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Google Stack is a smart, albeit incomplete, way to digitize and organize documents

Having to deal with documents is a real pain, whether on paper or digital. Tax documents, explanations for benefits from insurance companies, receipts, prescriptions, bills, vaccination cards – the list of daily documents goes on and on. And of course, when you suddenly have to find this receipt for your two-year-old laptop, it’s nowhere to be found.

Google’s latest experimental app, Stack, aims to help make this part of your life easier. A product of Google’s Area 120 incubator, Stack is designed to be on a place where you can store PDF copies of all these documents. As mentioned in our original article, Stack borrows the technology that underpins Google̵

7;s powerful DocAI enterprise tool for document analysis so that it can organize them into categories – or, in Google-speaking, stacks – and allow you to search for words in the text.

I have a lot of documents to keep organized. To keep their digital copies stored and accessible, I use a combination of Google Drive, Evernote, and a PDF creation application called Tiny Scanner. This isn’t the perfect solution, so when Google came up with a document scanning / organizing app, I thought I’d see what this stack was all about.

Import the stacks

First, note: Stack is currently only available on Android devices and can only be installed with a personal Gmail account, not a Google Workplace account (formerly G Suite). However, once you install the app, you can access documents stored in any of your Google Drive accounts, including Workspace accounts. This kind of confusion will not be new to anyone who has to deal with juggling multiple Google accounts.

When you first open the stack, you are presented with a series of icons representing various stacks, including accounts, banking, house, identifiers, medical, receipts and starred. If none of these meet your needs, you can click the Edit link in the upper right corner and you’ll be shown other stacks related to taxes, immigration, vehicles, and other categories that you can add to your stacks of most high level . You can also create your own stack by tapping the plus button.

Organize your documents in piles.

Organize your documents in piles.

You can choose different stacks or create your own.

You can choose different stacks or create your own.

There are two tabs at the bottom of the main screen: Home (the home screen where you can see your stacks) and All Documents (where you can view and search all of your saved documents without organizing the stack).

To start adding documents, tap the plus symbol on the Home screen. Here are three ways to fill the stack:

  • PDF: Download an existing PDF from any Google Drive account or from your device
  • Gallery: Find a recently captured image of your device
  • Camera: Use the camera on your device to scan a document

I have a lot of documents in Google Drive, so I decided to start with the PDF method of importing documents. I was disappointed to find that I could only import one document at a time – which means it would take me a long time to enter my entire PDF history.

The Gallery method was also not very useful, as it gave me access to about a month and a half of the photos on my device.

You can add an existing PDF or scan one using your phone's camera.

You can add an existing PDF or scan one using your phone’s camera.

There are basic functions for editing a PDF file.

There are basic functions for editing a PDF file.

On the other hand, using my phone’s camera to scan a document from Stack works well. The document is previewed before saving, and you can adjust the color, cut it, and rotate it if necessary. You can also add additional pages so that you have a document with more than one page.

Either way I imported the document, I was impressed with how well Stack included it. The application creates the name of the document from its contents, isolates important details such as the date and amount of the purchase and uses the contents to decide which stack to enter. For example, it correctly identified a document that had information about the CDC v-safe application as from the CDC and placed it in the medical stack. And when I took a very crumpled receipt from the store, he chose the name of the merchant and the amount of the purchase without any visible difficulty and put the document in my stack of receipts.

You do not need to rely on the application to decide which stack the document is in. You can assign a document to the stack by going to the “All Documents” tab and then selecting the document in question; its stacks are listed below the image and you can add or remove them there. And yes, you can assign one document to more than one stack if you want – for example, I put the CDC document in both my medical and star stacks.

What you can’t do is create subgroups (or subfolders) in the stack. You cannot mark a document either. For example, if you collect a lot of medical records from different doctors, you need to put them all in the medical stack and search for the document you need, or create a separate stack for each doctor. We hope that some additional organizational tools will be added with the work of this experimental application.

On the other hand, when searching (by going to “All Documents”) you will usually find what you need. As you might expect from a Google app, search works very well; most of my searches were successful in finding text in PDF documents.

Stack's AI retrieved data even from a crushed receipt.

Stack’s AI extracted data even from a crushed receipt.

You can search for PDF content.

You can search for PDF content.

If you go to the settings page (which is accessible from your personal icon), you can have the app automatically import all the photos of documents you take with your device. You can also automatically save all your PDFs to your Google Drive (which is a great idea, as Stack is experimental and can very easily be found in Google Graveyard). And if you decide that Stack is not for you, you can export all existing documents to your device and delete all your data from Stack.

Confidentiality and security

According to the Google app’s description, “Stack uses Google’s advanced security and login technology to protect your documents.” You can also request a face lock or a fingerprint to access the app – a good idea if you plan to include any sensitive documents.

How much it protects your documents from Google itself, as always, is questionable. To use Stack, you agree to the Google Terms of Service (which you may have agreed to before if you have a Gmail account) and the Privacy Policy (same). You will also be asked to allow the app to access photos and media on your device and to take photos and record videos (while using the app, only this time or opt out). Both permissions are optional, but if Stack can’t access the media or take pictures, it probably won’t be very useful.

So is Stack a viable option for those of us trying to keep track of life’s documents? As for me, it’s not there yet – because it’s so early in its development and because I’ve become a bit cynical about Google’s tendency to abandon its experiments, I’m not ready to trust all my important documents. . But there is a lot of potential and I will watch it.

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