Services & Software

Use Google Docs to share, manage your NCAA basketball pool

Use Google's prefab brackets spreadsheet, or create one of your own from scratch at the free Google Docs service.

For the next three weeks, office workers across the country will have visions of buzzer-beaters dancing in their heads.

It's NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament time, and that means brackets will be zipping through e-mail systems in organizations large and small. There are dozens of sites that let you make your tournament choices online, whether to test your basketball-prediction acumen against the masses, or to recruit friends and coworkers in a private pool.

You can even use Google's Basketball Bracket Battle gadget to place your choices on your iGoogle page. After you select the "Create a bracket on iGoogle" link, the gadget is added to your iGoogle page, and you're invited to join a league, or to form a league of your own. Clicking the first option leads to a window where you give your bracket a name, or enter an existing league, which requires a password. The gadget lets you complete as many as five separate brackets, which you can share with friends and coworkers. The brackets weren't available as of 9 p.m. PDT last night, so I can't tell you anything about the selecting your winners, but you're also asked to predict the score of the championship game. You have to complete your picks by the start of the first game this Thursday.

DIY approach to basketball brackets
I got the fever early and spent part of my weekend creating my own brackets on Google Docs. First, I added rows for the first and second rounds, Regionals, Semifinals, and Championship. Since I followed the standard custom of putting two regional brackets side by side, I made mirror images, with the Midwest and West regions on one side, and the East and South regions on the other. Then I created the "brackets" themselves by adding lines to the bottom and sides of the appropriate cells by clicking the Borders icon on the toolbar and selecting one of the eight options.

The Google Docs toolbar Borders options
Create your 'brackets' by choosing the appropriate border option from the Google Docs toolbar. Google

After I entered the seeds in each of the four brackets, the worksheet was ready to share with everyone, or a select few. I made it available to everyone by clicking the Publish button in the top-right corner of the window, which generates a URL you can send to anyone. I can also limit who has access to the brackets by clicking Share and choosing "to fill out a form" under Invite people on the left, and then the Start editing your form button.

The Share options for worksheets in Google Docs
Share your NCAA Basketball Tournament brackets with friends and coworkers by converting it into a form. Google

The only problem with the form approach is that you have to create a separate question for each game, and since you don't know who'll be playing after the first round, you have to use text fields rather than checkboxes or a two-item list; the other choices--paragraph text and multiple choice--aren't suitable in this instance. Still, the form approach simplifies management by making it easy to collect everyone's choices. It's also an effective alternative to the Microsoft Word approach to conducting surveys that I described last week. (My thanks to the readers who pointed out the online-survey technique).

After you complete the form questions, or if you share the worksheet as is, you add the e-mail addresses of your "collaborators", and decide whether they can invite others. You're also given the options to make the file read-only, or include its URL.

Now that you've set up your pool and made your picks, you can get back to work--at least until tipoff on Thursday.

Tomorrow: reduce your PC's power consumption.