I’ve written a couple of posts about Google Sites over the last couple of days, and in summary: I really like it. I have spotted a few posts about complaining that this isn’t a service that’s available to those with standard Google accounts. That’s because it’s a part of the Google Apps (for your domain) service, which provides a bunch of Google’s systems for you to use under your own label and domain, with users limited to those you set up on the system.
What’s remarkable about Google Apps is that it’s free for up to 200 (count ‘em!) users. Given the range of services now provided (Sites is an important addition), this presents a way for a new organisation to run their entire back office systems online, or within the cloud as the current popular phrase has it, for free. No need to invest in the necessary technology to run email and web servers, networked drives, groupware systems like calendars or intranets. Not only does it cost nothing (except for the registration of a domain name) but it also provides other advantages – because it’s in the cloud, the folk in your organisation can be working anywhere in the world.
You can even set up access to the services to use easily understandable domains, so email is accessed at mail.domain.com, calendars at calendar.domain.com etc. The only issue is around how you present the web content for your organisation – but more on that later.
To show just how good this actually is, I’ll give a brief run through of what you get for nothing.
Your very own branded version of Gmail, with 6.5gb of mailspace for every one of your potential users. It runs exactly as the normal Gmail does, with filters, labels, threaded conversations etc. Gmail is the best web interface there is, and you can have it for yourself.
2. Google Docs
Create presentations, word processed documents and spreadsheets using a web based interface. You could see this as the equivalent of the network drive on a traditional setup. Only with this solution, you can share and collaborate on documents with your colleagues without having to email them round. You can instantly make any document created within your domain viewable or editable by other account holders, as well as invite in people from the outside.
3. Start Page
This is the Google Apps take on iGoogle. Your own branded version of the personalised start page. You can make this more interesting though by setting what one of the columns features for all users on the domain. This way you can ensure that vital stuff appears on everyone’s page, whilst they still have the option to personalise the majority of the content presented.
4. Google Calendar
Shared calendars across the domain, using one of the best online systems there are. Calendars can be shared across the domain, and again it can be branded with your own logo.
5. Google Talk
This is present in the Mail interface, as with traditional Gmail, but also can use the downloaded client software. A great way to communicate internally without worries as to which instant messaging platform others are using, and you can open it up to the outside world if you choose.
6. Page Creator
This is the only really piss-poor feature to Google Apps, and following the launch of Sites, it seems to be disappearing from view. It’s a simple way to produce pretty useless web pages. It certainly isn’t good enough to produce any kind of website for an organisation. You’re far better off delving into the world of DNS records and pointing web traffic to WordPress.com or something like that.
The really exciting bit, Sites is JotSpot reborn and Googlified. Not the perfect wiki, but the perfect introduction to them, and this – Gmail apart – is the real convincing argument for using Google Apps. When you consider how much stuff like Micrsoft’s Sharepoint costs, it’s unbelievable that Google is giving this thing away for free. It’s an intranet on steroids.
Google Apps rocks, and it provides pretty much everything a startup organisation might need. Work in a grown up, distributed, online way – for free.