Link and auto-merge Google Drive docs for editorial nirvana

  • EmDocsFlow featured image 300What if you could have a time machine to speed up InDesign editorial production, based on the world’s best real-time collaborative editor, Google Docs?
  • What if you could Place Google Docs documents and spreadsheets directly into InDesign, connected with live links?
  • What if you could proceed immediately with production, while your authors and editors continued working on the placed documents?
  • What if, when they had updates, you could magically merge their work into yours with a single click (as a link update), without losing any work, and with automatic notification of any conflicts?
  • What if you could push your content changes back to the original Google Docs documents at any time, staying synchronized with your authors and editors?
  • What if you could export original InDesign content to allow editors to work on it online in Google Docs, and then re-import their changes with a click using the same magic merge?

You can. Meet DocsFlow for Adobe InDesign, your Google Docs-based time machine.

Google Docs editorial + InDesign layout

DocsFlow combines the collaborative editing power of Google Docs with the layout power of InDesign to accelerate your editorial and production workflows.

With DocsFlow, you place online Google Docs documents and (Pro version) spreadsheets as InDesign story contents, just like normal text or spreadsheet files.

More importantly, DocsFlow maintains a dynamic link so it can intelligently merge Google Docs changes into the InDesign story contents on each link update, rather than just replacing the story. In the Pro version, that’s a two-way link so you can push your InDesign story changes to Google Docs.

So you can format, layout, and make minor edits in InDesign, while your authors and editors continue creating and editing story content together in real time on Google Docs, all without losing any work.


DocsFlow’s first breakthrough idea is to connect the freely-available and popular web-based Google Docs editing tools to InDesign, giving you a zero-cost-per-seat editorial workflow solution that is extraordinarily easy to manage.

Using DocsFlow means you need no special resources to build, maintain or learn the editorial side (which is just Google Docs), and means no learning curve on the design side (since DocsFlow builds on the native InDesign story linking and story updating machinery).

And getting started couldn’t be easier: download and install the plugin, select Place from Google Docs…, log in, and start placing dynamically-linked documents, later merging with a double-click when the remote document is edited.

DocsFlow’s second breakthrough is serious technology that enables you to edit both the InDesign story and the Google Docs document independently, without losing work on either side.

When the Google Docs document is edited, you’ll see the link’s status change to “modified” (a yellow alert icon), and you can update the story from Google Docs with a double-click on the icon. DocsFlow merges any changes on the Google Docs side into the linked InDesign story, even if the latter has been changed.

You can view or edit the original story at any time by using “edit original” or clicking the edit original icon in the Links panel. DocsFlow also provides an “edit original without update” that opens the document in Google Docs but doesn’t auto-update when you return to InDesign.

After each update, if you open the story editor with change marks showing, you can see who changed what. If there are any conflicts between edits on both sides, DocsFlow will leave a note at each conflict point.

Pro is two-way

DocsFlow Pro expands the normal one-way linking to two-way, so you can export your unlinked story to a new Google Docs document, or push-merge any linked InDesign story changes back to your existing Google Docs document.

Further, using the same magical 3-way merge technology used for an import merge, we do our best to keep your Google Docs formatting intact on an InDesign export push-merge, to minimize jarring styling changes.

Pro Works with spreadsheets

The DocsFlow Pro version also works with Google Docs spreadsheets. You can place a spreadsheet, then format columns/rows or individual cells, etc. in InDesign. Later, if you or someone else makes changes to the original spreadsheet, including moving around rows or columns, DocsFlow will figure out what changed, and merge in the changes without losing the formatting and edits you’ve made in InDesign.

Works with Google Drive

If you use the Google Drive file system extension in Mac OS or Windows to access your documents and spreadsheets, you can place any Google Drive file by simply dragging and dropping it from the Finder or Windows Explorer into InDesign. DocsFlow will intercept the drag and drop and treat it like a Place from Google Docs…. This gives you the benefit of system folder navigation in your Drive files when placing, if you have a lot of documents or folders (which would otherwise be challenging to navigate or find via the normal DocsFlow place dialog).

Third-party review

A “mainstream” review of DocsFlow appeared in InDesign Magazine, unfortunately available only to subscribers. However, we wrote a summary of the review that might be helpful to understanding DocsFlow’s unique approach. Their summary:

DocsFlow is one of those plug-ins that can literally be life-changing in how much it improves your workflow, especially when you work with documents written or edited by a number of people. It’s certainly no replacement for the power of Adobe InCopy, but it’s more than enough for many (and perhaps most) InDesign users.

Accelerate your workflow

In the past, if you were collaborating with other folks on stories to be published using InDesign, but couldn’t afford a high-end editorial workflow system, you’d usually collect their external documents as Word (or other format) files, often via email or file-sharing of some sort. Once those were all collected (a pain in itself, especially for more than a handful of sources), you’d pull them down to your local system, and import them into your document, and go about your editing and formatting. If your collaborator wanted to update what she sent you, you’d have to get the new story again back down to your local system, and then either re-import it, blowing away all your careful edits and formatting, or else try to eyeball what changed and manually merge those changes (that being at best frustrating, and at worst hopelessly error-prone).

Or, once the external documents were imported into your InDesign document, the latter would become your master, and you’d export PDFs and ship them around to your collaborators for mark-up. That means you’d have a massive manual editing job on your part, once you got back the marked-up PDFs.

With DocsFlow, your collaborators—as many as you like—can share Google Docs documents with you—as many as you need—, and edit them on the web, even collaborating in real time on the documents. Once you’ve linked a given source Google Docs document with an InDesign story, you’ll notice any edits in Google Docs immediately, and with a double-click on the source-changed icon in the InDesign Links panel, you’ll have those changes merged into your InDesign story automatically, using DocsFlow’s powerful 3-way merge (of the current story contents and the difference between the previous and current Google Docs document—all of which happens behind the scenes).

If there’s a chance of collisions in the editing process, you can use the story editor to see who changed what, and how those changes fit in (or not) with the local story edits. DocsFlow also leaves InDesign notes at each point of conflict to let you know you may need to resolve something.

And with DocsFlow Pro, you can now export an unlinked InDesign story to a new Google Doc, or push-merge your InDesign story changes to the linked Google Docs document.

So, for example, you could assign a newly-created story to be written or further edited by exporting it to Google Docs (use the Link panel’s DocsFlow > Export to Google Docs and Visit…), where you could share it with your authors or editors. As they make changes to the exported and linked document, you can pull them in with a double-click on the Link panel’s modified-link icon. If you associate a keyboard shortcut with the export menu item, assigning stories could be a one-key process.

DocsFlow vs. InCopy

DocsFlow is not competing directly with Adobe’s InCopy. The Google Docs user can’t “edit to fit,” seeing the layout-critical formatting, line breaks, overset copy, etc., that the InCopy user sees by design. Rather, DocsFlow works best when the bulk of the editing will be done on the Google Docs side, with minor edits and all page formatting and layout happening on the InDesign side.

DocsFlow’s main advantage is that everyone can see and edit the original copy in real time on Google Docs, at no cost per user. And, in most cases, authors are better off writing with a focus on content rather than eventual layout and formatting.

That said, we do have plans for future product features that will help with copy-fitting and general layout feedback to the Google Docs user.

Next steps

From the sidebars on this page, you can download the software, purchase license(s), visit the user guide, view any case studies and testimonials, review product-related news, see the release history, find out about using the software as an evaluation copy, and find out about product support.

If a web-based editorial workflow doesn’t make sense for you, our WordsFlow product gives similar acceleration to a Word/Excel-file-based workflow.

© 2010 Em Software - Business WordPress Theme by ThemeShift