the ability to set permissions for different users. For your Google domain, this allows you to make sites for staff and students and even have outside users accessing certain content or pages.

This post will hopefully help you to understand how permissions work in Google sites and the different complications that arise with sites shared with people both inside and outside of your domain.

There are two basic scenarios that I will use to outline how the permissions work. One, a site for users inside your domain and the second for external users.

Sharing and permissions inside your domain

These instructions relate to sharing with users inside your domain (e.g students and staff). If you want to make a site for the public / people outside your domain, the sharing works similarly, but you may want to skip this first section.

Default settings

By default (unless your domain administrator has changed this), your site will be Private. This means that no other domain (or external) users can access, view or edit your site. The first step is to change this setting by sharing the site with your users (either individuals or a group). You can then Enable page-level permissions.

What the different permissions mean:

By default, new pages inherit permissions by default. This means that any new page you make will automatically have all of the users that are added at site level. To add a new user, you have to add them at site level (the top level of the site - don't confuse this with the home page).

The dialog for setting custom permissions

To change these settings, you have to navigate to the page (in sharing and permissions view) you wish to change. Once there, you can change to custom permissions:

  1. Custom permissions: Add new users to this page.

    Basically, if you add a new user or group at site level, they will be able to access the page. This is useful when you may want to remove users  / groups later, but aren't so concerned about privacy (e.g. Year 7 students accessing an IB site)

    e.g. Year7_student is added at site level. All users in the group Year7_student will now have automatic access to the page on your site.

  2. Custom permissions: Do not add new users to this page.

    If you add a new user or group at site level, they will not automatically be added to the page. This is useful of you want to ensure that you have total control over which users / groups from your user pool are added (e.g. students accessing a staff site)

    e.g. Year7_student is added at site level. All users in the group Year7_student will have to be manually given permission to access this page.

Sharing and permissions outside your domain

In this scenario you may be making a site for external users to access (e.g. parents) who do not have accounts in your Google domain. The main difference here is that anyone outside of your domain (i.e. not in your Google Apps for Education domain) who does not have a Google apps account:

  • Cannot have view or edit access to the site (unless they create a Google account)
  • Cannot be invited as part of a user group (even if you make a contact list in gmail).

    For example, if you have a gmail contacts group with 10 mail addresses, of which 5 are not Google (e.g. hotmail, yahoo), they will not be added to the site as users.
Basically, if they don't have a Google account and aren't going to get one, forget about permissions other than Public on the web or Anyone with the link.

The solution

To get around this, there is only really one solution (besides getting your potential users to sign-up to a Google account!). 

At site level set the permissions to Anyone who has the link can view or Public on the web. Then, on each page you can change custom permissions and change this setting, if needed. This will only work if you have content that is suitable for sharing in this way (i.e. there is nothing on the page that you are concerned about sharing).

The dialog for changing visibility for a page when the site visibility is set to Anyone who has the link

To do this:

    • Turn on the Custom permissions on the page. This will allow you to change the basic sharing access from Anyone who has the link can view to Specific people.
    • You can still Add / remove users from your Google domain as normal (based on the settings described above) for either Add new users this page or Do not add new users to the page.

Last, but not least

Finally, there is one more important consideration for the content of your site that is on your pages. If you have embedded +Google Drive  or +YouTube content from your Google account, make sure that you check the sharing permissions on these documents. It's kind of embarrassing to spend all that time setting permissions on your pages, only to find the important document / video that you want your users to see isn't shared with them...