6 Years Later, My Google Spreadsheet Is Now an App Called Taonga

6 Years Later, My Google Spreadsheet Is Now an App Called Taonga

6 Years Later, My Google Spreadsheet Is Now an App Called Taonga. It's built using privacy-by-design and consent-by-design concepts, making sure the user has full control over their personal documents. The idea for Taonga stemmed from an ad-hoc Google Spreadsheet I created 6 years ago, and I'd love to share that story with you here.

With Taonga, I'm working to build the easiest way to securely manage and share your personal documents, like your passport. It’s built using privacy-by-design and consent-by-design concepts, making sure the user has full control over their personal documents. The idea for Taonga stemmed from an ad-hoc Google Spreadsheet I created 6 years ago, and I’d love to share that story with you here.

I was always the “tech rep” in the family - so much so that one of my nicknames is “Siri”, and I eventually became a Software Engineer. As much as I was the “tech rep” in the family, my mom was the organizer in the family, having set up binders with every important document, from birth certificates to health records to loyalty cards. 

6 years ago, my mom and I were talking about how we could manage our documents digitally since our family travelled frequently. The current options were to use email, WhatsApp or the camera roll, but these are neither secure nor offer a great user experience. We brainstormed and came up with a plan, creating a Google Spreadsheet with our names along the first row, and the different documents and details going down the first column. We spent the next few days populating this information with all the basic documents we thought we’d need, for example Passports, IDs and Birth Certificates. We thought it was important to pull out key pieces of information, like the expiry date and document number. We also uploaded a photo of each document to organized folders, and included a link to each photo within the document to make it easier to access.

Setting this up was the easy part, getting my family members to understand how it works and keeping it updated proved to be a lot more work. 

Some of the quick issues we noticed with the spreadsheet:

  • this was hard to read on a mobile device
  • it was really easy to forget to update documents whenever we got new ones
  • since this was all stored in Google Drive, we had to make sure everyone had the rights apps downloaded on their phone, and turned on offline mode access

Some of the benefits, however were:

  • we could easily access any document whenever we needed to (mostly)
  • since we’d taken the time to pull information out into the spreadsheet, it made it really easy to copy/paste values into applications whenever we needed them - no more reading numbers off badly lit photos
  • we weren’t sending photos of our passport via email or WhatsApp anymore, making this significantly more secure

Since creating the spreadsheet my family and I have used it to renew documents like my passport, apply for travel visas, opening up bank accounts, applying for jobs and so much more. Having easy access to the spreadsheet, as well as the photos, increased my efficiency since I could submit an application while on the go without having to wait to get home, find my passport and submit it then. I’d estimate that we’ve used it around once a week over the last 6 years, and it's definitely helped us in tight jams!

Earlier this year, my mom and I went through a mass round of updates since most of our passports and IDs had been renewed. The process took nearly two days and involved a lot of tedious steps to take a photo, upload it, then manually type in all the relevant data. That’s when I had another lightbulb moment; wouldn’t it be better if I could take a photo of my passport, automatically capture the data using OCR technology and be able to share it with my family?

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