In October 2006, Google acquired JotSpot, a hosted wiki platform for building collaborative Web sites. Sixteen months later, which is like 10 years in Web time, Google is launching a revamped JotSpot as Google Sites.
Rafe Needleman at CNET Webware has a more in-depth post on how Google Sites works.
Google Sites is basically another element in the growing Google Apps suite. Like Google Docs & Spreadsheets, Google Sites is aimed at companies or individuals who need to collaborate, such as for managing projects or classroom activities.
"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."
He also said that Google Apps was a "healthy, growing, and profitable" business for Google, but didn't share the profit numbers. It may be profitable but it is an almost invisible blip on the revenue screen.
The term "wiki" has been banished from Googlespeak as the company tries to mainstream its collaborative applications. "There shouldn't be a distinction between wikis and sites," said product manager Scott Johnston. He hopes that the "edit button" becomes pervasive as the collaborative Web takes hold.
Google Apps has some traction--about 500,000 companies are using the suite--but the non-tech-savvy knowledge worker may not by aware of Google Docs, according to Glotzbach. Google is relying on word of mouth to stimulate small business usage and more direct selling into larger enterprises.
Google is also fighting the stigma of lightweight applications, the notion that they are unable to do everything that a Microsoft SharePoint, SocialText, and other more full-featured business solutions. And, Google has significant distribution advantages over closer competitors such as Zoho.
"The so-called lightweight cloud application isn't for the non-power user," Glotzbach said. "It's actually for the power user. Today's power users aren't writing macros. They are 'power collaborators,' grabbing content from six different places in the cloud and putting on a site and sharing it."
The concept of the power collaborator and creating the applications without high cost and involving IT resources is compelling, and will push the incumbents to lighten up.
For example, companies could create employee directories with profiles pages that can include documents, videos, gadgets or other kinds of content without any heavy lifting. And, at some point, Google Sites will have social-networking capabilities baked in, using the OpenSocial APIs and the Social Graph API, Johnston said but didn't offer a timetable. A socially enabled Google Site would be more similar to what Ning is doing with its social Web platform, allowing users to build their own social networks.
I asked Johnston what took Google so long to relaunch JotSpot. "We looked at what assets we could use, and we didn't want to release a product where we had to change the wheels while we were driving. We have access to infrastructure that scales nearly infinitely and Google search as an underlying technology, so we can take content and make it instantly relevant and searchable," he said. "We also have a best-of-breed online calendar."
In addition, the entire front end to JotSpot was rewritten to adopt the foundation elements, such as the document editor, used in the Google Apps suite, as well as the look and feel. "The core of what we brought was the essence of the wiki and storing versions of the content," Johnston said. "Also, when you created a page in JotSpot you could choose from different kinds of pages." Google Sites supports five pages types and will add more in the future, he said.
In the future, Google Apps will add more capabilities for sharing video, a la YouTube, with group and voice capabilities, Glotzbach said. At this point Google doesn't plan to create a marketplace for creators of Google Site templates and themes, but it will take advantage of the iGoogle gadgets and APIs that allow developers to embed objects with the service.
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.