Sunday, July 22, 2012

Google Sites, Apps, Blogs and Docs: Drink the Kool-Aid

It's very empowering to run your own web servers and host your own web sites on your own Internet connection. There's something to be said about having complete control over what your company does with the Internet.

But this power and flexibility comes with a heavy price in both hardware and labor, not to mention the added risk of getting hacked and losing or leaking value customer data. Servers have to be maintained and protected from malicious individuals. Data has to be backed up and those backups have to be maintained and secured.

I've spent the last decade not only building software, but fretting over my Web servers. Making sure the operating system is patched. Dealing with hardware failures. Dealing with software failures. Dealing with security. It's something I gladly do, but for the average, static web site or blog, it's complete overkill. It's a waste, even if you can afford it. It's also no fun being called at 3:00 AM when a hard drive fails.

Google Services


There are all these great Google services available to companies and individuals who wish to have a presence on the web. The best part is that almost all of it is free. Create your company web site, start a blog, share documents with co-workers - all free. But that's not the best part. You get Google's world class infrastructure, which you couldn't buy at any price. Google doesn't crash. They don't lose your data. No amount of web traffic can take Google down. If you make that once in a lifetime viral post, Google laughs at your puny one million page hits.

Pros:
  • Better suited to static content
  • Free hosting of your site or blog
  • You get Google's robust architecture 
  • Point and click content creation
  • Built in email
  • Built in document sharing
  • Large development community
  • Lots of third party "gadgets" and other cool stuff

Cons:
  • Not well suited for dynamic, interactive sites
  • Not well suited for data-driven sites
  • The design tools are crude at best
  • You are bound by Google's strict terms of service
  • Any of their services could change at any time, for any reason
  • They could take your web site down at any time, for any reason

Blogger


Google came late to the party for blogging, but they've done it right in my opinion. In fact, they've probably given more love and attention to Blogs than they have to Sites. This blog is a Google blog, and so far it's been great to work with. 

What I like best about blogger is that it's designed let authors do what they do best, which is focus on content creation. The tools are a little clunky, but there's such a great community that it's almost always easy to find a work-around to whatever issues I run into.

Sites


Google Sites lets you create a web site hosted for free by Google. Just like for Blogger, it all runs on their infrastructure, and they don't charge you a dime for it. But the design tools and templates are limited, and there are other limitations, such what kind of content you are allowed to post. 

Using Sites for your web site is ideal if you have a simple, static, work-friendly web site. For most individuals and some small companies, Sites is more than sufficient, and it's where I run my consulting site, NorthWeb Technologies. It's ideal for me because even though I run my own web servers and have access to cheap hosting, this is still less of a hassle. 

Drive (formerly known as Docs)


Google Drive lets you store your data in the cloud, and share that data with friends and co-workers.  In my mind, it's one of those "glue" services that ties some of the other services together. Honestly, I'm not a big fan of storing mission-critical data in the cloud, but if I trust another company to keep my data safe, that company is probably Google. 

One really neat feature of this service is the ability to take form data and plug it into a spreadsheet. For example, I have a contact form on my web site that lets you put in a name, email and message. Each user that makes an entry creates a new row in the spreadsheet. Then I can look at the spreadsheet at my leisure, and see the feedback people are sending me to the site. But it will work with any form data.

Apps


Google Apps is ideal if you've already been drinking the Google Kool-Aid. For a small monthly fee, you got to use their infrastructure for business collaboration as well. Most of the services you with Apps are already free, but you get more of those services. More capacity for Drive, more emails, files - they basically take the limitations off the already-free services.




Other

Most of Google's flagship services are already used by most people. It's hard to make it through the day without running into services like their search engine or YouTube. Google Maps, Earth and Translate and Gmail are already part of our culture. It still amazes me when I end up at a foreign website and when I press Translate, the screen turns from Chinese into something that looks like it was designed and built in English.

I have recently started using the Reader to keep track of all the news and blogs I read. Some of their services like Wallet and their Toolbar don't interest me in the slightest. But for the most part, I've been drinking Google flavored Kool-Aid for a while now. 

Conclusions


Certainly these services will never put me out of business as a web developer. Different people and organizations have different needs. Most people want a web based solution closely tailored to those needs, and because of that, there's never going to be a cookie cutter solution that fits everything.

But for those with basic needs from a web site or blog, and who are willing to give up functionality for letting Google do the heavy lifting, these services are first rate. But the tools are a little clumsy, and Google isn't the only game in town, so I hope they step up their game and make these services more flexible and easier to use and integrate. 

For now, these Google services are a tool in my development toolbox.

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