Tuesday tip: Google add-ons

Earlier this year, Google unveiled add-ons. Previously, developers could use Google Apps Script (GAS) to create custom functions or tools, then publish them to script gallery. Other users could then read a short description if the script and install it in their own files. It worked fine, but it was clearly something Google hadn’t put much time into.

Old Google Apps Script gallery image
The old Script Gallery wasn’t very pretty or easy to use.

Add-ons are more or less the same product, with a better look and less work on the part of the user. To access the new add-ons gallery, just click on the option in the file menu.  (Unfortunately, it looks like it’s not available in old documents and spreadsheets.)

Add-ons gallery
The new gallery is a lot easier to navigate.

The education section of the add-ons gallery is really great, with some wonderful tools by the team at New Visions for Public Schools.

From the user’s perspective, add-ons are a lot easier to figure out. Everything is much more visual, and the categories make more sense. At the same time, the simplicity is something of a double-edged sword. Users typically can’t see the code they’re installing on the file. On the one hand, it makes it much easier to install things and get work done. However, it does mean that you’ll have to trust the people who made the add-ons, or go look up the code separately.

Google is also doing a pretty good job of helping new coders create their own add-ons. Don’t be intimidated if you’re new to GAS. It’s really just a few steps beyond creating your own GAS tool, and Google’s instructions are clear and up to date. I’ve created a simple add-on for the NYU community to fix badly-formatted student ID numbers in just a few hours, and the add-ons advisors at Google were helpful throughout the process.

NYU-restricted add-on example
I’ve restricted this add-on to the NYU community, so you won’t be able to find it unless you have an nyu.edu account.

It’s been inspiring to see how many educators are creating their own add-ons and sharing them with colleagues around the world. If you haven’t tried any yet, I really like the sidebar Table of Contents and the Consistency Checker. And if you’re an educator who has been making useful tools with GAS, please share them in the add-on gallery.

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