Google Debuts Wiki Tool for Enterprise Collaboration

Google Thursday launched a wiki-like Web information-sharing tool that the search company hopes will become a quick-start collaboration platform and a place to tie together work done on its growing family of productivity applications.

Google Sites is built on the Jotspot platform, which Google acquired in 2006 and is meant to enable groups to collaborate on projects using word processing, spreadsheets, video clips, blogs and other tools from the Google Apps family of Web-based applications.

“We see this as a missing piece in business applications,” Scott Johnston, a former Jotspot executive who is now the senior product manager for Google Sites, told LinuxInsider. “There hasn’t been a quick and easy way to gather a variety of information in one place where it can be easily shared for viewing or editing among a small group, an entire company and then can also be published to the entire world.”

Tighter Integration

Google Sites builds on the Jotspot wiki platform with some significant upgrades, Johnston said, including tighter integration with Google Apps and the advantage of the entire Google infrastructure. For instance, the Google Calendar application is far more advanced than the original Jotspot version, and other improvements include the ability to fold in YouTube and Google video clips and to use Google search across the sites, he noted.

“Being part of Google has given us a lot of insights into how people use Web applications,” Johnston added. Another upgrade is the ability to notify users of a site — whether they have editing or viewing rights — when content on the site changes.

Free Team versions of Google Sites are available offering 10 gigabytes of space, while upgraded editions, such as Premier and Education Editions, offer additional storage space based on the number of users licensed to use the tools.

Appropriate for Group Projects

Jotspot’s goal before it was part of Google was to make wikis more user-friendly, and Google Sites advances that effort by enabling a site to be created with a few clicks, Johnston said.

The quick setup process makes the tool appropriate for group projects, he added, because it eliminates the need to involve IT departments or to train users on how to use a collaboration platform.

“You have projects that bring in documents, presentations, videos — all these things are coming online and there’s still not a single way to bring it all together and centralize it,” Johnston noted.

Google Sites should “increase the attractiveness” of Google Apps for some corporate customers weighing the Web-based tools against traditional productivity solutions, Forrester Research Principal Analyst Erica Driver told LinuxInsider.

“But even more,” she said, “Google Sites will increase the attractiveness of Google Apps to rogue individuals and project teams — people who need access to functionality like this and aren’t getting it from their corporate IT departments.”

Rising Tension?

The result will be “lots of tension and conflict” that in turn will “put the heat underenterprise IT groups to develop and implement enterprise collaboration strategies sooner rather than later,” Driver added.

Google Sites does lack some of the functionality of on-site options from vendors such as Microsoft and IBM. For instance, such solutions often have project management and workflow functions as well as integration with enterprise data resources and unified communications.

“Google Apps are still limited compared to IBM’s and Microsoft’s broad, sweeping information workplace platforms,” Driver said.

Google has been aggressively adding to its Apps over the past two years to address those shortfalls, upgrading Apps earlier this month to offer enterprises the ability to control how their workers use the Web-based applications. The larger goal is to encourage businesses to become more comfortable with so-called cloud-based computing, which means increasing reliance on the Internet as a source for applications and tools and for storing business data.

Google’s enterprise unit is still dwarfed by its consumer-facing search and advertising business but is seeing robust growth. Google said recently that a half million businesses have signed up to use Google Apps, with 2,000 more being added every day and with increasing traction among large enterprises, such as Genentech, which announced it would deploy Google Docs and Calendar to its workers.

Sharing With Outside Partners

“There is a great deal of pent-up need for the basic collaboration capabilities that Google Sites will offer to departments and individuals within companies,” AMR Research analyst Jim Murphy told LinuxInsider. “Some of these people and departments have been waiting for years to have something enabled and deployed by the IT department, but the IT department has been too busy to serve their needs while pursuing other projects and just trying to keep the lights on in the business.”

Google Sites seems designed to target educational and government users in particular, but one area where the sites may be valuable for large enterprises is in the area of sharing and collaborating with outside partners. “Most of the traditional collaboration platform vendors have focused on internal collaboration only,” Murphy added.

Google Sites can easily used for outside collaboration because they are Web-based and accessible without any client software and can be used by sales forces and other parts of a business that don’t have IT expertise, he said.

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