Google Apps Gets a New Team Player

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SAN FRANCISCO -- Web site creation tools have been around for years, but Google thinks its latest offering is not only easy but adds new collaboration features.

Launched today, Google Sites is being released as the latest addition to the Google Apps suite, which means existing customers will get it as a free update. Google Apps is based on a cloud computing or Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) (define) model.

The applications are accessible from any Web browser connected to the Internet. The cost ranges from free for the Team and Standard editions to $50 per user per year for Google Apps Premier, which offers more online storage and security features.

Google Sites is based on based on technology Google gained with its acquisition of JotSpot, a provider of wiki (define) creation tools in October, 2006.

"At JotSpot, we were trying to solve the problem of pulling together information into a central place," Scott Johnston, senior product manager for Google Sites and a former JotSpot executive told InternetNews.com.

"There are solutions out there, like (Microsoft's) SharePoint, but they require a great deal of work to install and place a huge burden on IT," he said.

In a demonstration here at Google offices, Johnston created a simple Web site, showing how with a few clicks someone could create a Web site without any HTML coding or Web design skills.

Google Sites lets you embed files created in other Google Apps like Docs and Spreadsheets or even a YouTube video without any coding. You can also upload non-Google file types, like Microsoft Office. There are also fields to invite colleague's to collaborate on the site and general access parameters.

"You decide who has access," said Johnston. "It can be open to a small group, everyone in the company or published to the world like a classic wiki."

Google said Sites is built to scale from a small group to a 50,000-person enterprise or university. Users don't have any hardware or software to buy, install, or maintain.

Analyst Rebecca Wettemann with Nucleus Research said she spent a half hour creating a few Web sites using Google. "I'm not a developer. I didn't create anything elegant, but it was a pretty easy process to figure out what was going on and how to do it," she told InternetNews.com.

"This lets Google offer enterprise customers, whether it's individuals or a department, something they can jump in and use right away without IT," Wettemann said.

Wettemann also notes that like other Google Apps, Sites includes control and access tools IT departments can employ to add a greater level of control to the extent that fits better with company policies. "Microsoft's already done a lot of work with Sharepoint and has a lot of deployments, but I think Sites is going to raise the visibility of what else you can do.

"But users will need to realize that easy to use doesn't mean you don't think about who gets access and the need to manage content," Wettemann continued. "I think we'll see Google is going to have to do some more work to see that best practices are propagated."

Johnston said Google's goal is to find the right blend of giving individuals and groups the freedom to publish quickly and the needs of IT to manage what goes online under the company banner.

The District of Columbia's governing branch has already jumped in as a pre-release user of Google Sites. The District has used Google Sites to give contractors and other stakeholders access to procurement updates, documents, ideas, images and videos. A "Questions and Answers" section allows real-time collaboration between contractors and government officials.

Employees at the District are also using Google Sites to post a personal profile that includes a short bio, contact information with Google Maps showing office location and Google Calendar integrated to show employee availability.

This article was first published on InternetNews.com.

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