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Google Sites Review - Problems and Hope

Google Sites

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.

Google Sites Features

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.

Where it started to go wrong

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.

Perfect example of terrible integration and complete failure to leverage resources

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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#1 Carl (Homepage) (Reply)
I bought a domain name through Google so that I could run one of my sites on their services but I was continually frustrated by the lack of integration, and in the case of domain names, the use of third party registrars, which in my case ended up being GoDaddy. Google sites looks more interesting, but I believe if you want to add a blog to your site you still need to use the blogspot service and I think, although I'm not 100%, that it needs to be setup on a subdomain. Personally I won't be getting too excited about Google Sites until I can see real integration of all the Google services, the ability to use other payment processors such as Paypal, and the ability to run a complete site on a sinle domain.

#1.1 Paul Dillinger (Reply)
We use Google for our company e-mail and it's great. I think that Google's mail and is by far their best app. The problem is that Google purchased all of there programs from different sources. While each has it's individual value, the lack of inter-operation means that I can't replace my MS Office yet. Google's documents have also been very useful for saving small collaborative documents for our team. As time goes on I believe that these services will get better. Are they are good as their desktop counterparts? For the most part no, but they're improving faster that their desktop cousins did. I think in terms of small group collaboration they work, but not well enough to compete against the pro choices. Many of the people using Google Sites won't miss the features that I found so lacking, and for those people looking for it's simple skill set it will perform well. For the people like me who use the "real deal" they are sure to find this service disappointing.

#1.1.1 Carl (Reply)
Yes, good points, however Google is my main partner online too, I use their email services, their RSS reader, the book search facility, I use Google Earth for travel planning, I'd like to use more of their services so that everything could be consolidated under a single umbrella but it isn't workable for me. A single project that has no need for really tight user permissions would be the ideal userbase for Google Sites at present and no doubt they'll build a solid customer base fairly quickly.

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