Your Google docs: Soon in search results?

In two weeks, Google will allow published documents linked to from a public Web site to be crawled and indexed, which means that they can appear in search results, it announces.

Zoe Slocum Fomer Senior editor, CNET News
Zoë Slocum joined CNET in 2003, after two years at a travel start-up. Having managed the Blog Network and served as copy chief, she now edits part-time and serves as a mom full-time.
Zoe Slocum
2 min read

Users of Google Docs and Spreadsheets accustomed to publicly publishing their documents might want to rethink exactly how publicly available they want to them to be.

Google on Thursday wrote in a blog post that "in about two weeks, we will be launching a change for published docs. The change will allow published docs that are linked to from a public Web site to be crawled and indexed, which means they can appear in search results you see on Google.com and other search engines...This is a very exciting change, as your published docs linked to from public Web sites will reach a much wider audience of people."

"Marie" of Google was quick to note that the crawling for search results "only applies to docs which you explicitly publish using the 'Publish as Web page' or 'Publish/embed' option, and which are linked to from a publicly crawled Web page" (documents for which users choose only to "allow anyone with the link to view" will not get crawled, she wrote, adding that users can unpublish documents they wish to remain uncrawled).

Some users of the search giant's suite of online productivity applications expressed concerns about the plan, suggesting better labeling of potentially crawlable documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. For example, how would you know definitively if a publicly crawled Web page has linked to your published document? Is the only way to ensure that your published document does not ultimately show up in search results to actually unpublish it?

As noted by The Register, "Google Apps master view does not tell you which docs are publicly published and which aren't." While it may well be obvious to most users how publicly available their Google documents are--and many of those published documents may well be intended to be as publicly available as possible--this seems to be another area where Google needs to find the right balance between transparency and data accessibility.