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2/27/2008
08:21 PM
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Google's JotSpot Wiki Reborn As Google Sites

Google Sites offers simple tools for collaborative Web site creation.

Google on Thursday plans to introduce Google Sites, a new addition to its Google Apps suite that provides simple, intuitive tools for collaborative Web site creation.

Google Sites is based on the wiki technology developed by JotSpot, which Google acquired in October, 2006. The word "wiki," however, appears to have been lost during the move.

"We see Google Sites as bigger than a wiki," said Matthew Glotzbach, product management director of Google's enterprise group. "It's as easy to edit as a wiki, but looks as good as a Web site. ... One of the challenges of wikis, even though working with them is easier than working with HTML, is that they're built by IT for IT, and not with the end-user experience in mind."

With the elimination of the twee terminology, what remains is an application for quickly and easily designing group-editable Web sites. Google Sites users can put up Web sites in minutes and can, without any advanced technical skills, post a variety of files including calendars, text, spreadsheets, and videos for private, group, or public viewing and editing.

Google Sites won't please demanding Web designers. There's no way to add CSS style sheets and the existing design templates are functional but not elegant. Then again, the pleasantly bland aesthetic options protect against the deployment of sites that actually inhibit productivity as a result of their hideousness.

Google Sites is available through the Team (free), Standard (free), Premier ($50/user/year), and Education Edition (free) of Google Apps. The service includes 10 GB of storage. Google Apps Premier users receive an additional 500 MB per user account in the domain. That's in addition to the 6.4 GB and 25 GB of e-mail storage offered to Google Apps Standard and Premier Edition users respectively.

Risha Chandra, product manager for Google Apps, said that storage allocations would rise over time, as they do with Gmail.

"The idea [of Google Sites] is to empower the end-user," said Chandra. But not too much: Though users can edit the HTML of their Google Sites pages, controls are in place to prevent malicious code from being included. That means no IFRAMEs and limited JavaScript.

Chandra said that Google Analytics, which uses JavaScript to gather Web site usage statistics, would work with Google Sites, though perhaps not as elegantly as it may in the future when integrating Google Analytics code might take only a single click.

Google Sites isn't simply a free service for consumers; it's also angling for enterprise adoption, particularly among Microsoft SharePoint users. "On the enterprise side, it's very interesting timing," said Jim Murphy, research director, AMR Research, noting that Microsoft's first SharePoint conference begins next week.

Murphy expects companies will weigh Google Sites against SharePoint and that Google may win some customers who are looking for a hosted solution. "SharePoint so far has just been offered as on-premises software," he said. "For some companies, it's hard to make investments in that kind of infrastructure." (Third-party providers offer SharePoint hosting.)

In terms of cost, Murphy said that licensing costs for the paid version of Google Sites and Microsoft SharePoint are comparable. But Google Sites, he said, doesn't impose the maintenance cost of in-house servers and people who tend them.

Rebecca Wettemann, VP of research for Nucleus Research, said that Google Sites is certainly easy to use. "It puts a lot of power in the hands of individuals," she said. "What I think Google needs is more templates, use-cases and things like that, that make it easier to do things other than post content. SharePoint provides more structure and hierarchy for building sites."

While Google may not yet match Microsoft's enterprise clout, Wettemann sees the search company making progress. "In terms of tactical collaboration tools that fly under the radar, Google is way ahead," she said. "What Google has to do now is show enterprise decision-makers ways in which users have been successful."

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