The Team from G Suite announced the release of a totally rebuilt, customer tested Google Sites on November 22nd. The new Sites promises “intuitive technology, integration with G Suite apps, and attractive design…six new themes, and other helpful features.” Sites launched in 2008, and with few functional updates since then, the platform was getting stale. Point of fact, I migrated for my class and departmental level pages to Weebly in the past six months. In the last few years, Weebly, WordPress, Wix and other platforms delivered easy, elegant platforms for non-programmers like me to create and maintain websites. This recent update brings Sites up to the functional level of these other platforms the UI much more familiar.
Prior to this update, the Sites interface looked more like 2006 than 2016. Back then we were all “Bad Day” and “Hips Don’t Lie,” remember? Menu hierarchies were complicated, editors had to be loaded and layout was a bear. Additionally, working with media was mind-numbing, especially for audio. Drive integration was also very limited. The interface is much easier to navigate and now in line with other G Suite for Education apps. The visual cues and even the page layout are most similar to “new” Forms.
Integration with Drive is now not-surprisingly-but-strangely simple: integration with videos, for instance, used to be a pain sizing, layout, etc. Now most layout and content creation is ‘drag-and-drop’ from a floating menu. Creating stand-alone “lines” of videos or even tiles or videos (and photos too) is super simple. With the older version of Sites, creating slideshows was difficult and even justifying images on the page was difficult.
Sites now allows you to add collaborators just as you would in Docs, Sheets or Slides. Changes save automatically right into Drive. As I stated above, this combination of familiar UI touches and to-be-expected G Suite functions just works. Additionally, the Site itself saves right into Drive–no more need to navigate into the Rubik’s cube. This makes it so much easier to keep track of sites and collaborators. Would this work for a school site? Probabably not, we’ll stick with WordPress for now; that said, it is a functional and freakishly easy way to set up course, course group, club or project sites.
Google Sites is now a legitimate alternative to Wix or Weebly for most .edu sites. Though perhaps not as robust and feature-rich as WordPress, Sites is free, functional and now, much more user friendly. There are six themes “to give your site the right look.” These are easy to apply and toggle. Scale and flex intelligently across platforms and give designers access to analytics.
I am also working with the Chair of the Visual Arts Department to see if an .edu domain Site could be al alternate to Squarespace. We’ll see.
Three questions that I have at this early point are: 1) How easy will it be to migrate or transfer admin access to students upon graduation or teachers upon a move? 2) How will Sites, especially .edu ones, be indexed and/or optimized for search? 3) How easy will it be to retrofit older–call them “classic”–Sites? The G Suite team offered this statement along with the Sites announcement, so I guess we’ll wait and see.