Thursday, March 6, 2008

Google Sites

As mentioned previously in this blog, as former JotSpot users, we've been eagerly awaiting Google's re-release of the JotSpot wiki technology. Well, it just happened with the release of Google Sites.

Google is only releasing Sites as part of their Google Apps for Enterprise suite, so it was a little hard for us to access it, being a department in a larger organization. Our IT sysadmin had signed us up for Google Apps for Education (just to trial it), so I had to contact him to enable access, which fortunately wasn't a problem.

We may try out sites for our departmental intranet, which serves to manage policies, procedures, etc. for the library.

Sites is a fairly nice, easy to use wiki, definitely up a level from early wiki software. It allows for very modular page layout with easy insertion of widgets like Google Gadgets or spreadsheets, documents, and presentations from Google Docs.

The feature set strikes me as fairly basic however. It really does not aspire to be the "programmable wiki" that JotSpot did. With JotSpot, you could basically create these little database-backed applications with some pseudo-programming.

Another thing that's a little disappointing is the lack of integration with Google's easy to post a Google Doc or spreadsheet on your page, but you have to copy the url to it and it can't be edited right there within the page if you want it to.

The access control options are pretty limited, too. We have parts of our intranet that we'd like to wall off from the rest of the world and parts we'd like to show off. With sites, access is controlled at the level of the whole web site. We thought that we might work around this with access control on individual Google Docs.

There are plenty of up-and-coming wiki options out there like Wet Paint, but I have a feeling we may go with Google Sites because we're enjoying Google Docs so much and it's nice to have things in the same ecosystem. Funny, Google is managing to make this web-ecosystem application tie-in that might be called similar to Microsoft's desktop and Office strategy. And it seems to be sort of working.

Currently we use an old fashioned static web site with Macromedia Contribute editing software for our staff web site/intranet. I'm thinking the advantages of Google Sites would be:
  • moduler - we can drop dynamic elements like RSS feeds from basecamp project mangement right into our pages
  • easier to edit - wiki style, no filesystem confusion
  • search is included
  • integrated with Google Docs
  • access management may be easier than what we use now (Apache .htaccess)

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