I was excited to find out that Google has released Google Sites, their on-line collaboration system aimed at helping teams work together. This site is a great starting point, but has a few serious flaws that keep it from being truly useful for team collaboration. I'm going to go over my analysis after a few hours of playing with the site, and discuss my thoughts for actual day to day business use.
There are a few types of pages that you can create which cover a lot of the basics. You can create a web page, a dashboard (showing multiple Google gadgets), announcements (blog type system), file cabinet (share files), and list (to dio list, action items, etc.). The feature set is a nice start, and the ability to share these pages (especially with clients) has me very excited. I can make a "site" dedicated to a particular client, and allow employees to post updates and share information.
The downside is on the public (or semi-public) sharing side. I only have a broad choice when sharing a site. I can only grant access to the entire project, not individual pages. Page level access is a must for making this useful to communicate with people outside of your project. I either have the choice of making an entire separate page for my employees to update and the customer to find out what the status is, or I have to let the customer have complete access to the data. I am truly saddened by this loss of (what I consider to be) basic page level permissions.
There is also a long way to go on the ease of use and integration. You see I can log in to my Google Documents, create a document, publish a document, share the document, and then copy and paste the code of the document to display it in Google Sites. All of this requires too much work from an outside application to be useful. Instead Google should allow sites to have their own documents. These documents can be edited by those with the same permissions used to edit the site, and viewed by those with read only permissions. The same holds true for calendars. If we want to do something like integrate a shared calendar for a site, we have to go through all of the same issues that we do with documents. We also can't edit the calendar or documents from within the site which makes it too much of a pain to be worthwhile.
To me Google Sites seems more like a group web publishing (content management) system rather than a collaboration system. It's nice being able to upload docs, and display docs, but why not leverage the already existing tools and integrate them fully. I feel that this half way integration of features requiring users to go back and forth and perform dozens of extra steps means that the true possibility of this tool has been lost.
The good news is, that Google has the resources to fix these problems, but only if people share their thoughts. I welcome you all to explore Google Sites, and let me know what you think. Some people might find my review to be overly critical, but I can't think of a reason to use this tool in it's current state. It seems to me to be a failure at the chance to integrate the already amazing Google Documents, Calendar, and Mail / collaboration. I truly look forward to the day when Google corrects these integration problems and delivers a killer application that small business can use.
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