Google Sites - spoiled by usability issues

Google Sites - spoiled by usability issues

Summary: As I pen this, the fanfare around JotSpot Revista aka Google Sites is just getting underway. I'm not impressed.

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As I pen this, the fanfare around JotSpot Revista aka Google Sites is just getting underway. I'm not impressed. In fact I'm deeply disappointed. To call this - as noted by Dan Farber:

"This is a key last hole in the Google Apps suite," Matt Glotzbach, product management director for Google Enterprise told me. "It is the nucleus for other pieces to fit into for online collaboration."

...is absolutely spot on. Hole - a black hole to which chunks of this should be consigned until they're fixed. Rafe Needham took a look and says that:

I spent a little time with it and found it to be a very strong wiki. The service's editor is simple and clean, and there's no whiff of the weird Wikitext markup code you see on earlier-generation wikis.

While that's both welcome and true, it is hardly unique. It is when you start adding gadgets that things go seriously awry. I tried adding in a clock as I work across three time zones. You can see the results in the editing screenshot I took and then the saved version. How is a user supposed to work around this mess? Google Sites uses AJAX to include these elements but it is dog slow. So slow in fact that I rebooted my Mac just to make sure it wasn't some randomly coincidental problem with my machine. But no. It's the AJAXian 'stuff.' Worse still - do I really want adverts embedded in these gadgets?

gadgets3

I then tried to put in a 'finance' widget. No sign of the FTSE100, DAX, CAC or the other major markets. OK - maybe that will come. But when I went to the Technology widget what do I find? Weight loss tips and Carpicture.com (see pic above.) What's that about?? It was at this point I was pretty much ready to give up. That's rare for me as I am one of those who likes to stick with new toys. Am I too demanding? After all, Google has provided a moderately easy way to include a number of additional elements like documents, spreadsheets and video (provided it's Google or YouTube). No I'm not.

The integration to other Google services is half done. There is no lookup into for example Google Docs and Spreadsheets. Instead, you're expected to cut 'n' paste the URL for whatever element you need.

After 16 months at Google developer's hands, the outcome is substandard. This is such a pity. In its JotSpot incarnation,gadgets1 it was far from perfect but that didn't matter because JotSpot was shedding light on a new way of collaborating. Since passing into Google's hands, the guts have been ripped out and then re-assembled with as much Google 'stuff' as they could cram in but rushed to completion.

At the very least, Google should get rid of the gadgets addition facility and rework it. Otherwise, I sense the SMBs at which it is aimed will find the service a turn off.

Google has a real chance to differentiate itself from Microsoft - which is clearly what it wants to do, while adding significant numbers of users to its Google Apps offering. It won't do it this way because despite all the gripes around Microsoft products, the fact is Microsoft offers a more polished experience. Until Google truly understands this, it will find it difficult to adequately compete. In the meantime, offerings like Wetpaint and Ning have little to fear. They may not have the richness of other applications upon which to draw but given the usability issues I found, richness won't be enough to push users over to Google.

Dan may be right when he says:

Google Sites is a key piece of functionality for Google Apps. It gives the suite a way to integrate all kinds of components in support of accomplishing a particular task. Adding social capabilities and a database to the suite will turn up the heat on Microsoft to show what it has waiting in the wings to go beyond the prodigious Microsoft Office.

But as we know, technology frameworks are not enough to attract users. Google may be promising a lot but it's past history indicates that once it has shoved something out the door, it is comparatively slow to revisit, fix and upgrade. In the meantime, if you are planning to test drive Google Sites, stick to the main editor which is OK but please avoid the gadgets. They'll drive you nuts.

Topics: Google, Browser, CXO, Collaboration, Software Development

Dennis Howlett

About Dennis Howlett

Dennis Howlett is a 40 year veteran in enterprise IT, working with companies large and small across many industries. He endeavors to inform buyers in a no-nonsense manner and spares no vendor that comes under his microscope.

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11 comments
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  • Another example

    Just another example of google rushing out pre-Alpha product onto public.

    Damn, when i see google do like this, it makes me think - what the F are all the ppl inside google doing!? 90% of the products stay in Alpha and Beta stages for a looooooong time after they are released.
    5ri
    • I remeber someone commenting

      that the programs would lose some web certifications if it actually came out of Beta, so leave it as Beta and "keep" it certified as long as they can.
      GuidingLight
  • RE: Google Sites - spoiled by usability issues

    Your first problem is your using a Mac
    bentrimadmin@...
    • Ouch...

      that's going to spin some comments...well maybe this only generated 5 people, maybe Google isn't the BMOC as it thinks it is.
      ItsTheBottomLine
    • His second problem?

      1st is probably correct.

      Second - He's trusting Google to do what they say they are doing.
      JABBER_WOLF
    • Your firts problem...

      Is that you appear to think the Mac user owns a thing called a "using" ? What is a "using"?

      *lesson*
      Your = possession

      Example: That is "your" hat. That is "your" Mac.

      You're = You are

      Example: Your first problem is "you're" using a Mac.

      I'll let you off the hook though. You appear to suffer from fanboyism. Microsoft user? I don't think the Linux community would like to claim you as one of their own.
      Free_Thinker
  • just the Google way

    get something out there, attract a lot of buzz, maybe get some user pre-committment, have users give feedback to help define the product, stay beta so users don't expect perfection or polish
    killerbunny
  • Forget Google

    You want widgets, go to widgets.yahoo.com . or financial stuff finance.yahoo.com or a superior mail product . . . etc. Google is getting enormous buzz these days thanks to their superior search engine. But, nearly everything else they do is copied from Yahoo and others. Time to take off the Google blinders and look around.
    jorjitop
  • RE: Google Sites - spoiled by usability issues

    This makes no sense. Howlett is criticizing Sites primarily for the klunkiness of a bit of fluff ("gadgets") that is essentially irrelevant to the purposes of the application. A clue, Dennis: if you don't like gadgets, don't use them. There's certainly no need for Google to remove that function.

    I spent a chunk of today using Sites to create a quite extensive collaborative training website for my volunteer organization. There were occasional delays when updates were saved, but nothing fatally annoying. Having tried all of the app's functions (except gadgets :-), I've only found one bug, which is that "list" pages don't appear as subpages under their parent pages--you have to use the site map to access them.

    My only other issue is one that was deliberately imposed by Google rather than being a bug--all user registrations have to be via an e-mail address within the domain under which the site is registered, which is a problem for my organization where everyone supplies their own e-mail addresses. I got around it by creating temporary addresses in the site domain, registering each intended user, then deleting the extraneous addresses. For an organization with many members, this could be a major burden. We have several dozen, so it was merely annoying.
    mail@...
  • Don't forget about PBwiki too!

    For companies that want private, ad-free wikis with some pretty rich functionality, PBwiki has been a leader for years.

    As an investor and executive, I'm biased, but the numbers don't lie:

    * ~450,000 wikis
    * millions of users
    * thousands of *paying* users, including Facebook, Symantec, DePaul University, and the FDA.

    If you want to try out the beta for PBwiki's upcoming 2.0 product, we'd love to have you and any of the other enterprise irregulars on board. We can't promise that it will be perfect, but we've been listening to feedback from thousands of users, and doing our best to respond.
    chris.yeh@...
  • ProjectSpaces : Google Sites Alternative

    I'm also biased, but for those looking for an alternative to Google Sites or Office Live (neither of which are ready for prime time), you should check out ProjectSpaces - which focuses on speed, simplicity and ease-of-use. Unlike PB Wiki, ProjectSpaces is not wiki-based - wikis are great for groups that are either sophisticated or have an active caretaker. In other cases, when sharing lots of documents and discussions, wikis can get cumbersome.
    joepring