Google Apps enhancements: Sites and Forms

They're not perfect, but Google's Sites and Forms applications are powerful tools for any end user to collect and share information.

Google obviously has its work cut out for its engineers as Microsoft's onslaught of cloud- and desktop-based goodness continues.  The consumer launch of Office 2010 last week has absolutely set the bar on the desktop and, for many consumers, Office Web Apps (now integrated with Office 2010, Facebook, and, increasingly, Hotmail) is a familiar way to dip their toes into the cloud, so to speak.  Businesses remain divided, but ongoing enhancements to Google Docs will keep the product competitive, especially for SMBs, schools, and non-profits.

In particular, Google announced enhancements to their Sites and Forms components of Google Docs. Although I've had torrid fantasies about the day when Google Sites could actually power a public-facing website (it still just isn't slick, polished, or professional enough, despite being very easy to use), Sites is incredibly powerful for internal sharing and communications.  Even fairly computer-phobic users can master adding pages, attachments, and navigation structures, making it simple for users to share content. +1 for Sites.

Now it looks as though we're one step closer to the ideal of a public site that could be created by average end users, with Google's announcement of enhanced theme and template support.  According to Google's blog,

  • You now have the ability to apply a theme from the template gallery to existing sites.
  • If you have made some customizations to a theme, these customizations are maintained when changing the base theme.

This will certainly help administrators control the appearance of internal content on an organization's intranet with the application of simple themes and templates.  In fact, the built-in templates have grown to be quite extensive:
If you'd written off Sites before, it's worth taking another look, especially keeping in mind your less savvy users who are still motivated to create and share content.

Next: Click here to read about enhancements to Google Forms »

And speaking of Sites, the related Forms element of Google Docs has also received some updates. Like Sites, Forms isn't perfect. You can't, for example, format questions into columns. You're stuck with one long list of questions. That being said, it's almost too easy to create a form that dumps data into a spreadsheet. It's easy enough to overlook the fact that it isn't pretty or takes a lot of scrolling.

Up until this week, though, if you wanted to edit data in your form, you had to edit those data in the Google Spreadsheet itself. Now, however, users can edit their responses directly in the form if the form creator allows it. As described in Google's blog about the update,

  • The creator of the form needs to enable the new checkbox ‘Allow users to edit responses’ to allow respondents to edit their responses after they’ve submitted the form.
  • If your username is being collected by the form and you check the ‘Send me a copy of my responses’ option, then there will be a link to change your responses in the confirmation email that you receive.
  • You can also edit your responses on the form submission confirmation page. On the confirmation page, click the ‘Edit your response’ link.

This sort of feature is precisely where Google Apps shines.  Integrated right within what you and your users are doing anyway (email, calendaring, writing, presenting, etc.) is an easy-to-use tool for quickly collecting data.  The forms can even be embedded in a public facing site, used internally, be emailed, or stand alone.
So, Google, when will you enable richer formatting for the forms? I know that SurveyMonkey is now available within the Apps Marketplace, but this is one thing that I'd like to see improved on the native interface.

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