Google’s implementation of document sharing is completely fouled up. The following is a slighted redacted version of a (formerly) internal email to colleagues to tell them what I learned about document sharing based on interactions with their customer support and folks on the net.

As some of you know, file sharing in Google docs doesn’t work the way we expect. I’ve exchanged a bunch of emails with Google support about the issue. The upshot is that it is working as they expect, but the way they expect is counterintuitive (read: a user experience debacle). Sharing by name is probably the best course for the moment.┬áThis rest of this email summarizes what I learned in a bit more detail.

To share a document, you’ll see an option like this:

Most of us and others on the net, expect company-wide sharing (highlighted above) to cause documents to be visible in our document list immediately. Some have called this the “visibility problem” on the Google Apps forums. Even if documents shared with us aren’t visible, one might think that we should be able to find them with the big “Search Docs” button. Nope — that doesn’t work either.

Both visibility and search (via the Search Docs button) appears to be limited to documents that you’ve already accessed… egregiously lame for any document sharing scheme, especially one from Google. If Google web search worked this way, it would be completely useless!

However, you can find a document if you use the appropriate keywords and the pull-down menu under Search Docs, like this:

To be clear: this option will find documents that are shared company-wide, does not require on named document sharing, and works even if you haven’t accessed the document before.┬áThe problem, of course, is that you’ll have to guess at keywords for a document whose content you haven’t seen yet. Sigh.