Google Sites: Not so pretty in the morning

We spent a little more time together, and I'm liking the old gal less and less.

My first review of Google Sites was positive. I even chose to overlook some weird display issues as early beta bugs (every 1.0 product I review has them) that other reviewers, such as ZDNet's Dennis Howlett, were not so kind about. I thought that, overall, it was a strong and useful collaboration product.

My second review--this one--is not positive. There's only one thing about this product that really bugs me, but it's annoying enough that I would throw the thing out the window if only it came in a box I could pick up. It's this: The integration with Google's productivity applications (word processor, spreadsheet, and presentations) is awful. To me, that's the one thing I want most from a wiki, especially one from Google, which historically has put great collaboration features into its otherwise lightweight productivity applications. I want to be able to easily create a wiki and then embed a productivity document in it, so I can share the whole package with my co-workers.

This is what happens if you try to embed a spreadsheet that isn't public. You don't want your spreadsheet to be public? Tough.

Try this with Sites, though, and you'll feel jilted. First you have to create your spreadsheet outside of the wiki, which is just weird. The real killer, though, is that your spreadsheet will only show up in your wiki if you "publish" it in Docs, making it viewable to anyone who gets its URL. It doesn't matter if you have carefully controlled the access to the wiki itself. If you want people to be able to edit your embedded spreadsheet, you've got to give them permission to do so from Google's separate spreadsheet application, even if you've already given the people who you're collaborating with on your wiki permission to edit the page that's hosting the embedded sheet.

Confused? Common-looking toolbars notwithstanding, Google Sites is clearly not integrated into Google's other productivity applications. It feels like Sites and the other productivity applications are from two different evolutionary branches. They have similarly-colored fur, but they do not interbreed.

Google could have done this a lot better (and I trust it will). An embedded spreadsheet or a presentation should inherit the permissions of the surrounding wiki page. Better yet, you should be able to create a new document, spreadsheet, or presentation directly inside the wiki, without having to drop back the Apps interface.

For those of you who read my prior review and have started using Sites, I apologize. This product still has great potential, but just as is the case with many of Microsoft's productivity applications, this version 1.0 Google product is best avoided.

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