Before you can use Google Sites, you must first have a Google Account or Google Apps account. A Google Account gives you access to a whole bunch of other free Google online services, such as Google Calendar, where you can track your appointments and events, Blogger (www.blogger.com), which lets you create your own blog, Picasa Web Albums (www.picasa.com), where you can share your photos online, and Google Docs (http://docs.google.com). If you don’t have an account, Chapter 3 shows you how to sign up. Like many other services offered by Google, Sites is a perpetual beta. This means that the clever Google engineers are always improving the way Sites works by adding new features and changing ones that aren’t as helpful. If the screen looks somewhat different from the figures that you see in this book, it’s okay. The same basic idea should still apply.
Why use google sites?
Google Sites incorporates the best aspects of Web page, wiki, and file sharing technology into an easy-to-use online tool. But choosing Google Sites is about more than playing with a shiny new service — it’s also about saving you time and money. In this section, we share with you our two cents, just in case you’re not already convinced that Sites is the way to go.
Google Sites Simplifying your life
The first thing you notice with Google Sites is Google’s trademark simplicity. Although other services may have more bells and whistles, Google Sites keeps it simple and gives you the features you need to get your work done without making you master a whole new complicated set of tools and features.
With Google Sites, you can focus more on coordinating group activities to accomplish your tasks and less on figuring out all the extra stuff. Plus, you get all the training you need from this book. Now that’s simple!
Google Sites is free. Talk about saving money. You don’t have to invest in expensive servers and software. All you need is an Internet connection and a Web browser, either of which you could get free at your public library, if you wanted.
All of your pages, wikis, and files are hosted for free, along with your other Google services. The exception, of course, is if you use Google Apps Premier Edition (www.google.com/apps), but in that case, your organization is really paying for the support. (Google Apps Premier Edition, along with all other editions of Google Apps, is discussed in the next section.)
Google can provide these services free because of the money they make on Internet search advertising. Next time you use Google Search, look for the sponsored links to the right of your results. That’s what pays the engineers to create these high-quality tools
How Google Sites Fits with the Other Google Apps
Google Apps (www.google.com/apps) is made up of five fully-functioning online applications: Gmail, Calendar, Docs, Talk, and Sites. Communicating with other people on the Internet is a snap with Gmail and Talk, and collaboration is simple with Calendar, Docs, and Sites. Each of these apps are fully functioning programs that allow you to do your work, such as e-mail and word processing, from any Web browser, instead of relying on your computer’s other installed software. Additionally, you can quickly access information you store online by using mini versions of the apps called gadgets. There are different editions of the whole Google Apps package, depending on your organization and needs. These include:
Team Edition: If you already have a school or work e-mail address, this edition adds Calendar, Docs, Talk, and Sites to the mix. Plus, you can instantly start connecting with other users in your organization that have already signed up. (Click the link for Coworkers or Classmates.)
Standard Edition: If your group or business is just starting out or is switching from another service, such as Outlook, this free edition of Google Apps lets you use all five services with your existing domain name with minimal e-mail advertisements. (Click the Business IT Managers link, click the See Details and Sign Up button, and then click Compare to Standard Edition).
Premier Edition: This edition costs $50 per user per year, but adds more functionality and security than Standard Edition, more storage space, provides 24/7 support, and gets rid of the ads. (Click the Business IT Managers link.)
Education Edition: This is just like Premier Edition, but free for universities, schools, and other nonprofit organizations. (Click the School IT Managers link.)
These apps just so happen to play nice with each other, too, by allowing you to easily share information from one app with another. Some of the features we talk about in this book include alerts, which are sent to your e-mail account, and embedded calendars, which help your team members know what’s coming up.
Understand Google sites
Calendar (http://calendar.google.com) keeps track of your events. You can easily add new calendar items and access them from anywhere, including your BlackBerry or iPhone. In Calendar, you can create separate calendars for your personal and team-related events and share them with other members of your team. Displaying your team calendar is easy in Google Sites, thanks to the Calendar gadget. From your site, everyone can quickly find upcoming events or follow up on meetings that happened. Figure 1-5 shows an agenda for a class, using the Calendar gadget.
Create, edit, and store documents, spreadsheets, and presentations online with Google Docs (http://docs.google.com). Google Docs features a surprisingly powerful word processor, spreadsheet editor, and presentations app that provide most of the tools you need. One of the cool things about Docs is that you can share your documents with other team members and work on them at the same time. This way, any changes you make are automatically updated and everyone else can see them right away.
It should be no surprise, then, that you can include your docs on Google Sites, too. Beyond simply creating links to your individual docs, Google Sites uses gadgets to place the content of your docs directly on your pages, as shown in Figure 1-6. For example, use the Spreadsheet gadget to include a list you have stored in a spreadsheet or the Presentation gadget to play an animated slideshow of a quarterly report.
Gmail (www.gmail.com) is Google’s solution to e-mail. It features a simple interface and a lot of cool innovations, such as conversations and labels. You can also use Gmail with your favorite e-mail program, such as Outlook or Thunderbird. Unlike other free e-mail services, which feature annoying graphical ads, Gmail uses text ads that are less bothersome.
With Google Apps, Gmail works with your group’s domain name. This means that your e-mail can still be firstname.lastname@example.org, but you can use Gmail’s intuitive interface and have your e-mail hosted by Google. Google Sites uses e-mail notifications to let your group or team members know when something changes on your site. When a change is made to a page, Google Sites sends subscribers an e-mail showing exactly what changes were made and gives you a link to open that page directly.
When e-mail simply isn’t fast enough, use Google Talk (http://talk. google.com). Talk is a really cool instant messaging app that you can either download to your computer or run directly from your site. If you’re using Google Apps Team Edition, your co-workers or fellow students are automatically added to your contact list, similar to Figure 1-7. When one of your contacts is online (they’ll have a green dot next to their name), simply click their name and start telling them why they’re the best member of your team. When you chat with more that one person, each conversation shows as a tab along the top of the Talk gadget.
Add the Talk gadget to any page on your site, and you and your team members are signed in automatically each time you visit.