Google announced its launch of Google Sites yesterday, a service that allows people to create web pages and even corporate intranets with no programming experience. Early testers contend the technology holds immense promise for online collaboration, but it could draw mixed responses from IT managers seeking to retain their command of corporate systems.
For Google's part, the goal is clear: "We want people to build really rich sites with no technical expertise," Scott Johnston, senior product manager with Google Sites, told CIO. "This will empower the end-user who is trying to get information out there."
Johnston used to work for JotSpot , a wiki platform Google acquired in November of 2006. Google Sites has incorporated some of JotSpot's wiki technology and easy editing capabilities that allow users to post information and create websites without knowing programming languages.
Google Sites runs as a part of Google Apps , the web-based productivity suite that includes Gmail, Calendaring, and Documents & Spreadsheets. Johnston says Google wants customers to utilize the Sites feature as a way to ease the burden on IT departments by giving users the power to make their own collaboration spaces online. At the same time, he says the service will give IT the ability to monitor and control access for its users.
"We don't want to fight against IT," he says. "We want to help them be better. They can update and manage all the sites."
Todd Sutton, assistant vice chancellor for application services at the University of North Carolina Greensboro (UNCG), says he has had early success with Google Sites by letting a test group of 15 users create sites to collaborate on projects. "It can work for students who aren't computer science majors," he says. "You don't need to be tech savvy."
Google Sites seems a natural fit for UNCG , which already has its students on Gmail and says that students have gravitated toward using the web-based features in Google Apps.
Jim Murphy, an analyst with AMR Research , says IT departments might view the service as a mixed blessing. On one hand, he says they'll welcome the opportunity to empower users, but on the other, it might marginalize their role in the organization if more and more business users sign up for web-based services (or, Software as a Service) such as Google Apps without their knowledge.
"They hope 'don't burden' doesn't mean being avoided altogether," he says.
Murphy adds that Google Sites seems a clear competitor to Microsoft SharePoint, which has a rich set of collaboration tools such as wikis and blogs. He says that while SharePoint boasts more functionality than Google Sites, it could use the dose of simplicity that Google has injected into the collaboration space.
"What [SharePoint customers] found over time is that they were asking for functionality they already had, but didn't realize was there," he says.