Google recently announced a new Google Apps Script Service called Execution API. The pitch:

Have you ever wanted a server API that modifies cells in a Google Sheet, to execute a Google Apps Script app from outside of Google Apps, or a way to use Apps Script as an API platform? Today, we’re excited to announce you can do all that and more with the Google Apps Script Execution API. The Execution API allows developers to execute scripts from any client (browser, server, mobile, or any device). You provide the authorization, and the Execution API will run your script.

Getting data into Google Sheets from external sources has been a long held interest of mine. Whilst the Execution API can do much more than just this in this post I want to focus on how you can setup the Execution API to create an authenticated pipeline. Before I go into this it’s worth reminding ourselves of the other ways you can get data into Google Sheets, in particular, publishing a script as a web app.

Publishing a GET/POST endpoint

By publishing your script as a web app you expose an endpoint that can handle POST and GET requests. I’ve a couple of posts that illustrate how you can use this, the most recent being Google Sheets as a Database – INSERT with Apps Script using POST/GET methods (with ajax example). Publishing a GET/POST endpoint does have several limitations, in particular, you need to publish the app to execute as you and allow access to anyone even anonymously. This doesn’t mean you can’t create full featured applications as you can use the HTMLService which will also expand the number of ways the app can run including as the user accessing the app. A limitation of publishing a standalone app in this way, which catches out a lot of new Apps Scripters, is you cannot <iframe> Apps Script web apps in other sites other than Google Sites.

Execution API

This is where Execution API comes in. Lets consider the following scenario:

Company X needs to integrate a form on their CMS that allows authorised users to submit data to a Google Sheet and see data entered by other authorised users. As part of the data entry the email address of who is submitting the data needs to be included.

The key word in this scenario is ‘authorised’, essentially we want to enable authenticated access to a Google Sheets from a 3rd party source.

Getting your head around the Execution API documentation

Like all good developers lets start with the official documentation. Looking at the ‘Using the Execution API’ there are a couple of things to note:

To use the API, you must supply a valid OAuth token that covers all the scopes used by the script (not just the ones used by the called function).

The link to ‘valid OAuth token’ is just a list of the OAuth scopes, so how do we get the token? Moving on to the ‘General procedure’ it says:

5. In the application code, generate an OAuth access token for the API call. This is not a token the API itself uses, but rather one the script requires. The token must be built using the Client ID and the scopes from the script (in the editor, under File > Project properties > Scopes). This also requires prompting the user to authorize the script. Note that the Google client libraries, while not strictly necessary, can greatly assist in handling OAuth for the application.

Further down the Using the Execution API page there is getSheetNames example which includes a ‘target script’ and example application scripts for different platforms. If like me to jumped to these examples you’ll still be missing one very important step, generating an OAuth access token. The issue is the client examples on this page skip the critical token generation. Personally I think it would be clearer if the documentation included the complete quickstart project, which in fairness is linked to from the overview page but can be easily missed. So making use of the fact that the documentation is published under Creative Commons CC-BY 3.0 here’s my version of creating an Execution API/JavaScript application.

Creating an Execution API/JavaScript application

This guide is based on documentation published by Google [source 1, source 2 & source 3] and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License, and code samples are licensed under the Apache 2.0 License.

Here is an example application which which solves our example use case. After the page loads the user needs to authorize access:

user needs to authorize access

Clicking the Authorize button launches Google Authentication:

Google Authentication

The user is prompted if they would like the application to have access to their services defined in the target script scope. This is a one-time-only prompt and to revoke access the user needs to remove from their account dashboard under Apps connected to your account.

service authorisation

On authorization the data is rendered from our Google Sheet in the application window and the user can submit new data:

comment data returned from Google Sheet

Notes and limitation

The key thing to note here is this app is running based on the permissions of the user. In my example to allow anyone to enter a comment the source Google Sheet has to be shared to everyone with edit access but not publically searchable. The link to the Google Sheet is never exposed (security by obscurity). In a enterprise setting you can limit who the sheet is shared with to prevent unauthorised access.  Here is how this example has been put together:

Create a Target Project for the Apps Script Execution API

Before you can begin any of the quickstarts, you will need a target Apps Script for the API to call. Follow these steps to create a simple script and enable it for API access.

Step 1: Create the script

  1. Open this Google Sheet and File > Make a copy and copy your new Sheet document id from your browser address bar:
    Sheet document ID
  2. Share the Google Sheet with users you would like to be able to add data.
  3. Open the Apps Script editor and create a blank project.
  4. Click on the "Untitled Project" title to rename the script. Name the script "Apps Authenticated INSERT with Apps Script using Execution API" and click OK.
  5. Replace the contents of the file with the following code replacing <INSERT_SPREADSHEET_DOC_ID> with the id of your new sheet from step 1:

  6. Save the project by selecting File > Save.

Step 2: Publish the script for execution and enable the Google Apps Script Execution API

  1. In the code editor, select Publish > Deploy as API executable.
  2. In the dialog that opens, leave the Version as "New" and enter "Target-v1" into the text box. Click Deploy.
  3. Open your target Apps Script in the editor and select Resources > Developers Console Project.
  4. In the dialog that opens, click on the blue link (that starts with "Apps Authenticated INSERT with Apps Script using Execution API") at the top to open the console project associated with your script.
  5. In the sidebar on the left, select APIs & auth, then APIs. In the search bar under the API library tab, enter "Google Apps Script Execution API". Click the same name in the list that appears. In the new tab that opens, click Enable API.
  6. Back on the Credentials tab, click the Add credentials button and select OAuth 2.0 client ID.
  7. Select the application type Web application.
  8. In the Authorized JavaScript origins field, enter the URL of the domain where you’ll be hosting your application. Note: no paths, trailing slash or wildcards – for the example showed you I entered You can leave the Authorized redirect URIs field blank.
  9. Click the Create button.
  10. Take note of the client ID in the resulting dialog. You will need it in a later step.

Step 3: Set up the sample

Create a file named quickstart.html and copy in the following code:

Replace the placeholder <ENTER_YOUR_CLIENT_ID> in the copied code with the client ID you generated in Step 1. Be sure to also replace the placeholder <ENTER_YOUR_SCRIPT_ID_HERE> with the script ID of your target script. Upload the quickstart.html to your web server (if you don’t have one you can run a localhost).

Step 4: Run the sample

Navigate to the page with your quickstart.html example.

The first time you run the sample, it will prompt you to authorize access:

  1. Click the Authorize button to open the authorization window.

    If you are not already logged into your Google account, you will be prompted to log in. If you are logged into multiple Google accounts, you will be asked to select one account to use for the authorization.

  2. Click the Accept button.

After the initial user authorization, calls to gapi.auth.authorize that use immediate:true mode will obtain an auth token without user interaction.


This example has shown you how to setup a Execution API/JavaScript application. One of the main features of the Execution API is you can create your own REST interfaces for Google Services and achieve easy integration with one of the main client libraries or handling with your own POST requests. I’ve previously described Google Apps Script as the Authentic{ated} Playground, well that playground has just got a lot bigger.

Photo credit : Chris Bull CC-BY-NC-SA ALT week was #altc, once of the largest annual edtech events in the UK calendar. Each year we’ve seen a growth in the use of Twitter at the event and it makes sense for us to have the live Twitter stream displayed throughout the venue. In previous years we’ve relied on 3rd party services but this year I wanted to bring this in-house.  Having looked around I came across a nice example by Remy Sharp for a ‘A conference twitter wall with built in schedule & announcements’. This looked ideal as the schedule and announcements was a nice additional feature, plus it was coded in HTML/Javascript making it easier for me to modify.

Iteration 1 - Happy days…

If you are familiar with the nuances of the Twitter Search API you’ll know everything needs authenticated access. In Remy’s example he got around this by proxying the calls via a local NodeJS server. I don’t have a Node server so my initial thought was to use the TwtrService Apps Script library to make the calls and host the files on Google Drive (if you are unfamiliar with Google Drive Hosting you can publish a folder with HTML/JS and it’ll render as a webpage … but see the ‘but’ below).  This is basically the same recipe for the solution for keeping your official Twitter archive fresh on Google Drive. For this solution I could have created a Google Apps Script Web App (Ref: read more) to expose the data but as we were planning on multiple walls and with Apps Script quotas to bear in mind it looked better to use Remy’s debug option which reads copies of the data. Actually getting Remy’s code to work hosted on Google Drive takes very little modification (I’m claiming 4 lines), to write the data to Drive takes a bit more.

The result of this iteration can be seen at:

… and all the files for this are in this Google Drive folder:


Before I go into the details of setting this up there is a ‘but’. I initially did all this work in August in advance of our event planning to publish my work for others to use. But then Google announced they were Deprecating web hosting support in Google Drive. As per Google policy this means web hosting will be available until August 31st, 2016 so if you have an event running before then here’s how you can set this up.

  1. Create a new folder in Google Drive and note the folder id from the url:
    Getting Google Drive Folder ID
  2. Download my fork of the Twitterwall, extract the .zip archive
  3. Open config.js and edit the baseUrl so that it ends with your folder ID from step 1 Important: keep the rest of the baseUrl e.g. baseUrl: '' and your search term.
  4. Upload all the folders and files to the Google Drive folder you created maintaining the structure

At this point visiting your baseUrl should render the wall, next setting up the Twitter data collection.

  1. Open this Apps Script file and File > Make a copy
  2. In your copy  edit the FOLDERID in the script to match the folder id of the hosted twitterwall files (part 1, step 1).
  3. If you’ve never used TAGS/TwtrService enable Twitter API access via this web app.
  4. Back in the Apps Script Editor window Run > getSearchResults and authenticate to test.
  5. To setup regular collection of data from the Script Editor select Resources > Current project’s triggers and add a time-driven trigger to updated every 5 minutes:
    Setting up script triggers

Now every 5 minutes this script will get new data from the Twitter Search API and dump in the the /history/data folder. Also every 5 minutes Remy's script will check this folder for new data and if it's there render the tweets. You can also modify the index.html file in your folder to add your schedule and notices as per Remy’s

If you are not familiar with Google Apps Script you are probably wondering ‘what magic is this’ and you might want to have a wee peek at the documentation to see what else is possible.

In my next post I’ll explain how we can enhance the Twitterwall to use a Google Sheet for the notice and schedule information as well as how this application can be run without Google Drive web hosting. In the meantime please use the comments if you get stuck or need part of this explained more.

Previously I’ve written about how we use Google Apps Script to extract data from one of the Association’s online systems. We use this technique to generate charts which give us some insight to our current standing. One limitation we had was to view the charts we had to open the Google Sheet with them in. There are various techniques for automatically distributing these using Apps Script and in this post I’m going to highlight one method for emailing inline charts. Below is what the result looks like, an email with an embedded chart, no need to download or preview attachments.

End product - inline charts

Below is the same chart in the Google Sheet. If we make changes to the chart appearance or update the data, when we send the chart we get the latest version.

Source chart in Google Sheet that will be emailed

I found the code snippet for doing this on Stackoverflow. This works well but there are two issues to be aware of.

Google Sheet needs to be shared with anyone with link

As noted in the SO comments for the chart to appear the Google Sheet containing it needs to be shared with ‘anyone with the link’. Without this all you get is a blank image. This potentially creates a data protection issue if using sensitive information. There are ways you can juggle this by such as using the IMPORTRANGE formula to only publish aggregated data. This looks like a bug which I’ve noted in this issue ticket.

Missing numeric labels

The second issue we discovered was that axis with numeric values end up prefixed with ‘General’  e.g. as seen below General88000.

Numeric label issue

The solution is fairly straight forward and actually opens the door to doing a lot more with charts. It uses the EmbedChartBuilder service to grab the chart object. The original Google announcement for the Chart services highlights you can:

  • Add/Remove the ranges this chart represents via addRange and removeRange.
  • Set options that modify how the chart will be rendered as well as change the chart type with setOption and setChartType.
  • Change where the chart will be displayed (the cell and cell offset of the chart container) via setPosition.

To achieve proper axis formatting requires some cross document reference lookup to find the correct setOption to use. In this case it means jumping to Google Chart API reference for Line Charts to see the configuration options and setting the format:

builder.setOption('vAxis.format', '#');

The modified version of the function we use is included below:

As of yesterday TED have uploaded 1,903 videos totaling 1,622,120 seconds of playtime which have been viewed 428,117,012 times and received 4,360,903 likes.

If you’d like to play with the data you can find it in this YouTube Channel Summary – TEDtalksDirector Google Sheet … and if you would like similar data for your or someone else's channel make a copy of this YouTube Channel Summary Google Sheet and follow the setup instructions.


To get this working there are a couple of hoops to jump through. As the YouTube API is an Advanced Service and it must be enabled before use. For this project to do this you need to be in the Script Editor then:

  1. Open Tools > Script editor and then click Resources > Advanced Google Services…
  2. Scroll down to YouTube Data API to turn it on then click the ‘Google Developers Console link:
    Enabling Advanced Services
  3. In the Google Developers Console find and turn on the YouTube Data API. After it’s enabled you can close the Console window
  4. Finally, assuming you’ve got the desired username set in cell B1 Run > writeYTChannelSummaryToSheet.

Note: if the channel has a lot of videos the script will automatically start running again after five seconds until it get everything.

How it was made

I made this template following a request from Brian Bennett:

.. so let look in more detail at how you access YouTube data in Google Apps Script. I’ve already highlighted the need to activate the YouTube integration as an advanced service. For advanced services there is less documentation on the Google Apps Script site and generally you are better looking at the API documentation for the service. In this case the YouTube Data API jumping in to the PlaylistItems list examples there is a JavaScript solution to retrieve a channels upload list. As Google Apps Script uses the JavaScript syntax this provides a useful starting point to structure our project. Something to bear in mind is that the JavaScript YouTube client and Google Apps Script are different, so in Javascript you prepare a request which is executed. In Apps Script you can prepare variable if you like but we can jump straight to the execute bit. Below are two examples of the same code in JavaScript and Apps Script


function requestUserUploadsPlaylistId() {
  // See
  var request ={
    mine: true,
    part: 'contentDetails'
  request.execute(function(response) {
    playlistId = response.result.items[0].contentDetails.relatedPlaylists.uploads;

Google Apps Script

function requestUserUploadsPlaylistId() {
  // See
  var response = YouTube.Channels.list('contentDetails', {mine:true});
  playlistId = response.items[0].contentDetails.relatedPlaylists.uploads;

The eagle-eyed among you may have spotted that on the Google Apps Script site there is a  Retrieve YouTube Uploads example which might be a better starting point. I have to admit I missed this at the time but still believe for advanced services  getting to know the service api docs will be better for you in the long run.

So how do we go from var request = to var response = YouTube.Channels.list(). This is where autocomplete will make your task so much easier. In the App Script editor typing ‘YouTube’ followed by a period ‘.’ brings up the next available options in the call (Tip: pressing Ctrl+Space will list all the available services). Here’s an example for the Analytics service:


If there are parameters required these will be indicated as well as what is returned. Using this with the list example we can see it’s expecting a string part and an optionalArgs object.

autocomplete YouTube

This is when the YouTube Data API reference comes in handy as it lists all the required and option parameters and the values it expects. Some other nice features of this documentation is the option to try a call to the api from the page. This is useful to test values and see a shape of the data returned.

Everyone of course has there own way of working but hopefully you found this useful, so go forth and make your own YouTube Data mashups


Last year I wrote about how you can  use Google Apps Script to integrate with If you are not familiar with the service lets you:

transform any website into a table of data or an API in minutes without even writing any code

As part of my work at ALT we recently needed to extract data from our hosted Open Conference Systems (OCS). OCS has some data export options but none that fitted our exact need. As a hosted solution we don’t have access to the backend so I turned to to liberate our own data <sigh>. OCS uses a basic authentication but the great thing about is you can train it to enter your username and password and extract the data from the pages you need.  Getting data behind an authentication layer with the API is a two step process:

Make sure you check out the docs before integrating authenticated sources!
Every time you pass in credentials you will be logged in; pass in credentials once or via a login call and subsequently pass through cookies.

I took a while to get my head around the process because the two links in the support message just take you to the generic API docs. This is a better url to the queryLogin methods. It’s clear that have put a lot of work into the developer experience, but unfortunately I struggled testing the queryLogin method. Using a valid id and model schema for the input just gave an ‘UnexpectedErrorException’. So I then turned to’s own dataset tools. This was another dead end as I was struggling to get it to recognise my OCS login. Peeking under the hood I discovered:

Looking for another ‘in’ a quick search came up with this post on Using authenticated data sources with PHP and Go. Given I do a lot of coding in PHP translating to Javascript/Google Apps Script is relatively straight forward. I was still struggling however with the ‘shape’ of the login payload and the $connectorDomain. The breakthrough came remembering that looked like they were dog fooding their own API in their dataset tool.

Luke use the log

With this I could see what the $connectorDomain should have been and can now happily go off and liberate our data. Here’s my translation of the PHP example in Google Apps Script also available as a gist:

function getResults() {
  var connector = {'username':'YOUR_SITE_USERNAME',
  var creds = {};
  creds[connector.connectorDomain] = {
    "username": connector.username,
    "password": connector.password
  var additionalInput = {};
  additionalInput[connector.connectorGuid] = {'domainCredentials':creds};              
  //get cookies
  var login = query(connector.connectorGuid, false, connector.userGuid, connector.apiKey, additionalInput, false);
  additionalInput[connector.connectorGuid].cookies = login.cookies;  
  var result = query(connector.connectorGuid, {"webpage/url":""}, connector.userGuid, connector.apiKey, additionalInput, false);
  // do something with results like write to Google Sheet
function query(connectorGuid, input, userGuid, apiKey, additionalInput, login) {
  var url = "" + connectorGuid + "/_query?_user=" + userGuid + "&_apikey=" + apiKey;
  var data = {};
  if (input) {
    data["input"] = input;
  if (additionalInput) {
    data["additionalInput"] = additionalInput;
  if (login) {
    data["loginOnly"] = true;
  var ch = UrlFetchApp.fetch(url, {'method':'POST', 'payload': JSON.stringify(data)});
  var result = ch.getContentText();
  return JSON.parse(result);

At the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) one of the core tools we use for membership management is CiviCRM. CiviCRM has a number of ‘out-of-the-box’ reports you can use and run to summaries and analyse memberships and contributions. Given the flexibility of Civi you can also with a bit of know how create custom extensions and reporting options enabling so very sophisticated analytics. At ALT we are keen to make more use of the data we have on memberships but at the same time have limited resources and time to implement these. In this post I’ll highlight how using Google Sheets we’ve developed a framework that allows us to rapidly develop custom reporting.


If you are already a CiviCRM user you are probably already aware of CiviReports and the ability create basic custom reports which allow you to view and download data. As part of this you can also schedule reports to land in your inbox. This is great but has it’s limitations. In particular, additional setup is required if you don’t want to just report on a daily basis; you end up with tables of data, with no graphical summaries; and combining current and historic data isn’t possible.


Scheduling reports at custom intervals

CiviCRM provides an interface to schedule a mail_report. The issue many people discover is this will send reports on set intervals usually hourly or daily. You can schedule individual jobs to run a specific periods but you quickly find yourself in the world of command lines and CRON jobs. Crons are scheduled tasks run by a web server. If you have dedicated admin support this is a fairly standard task and the instructions are easy to follow. At ALT we have the option to open a support ticket with our host but this seems like a waste on time and money.

Our solution is to use a Google Sheet… well a Google Sheet with a bit of ‘juice’. The sheet is shared with our team and anyone can add a CiviReport id to Column A and choose how often it runs in Column B using a data validation list option.

deciding what reports run when

But how does this trigger our civi install to run the job? The juice is Google Apps Script, a cloud based scripting language native to Google Drive. Apps Script is a free service from Google and fortunately for us has the ability to run scripts on configured time intervals. It also has the ability to call specific urls using the build-in UrlFetchApp (similar to CURL). I’ll give you a link to this Sheet so you can setup your own later and when you do you’ll see the entire process is managed with a couple of lines of code included below:

function doTasks() {
  var doc = SpreadsheetApp.getActiveSpreadsheet(); // get spreadsheet
  var sheet = doc.getSheetByName("Tasks"); // get sheet
  var data = sheet.getRange(3, 1, sheet.getLastRow(),; // get values
  var now = new Date(); // time now
  // for each row of the sheet interate accross
  for (var i = 0; i < data.length; i++){
    if (data[i][COL.report_id] != ""){ // if there is instance id do something
      // collect row values
      var report_id = data[i][COL.report_id]
      var type = data[i][COL.type];
      var next_run = data[i][COL.next_run] || 0; 
      // check if it's time to run the report again
      if (next_run < now && type != "never"){
        // if it is ping the report trigger
        var new_next_run = callUrl(report_id, type, {format: data[i][COL.format], ss_id: data[i][COL.ss_id], ss_sht: data[i][COL.ss_sht]} );
        // ..and record when to run again
        sheet.getRange(parseInt(i)+3, 3, 1, 2).setValues([[now, new_next_run]]);

What this does is read the sheet data and then iterate across each row. If the report is overdue to be run again it calls a another custom function callUrl which will run the CiviReport and return/write when next to run.

Creating graphical summaries and combining data

By this point you may be sensing that I’m partial to solving problems with Google Sheets. With Sheets it’s fairly straight forward to manually export different reports from Civi and analyse using formula and Charts. The manual export of CiviReports can get tiresome so how can we automate this? Again we return to Google Apps Script. One of the options in CiviReports is to attach the data to the emailed report as a .csv file. From the previous example we can see it is possible to read and write data to a Google Sheet. So if we can get the .csv file from our emailed report we can write it to the Sheet … right?

This is actually more straight forward than you may think as another feature of Google Apps Script is to interact with the script owner’s Gmail.  As part of this we can search for messages and get associated attachments. Using this we can read the latest report from Civi, write the data to a sheet and with a bit of clever formula building automatically get the latest summary or custom chart. As Apps Script runs in a pre authenticated environment, no oAuth handshakes here, the code is relatively straight forward:

function processInbox(){
  var PS = PropertiesService.getScriptProperties();
  var data = PS.getProperties();
  for (var key in data) {
    if (key.substring(0, 10) == "search_str"){
      var param_raw = data[key];
      var param = JSON.parse(param_raw);
      // get last 20 message threads using serach term
      var threads =, 0, 20); 
      // assume last thread has our latest data
      var last_thread = threads.length-1;
      if (last_thread > -1){
        // get message in the last thread        
        var msg =  threads[last_thread].getMessages()[0];
        // get the attachments
        var attachments = msg.getAttachments();
        for (var k = 0; k < attachments.length; k++) {
          // get the attachment as a string
          var csv_str = attachments[k].getDataAsString();
          // parse string as csv
          var csv = Utilities.parseCsv(csv_str);
          // create destination object
          var doc = SpreadsheetApp.openById(param.ss_id);
          var sheet = doc.getSheetByName(param.ss_sht);
          // clear any old data
          // write new data
          sheet.getRange(1, 1,  csv.length, csv[0].length).setValues(csv);
          // mark message are read and archive (you could also label or delete)


Data protection

There are a couple of things worth noting here. Google Sheets are a fantastic collaborative environment and with this solution we can still share spreadsheets to selected people in our organisation and beyond. Something to remember though is this script runs as the sheet owner so when configuring the CiviReport it needs to go to the email address of the owner. At ALT we benefit from being a Google for Education user so our email and Drive access comes as part of the Google Apps suite. This solution could also be setup to run on a regular Google account but there are data protection issues to consider sending reports to a non-organisation contact. As such you might only want to re-use this solution as an easy way to schedule reports rather than schedule and process the data.

ARRAYFORMULA, FILTER, QUERY functions are your friends

As our solution dumps .csv data in a sheet, clearing any previous data, any formulas you have in the sheet will also be lost. We get around this by doing all data manipulations in a separate sheet which references the imported data. To save copy and pasting lots of formulas we make extensive use of the ARRAYFORMULA, FILTER, QUERY functions available in Google Sheets.

Comparing CiviEvent registrations

One scenario we have is monitoring the number of registrations to an annual conference. It’s easy for us to export registrations for previous years as static data into a spreadsheet. For the analysis we want to group the number of registrations by week number. To get a week number for the live data we create a second sheet that references it. Using the ARRAYFORMULA you can enter the reference once which is then applied to all the values in the range. For example, we get all the registration dates in column A using =ArrayFormula('2015LiveData'!B:B) in cell A1 and then extract the week numbers in column C by using the formula =ARRAYFORMULA(IF(ISBLANK(A2:A),"",WEEKNUM(A2:A))) in cell C2.

ArrayFormula is your friend

Setting up your own copy of Schedule CiviCRM Reports

If this is a project you’d like to use and/or build upon you can copy a blank version of our template below:

Schedule CiviCRM Reports
[While signed in File > Make a copy]

Once you have a copy open Tools > Script editor to see all of the project code and instructions for setting up.

I’ve hopefully given you enough to go on to setup but feel free to leave a comment if you get stuck or have any questions.


Example of pdf version from altc 2014At ALT we use Google Sheets as an easy way to share and collaborate on draft event timetables. Recent examples are the ALT Annual Conference 2014  and the OER15 timetables. One of the reasons for publishing draft timetables using Google Sheets is  we can get a static url for people to download it as PDFs but the contents can be dynamically updated (see recent post on doing this). The template we use for conferences is continually evolving which isn’t an issue as it’s easy to copy the last version. One headache is that our theme colour usually changes. This can be a bit fiddly change as we use empty cells to create a thicker grid:

Thicker borders

Faced with another cell background switch it made sense to actually do this with code rather than clicks and thanks to Google Apps Script possible in 19 lines of code and a couple of minutes:

function colorReplace() {
  var doc = SpreadsheetApp.getActiveSheet();
  // get all the existing active sheet background colours
  var cells = doc.getRange(1, 1, doc.getLastRow(), doc.getLastColumn()).getBackgrounds();
  var rows = cells.length;
  var cols = cells[0].length;
  // iterate accross
  for (var i = 0; i < rows; i++){
    for (var j = 0; j < cols; j++){
      if (cells[i][j] == '#feeff8'){ // first color to change
        cells[i][j] = '#f3f3f3'; // first color change to
      } else if (cells[i][j] == '#bf0875'){ // second color to change
        cells[i][j] = '#079948'; // second color to change
  // update backgound colours
  doc.getRange(1, 1, doc.getLastRow(), doc.getLastColumn()).setBackgrounds(cells);


To get the existing cell background colour I used the debugger setting a breakpoint before the loop to see the existing cell colour HEX codes:

debugger to inspect cell colours

At ALT we are a Google Apps for Education user and make extensive use of Google Drive for creating and publishing documents. Some of our documents, such as member lists or timetables, get regularly updated and updating links in our websites can be a chore. One of the nice features of documents in Google Drive is you have a couple of ways of publishing documents so anyone can view (no log in required). For Google Sheets the main options are getting a shareable link:

share with others  ... because sharing is good ;)

Or using the ‘publish to the web’ option:

publish to web new school

In the ‘old’ version of Google Sheets the ‘Publish to the web’ option included lots of file types, not just as a web page:

publish-to-web old skool

You can still get new Google Sheets to generate download links for other formats … it’s just a bit complicated. The complicated bit is working out which url tweaks you need. For example, with your magic goggles on you might start spotting a pattern in this url which I’ve line breaked to make easier to see:

Remembering all these switches isn’t easy so for our team I’ve shared a simple template with lets us drop in a shared Google Sheet link, choose options for layout and get a url. Here’s a copy in case you find useful:

PDF Link for Google Sheet Template
PDF Link for Google Sheet Template


My old colleague at Cetis, David Sherlock, posted a nice little  ‘Twitter Question/Revision Bot’. This uses a .csv file of questions and multiple choice answers which get randomly tweeted out using a Python script. David designed the project with a Raspberry Pi in mind but also highlights it can be easily run on any Unix like environment such as Mac OS X or Linux. As not everyone is going to have easy access to this here’s how you can do something similar with Google Sheets (if you don’t want to play copy and paste coding make a copy of this sheet).

1. Setting up a Google Sheets environment to handle it

  1. Start with a new Google Sheet and like David have six columns in each row with question, answer, three options (one of which the correct one) and an extra row to record if the question has been asked.
  2. In your spreadsheet open Tools > Script editor and when asked start a ‘Blank Project’
  3. In the new editor window select Resources > Libraries (this will first prompt you to give your project a name, I called mine TwitBot.
  4. In the ‘Find a Library’ box enter MarIlVOhstkJA6QjPgCWAHIq9hSqx7jwh and click Select
  5. You should now see ‘TwtrService’ listed as one of the libraries. In the ‘Version’ dropdown select the latest version (at time of writing 14), and click Save

TwtrService is a library I’ve written so interact with the Twitter API. You can read more about it here.

In the code window add the following code and click save:

function setup() {
  if (TwtrService.isUserConnectedToTwitter()){
   var result = Browser.msgBox("Twitter Authorisation",
                   "You appear to already be connected to Twitter.\\n\\nWould you like to run the setup again?",
    // Process the user's response.
    if (result == 'yes') {
      // User clicked "Yes".
  } else {

The above code uses the TwtrService to help you set up Twitter access if required

Your script window should look like this:

script editor

2. Create a Twitter App

If you’ve used my other TAGS templates you can reuse your details for this. To see if Twitter App details are required from the script window select Run > setup (if setup isn’t listed you need to first save your code). Running setup will start the first part of the authentication process. Click continue and review the authentication required and ‘Accept’ if you are happy.

Auth required

Going back to the spreadsheet you started there should now be a dialog window asking you to do something. If you haven’t setup a Twitter App before it should look like this:

Twitter app creation

Follow the instructions onscreen to create your app.

Important: The Twitter account you use to authorise access is the one that will send out the tweets

3. Write a Python Google Apps Script

Add the code below to your existing script project and save:

var doc = SpreadsheetApp.getActiveSpreadsheet();
var sheet = doc.getSheetByName('Sheet1');

function tweetQuestion(){
  var ran = Math.floor(Math.random() * (sheet.getLastRow()-1)) + 2;
  var row = sheet.getRange(ran, 1, 1, sheet.getLastColumn()).getValues()[0];
  if (row[5] !== ""){
    tweetQuestion(); // if already asked pulls another random row
  } else {
    var tweet =  "Q: " + row[0];
    var tweet2 =  row[2];
    var tweet3 =  row[3];
    var tweet4 =  row[4];'statuses/update', {status: tweet});
    var options = [tweet2,tweet3,tweet4];
    shuffle(options);'statuses/update', {status: "A: " + options[0]);'statuses/update', {status: "B: " + options[1]);'statuses/update', {status: "C: " + options[2]);
    sheet.getRange(ran, 6).setValue(new Date());

function shuffle(a,b,c,d){//array,placeholder,placeholder,placeholder

4. Time the script to run every hour or so

In the script editor select Resources > Current project’s triggers and click ‘No triggers set up. Click here to add one now.’. Select to run tweetQuestion every hour (or your preference), and also click ‘notification’ so you can get an email if the script fails. Finally click ‘Save’

Timed triggers

What will happen now is the function even if you don’t  have the spreadsheet or script editor open or even your browser.

Important: when this script runs out of questions it will go into an infinite loop. You can go back into the trigger window to remove the function at any point. If you don’t you’ll end up using all of your script runtime quota. You homework is to figure a way to get the script to bail if there are no questions left.

My homework...

function tweetQuestion(){
  var asked_col = sheet.getRange(2, 6, sheet.getLastRow()-1).getValues();
  // get unasked q's
  var unasked = [];
  for(var i=0; i < asked_col.length; i++) {
    if(asked_col[i][0] == "") {
  // randomly pick one
  var ran = Math.floor(Math.random() * unasked.length);
  if (unasked[ran]){
    var row = sheet.getRange(unasked[ran], 1, 1, sheet.getLastColumn()).getValues()[0];
    var tweet =  "Q: " + row[0];
    var tweet2 =  row[2];
    var tweet3 =  row[3];
    var tweet4 =  row[4];'statuses/update', {status: tweet});
    var options = [tweet2,tweet3,tweet4];
    shuffle(options);'statuses/update', {status: "A: " + options[0]});'statuses/update', {status: "B: " + options[1]});'statuses/update', {status: "C: " + options[2]});
    sheet.getRange(unasked[ran], 6).setValue(new Date());
  } else {
    // no questions left - do something else


Later today (2.30pmUTC) I’ll be presenting at #oer15 about Twitter in open education (tune in here). As I wanted to highlight the network effect of Twitter I wanted to engage not just the room, but leave ‘footprints’ as for others to follow. I know people like Alex Couros and Alan Levine have done cool stuff live tweeting from Keynote. I’ve dabbled with doing stuff with Microsoft PowerPoint but was never fully satisfied. Given Twitter now supports a number of embedded media formats I thought rather than trying to fit Twitter into another presentation tool, to turn my live tweets into my slides.

And so TAGSPresenter is born! Using a Google Sheet as an editor, Google Drive to host images and a bit of Google Apps Script to glue it together I’ve got my own Twitter based presentation tool. I don’t have time to write about how it was technically achieved but if you want to peak under the hood of the hack here are my ‘slides’ which are published here.

Tune in at 2.30 to see how it goes ;)