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Nov 30 2016

Google Revives Sites App

In the early 2000s, WYSIWYG editors were a major asset in the tool chest of aspiring web designers who hoped these programs would help them generate/write clean HTML code in no time flat. In those days, virtually no one had heard about services and tools like Facebook, Tumblr or WordPress that have since turned the ability to create visually appealing websites from a rare talent into an acquired skill. Google's revamped Sites app now promises to take simplification to a new level, as it lets corporate users build web pages and wikis "without writing a single line of code."

Since its inception in 2008, Google Sites had led a rather quiet life on the fringes of the company's app zoo. That's more than just a little surprising given Google's origins, but then who says you have to understand every bit of a tech company's product policy? Anyhow, earlier this year someone at Menlo Park – in this case Prabhakar Raghavan, Vice President of Engineering for Google Apps – decided it was time to wipe the dust of some of the enterprise tools included with the so-called G Suite (aka Google Apps for Work) and relaunch them with a fresh focus on the "collaborative" trend that has ruled in offices worldwide for the past three or so years. Back in June, Raghavan announced Springboard, a combined enterprise search engine/digital assistant that's currently still in beta state, as well as a "totally rebuilt Google Sites." This latter app is now officially ready for rollout in offices that work with the above-mentioned G Suite.

According to Google's Paul Covell, Product Manager for G Suite, the most compelling characteristic of the revamped tool may be that its developers listened to their customers and turned their feedback into new and improved features. At least that's the description he gives in his own blog entry about the new Sites. Judging from the finished product, it seems as though this feedback must have mainly consisted of complaints about the complexities of website building and challenges to further simplify the process. And so far it seems like the mission was accomplished: the refreshed Sites essentially resembles a fischertechnik construction kit for websites. All a user has to do is to copy and paste or drag and drop text, links, images, spreadsheets, tables or other elements into the GUI, rearrange/resize them to her or his liking and – voilà – here he or she or their boss goes with a new web page, intranet site or wiki. To keep content fresh and compelling, it's also possible to embed schedules from Google Calendar, a video clip stored on Google Drive or an extract from Google Maps alongside content from other G Suite apps. What's more, multiple users can work on a site in parallel, since Sites supports real-time co-authoring, a technology that also features prominently in Microsoft's collection of online office apps. Lastly, the refreshed editor now comes with a set of themes and layouts that automatically adapt to a given screen size, so that the finished web/intranet/wiki sites will look good on any device, regardless of whether it's a 27- or 32-inch monitor or a 4.6-inch smartphone display. That's indeed much more than you could expect from any WYSIWYG editor.

The new Google Sites is immediately available for G Suite customers. According to Google, it's activated by default, but users won't be able to access the tool unless Google Drive and the "classic" version of Sites are turned on as well. For more information, please see the G Suite Administrator Help site.


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