Having listed the limitations of Google Sites (it is always easier to criticize first …) here are the strengths that I found after 3 weeks of fairly intensive use with my clients:
- Simplicity: everything is clear and fluid. It is the strength of Google to arrive with a very simple interface to produce things quite complex. One user, even a beginner, will understand quickly how it works. Apart from the problem of always having to create pages and link them with each other, which is not always easy to understand the first time.
- Minimalism: the counterpart of simplicity, but the balance is in Google Sites. For power users it is of
course a pain, but for 90% of users in an enterprise, it will be quite substantial. Each feature in Google Sites displays just the options they need, not more, not less. So, in fact, even a power user can adapt himself his requirements to use successfuly Google Site. And unlike other products too minimalist and, in fact, impossible to use (Zoho Wiki for example), Google Sites is the perfect start point. So it is a real know-how at Google and a true example to follow.
- Types of pages: QuickPlace had created this concept for web workspaces in 1998, we had improved it in 2000 with mayeticVillage, JotSpot had invented it in wikis in 2005, and the Google Sites produced it to my greatest pleasure (and that of its Users ;-)). It is clear that in a workspace, web pages should be typed according to the content created or the application focused. Google has done it by allowing
you to select for each new page if it will be a normal page, or a dashboard page, or a mini-database page, or a mini-file manager, or a mini-blog (annouvements…).
- Mini-database: Google calls it a “list” type of page. It offers predefined types of lists, but in fact everything is customizable as a small database, where you can create fields, associate types, default values (check box, dropdown list, etc. .. .) and so on. It works really well, and there was also something already invented by QuickPlace few years ago, and adopted then by mayeticVillage.
- Integration of gadgets: (gadgets are the Google equivalent of widgets) any page may contain gadgets. This can range from a simple weather gadget to the display of his pwn calendar, or a Google Docs documents, or a spreadsheet, etc…. So you can produce composite pages, and actually begin to replicate what is possible to do with MS Office and OLE objects on a PC workstation. So you can display a Spreadsheet into a page that has been created in Google Sites, in the middle of any regular text. BUT … These objects are only in visualization mode, therefore no change in the gadget is possible. We must start the calendar application for example to create an event. And on the other hand some apps like spreadsheed seems impose to be first published, which is a very limited thing, since only documents visible to the general public would be publishable. Surprising, but we hope that Google will correct this very quickly.
- Display in two columns: this is a little thing, but very practical, to be capable of displaying 2 columns of content in a page. But it is very convenient, and it makes much more readable text, especially on very large screens as they are done now.
So Google Sites is a real step forward for Google Apps, on the one hand because Google Sites becomes the main anchor of any project. Any project in a company using Google Apps will create its Google Site repository for all the information and the documents of the project, and will serve of control tower for all the information created beside (Spreadsheet, Presenter, …). And using Google Docs (the equivalent of MS Word) will be very limited, since the majority of textual information will be produced in Google Sites directly.
Another big limit raised anyway:
- Nothing is exportable, and therefore all the work done in a Site is not transferable to another Site. A real headache, especially if we began to set lists. Google should at least create the concept of template Site, as well as put in place a genuine function of export / import data from one Site to another. Otherwise it is not possible to capitalize on his work, and for professional use and large-scale companies it could be a real problem.