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Don't call it a wiki: Google Sites finally launches

Google's JotSpot acquisition finally bears fruit.

Google is finally launching the wiki it's been promising since the company acquired Jotspot, 14 months ago (see Dan Farber: JotSpot reincarnated as Google Sites). The service, now called Google Sites, will be rolled out to Google Apps users starting tonight. Oddly, nowhere in the press materials does Google use the word, "wiki."

Call it what you will (it's a wiki, ok?), Google Sites is a natural extension of the Google Apps suite of business apps, into which Google currently bundles Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Docs, and other collaboration and productivity services. And it's not a bad standalone wiki, either.

Creating a new wiki, embedding media in it, and creating sub-pages takes even a newbie only minutes.

As with other wiki services, it has two main features: First, you can set it up so anyone you want can edit a Google Sites page (or you can keep it private). And second, it records all changes and lets you change things so you can un-do these edits.

Users who want to keep track of changes to a Google Sites project, or just a page on it, can easily sign up to get alerted when other users make changes.

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. You can drop into HTML editing if you like, though.

There are only a limited number of page types: Five, at launch, including the generic text page, a two-column "dashboard," and a page with a special list module (for to-dos and the like). But Google Sites makes it easy to embed other elements from its Apps or Doc suite, including spreadsheets and presentations, and also YouTube videos and iGoogle widgets (which is cool). To embed most items all you need is its URL. It's not a pretty way to get the job done but it is straightforward and fast.

There aren't many pre-formatted page types, but this one (list view) is pretty useful.

You can also embed word processing files from Google Docs or Google Apps, which could possibly create some confusion, since these documents may already be shared with other users and may not have the same permissions as the text surrounding them in your wiki. At least the text editor is similar, so moving between environments will not be too jarring. But I would hope for smoother integration between the collaboration features built into the Google Docs word processor, and Google Sites, in the future.

As is typical for Google productivity applications when they first launch, the functionality inside Sites is on the spare side, but the collaboration features are clear, easy to use, and well-chosen. This is a capable workgroup wiki, and even in this early stage its integration with the Docs and Apps suites makes it an excellent collaboration tool.

See also...
BusinessWeek: Jotspot Returns As Google Sites: Wiki-Style Collaboration;
Center Networks: JotSpot rebrands as Google Sites;
Venture Beat: Google launches Google Sites for businesses to create websites in the cloud.