Google's Got Your Workgroup in Its Sites

Today, Google rolled a much-anticipated new component into its family of online applications: Google Sites. The new service is the fruit of Google's 2006 purchase of hosted wiki provider JotSpot, and I've been looking forward for some time now to see what the search giant would do with its purchase, and to see how well it would integrate it with the rest of the Google Apps suite. I've only spent a short time with Sites so far, but the service looks impressive.

Today, Google rolled a much-anticipated new component into its family of online applications: Google Sites.

The new service is the fruit of Google's 2006 purchase of hosted wiki provider JotSpot, and I've been looking forward for some time now to see what the search giant would do with its purchase, and to see how well it would integrate it with the rest of the Google Apps suite.

I've only spent a short time with Sites so far, but the service looks impressive. It's easy to edit pages, and all the standard wiki bits appear to be in place. As for the integration, I was able to insert calendar items, documents, presentations and spreadsheets from Google Apps, as well as items for other Google properties, such as YouTube videos. I could also insert some of the spiffy new spreadsheet-backed forms I've made since Google debuted its simple form builder earlier this month.

More important than those Web app tie-ins is the way that Google's recently launched Team Edition dissolves initial deployment barriers by letting people at a company get started with a Google Apps account without going whole-hog and migrating their e-mail system to Google.

Things like Web-based forms (and to a certain extent, even wikis) are no big deal--it's easy to build them, and it's not too tough to host them, and you can figure out plenty of effective ways to pull out and use the data you collect in these forms. The trouble is that while many individuals, workgroups and organizations have a need for simple data collection tools, and while basically anyone can throw together an application for carrying out this collection, who really wants to spend their time on this?

I certainly do not wish to take on another IT commitment, and our company's IT department is way too busy working on other projects to support my ad hoc application needs.

For instance, I've been looking for a better way to accept product review pitches from the vendors that eWEEK Labs covers. Right now, companies and their public relations reps e-mail us with pitches--way too many pitches to process and respond to or act on effectively, particularly when the pitches don't always include all the information we need, and when the e-mail messages that bear these pitches aren't always sent to the most pertinent contact in our group.

No problem, I tell myself, I'll chef up a Web-based form, with fields for the info we want, and categorization to route the pitches to the appropriate labs analysts, and I'll link it up somehow to a mediawiki instance hosted from our lab. The rub, of course, has been figuring out how to chef up that simple system with no new budget and with no new system administration responsibilities.

A combo like Google Sites and Google Forms promises to address business needs like these, and do it for free, to boot.

Here are some screens I snapped during my Sites & Forms safari:

your own Site is a click away

Enter your Google Site vitals and just click through with the default theme--you can change it (and choose from a lot more options) later.

requisite ugly themes

The editing tools appeared rich enough. I didn't see how to create a link for an as-yet-nonexistent page, though, nor did CamelCase appear to engender links.

big and rich editing

I wanted to embed a spreadsheet-backed form, so I headed over to Google Docs to create one.

build a form

I created a list-type field for my simple form. building a list

I could fill out my form while embedded in my Sites site. I could also fill out the form right from my e-mail client.

my embedded form

I circled back to Google Apps to check my Form traps and found my lone entry waiting in my spreadsheet.

forms3.jpg

That's about 10 minutes with Google's newest App citizens. I say so far, so good. What do you think of Google's recent Apps developments?