Google Sites first impressions

In a month where pleasingly many things got crossed off my long-term To Do list, the St Columba's website was happily no exception. Like so many church and charity websites I've run over the years (the eight years since I was sixteen, in fact!), it was a pile of static content which meant I was stuck maintaining it and those producing the content couldn't easily chip in.

So, what to do? I could spend several weekends hacking together a CMS in Django - actually, no I couldn't, on the evidence of failing to have found time for that in three years - or I could use somebody else's second-rate pile of PHP. What I really wanted was a system which removed all dependency on my servers, cost nothing and was reasonably easy for non-techies to be carefully steered into using.

Google Sites was suggested by Tony, and since we already had Google Apps set up for the domain in question, it seemed like a good place to start, with a reasonable chance of being a long-term solution.

I started by sitting down for a few hours and dumping what content was worth keeping from the old site. Here's an assortment of things I noticed:

  • All our outgoing hyperlinks were mangled by Google Sites to bounce via a URL of the form As well as looking ugly, this is a particular pain in the neck for users on mobile connections, since the high latency makes the extra redirection from Google's URL to the real one painfully obvious. I've no idea why this happened, but it went away after a couple of hours, so that's OK
  • In order to avoid having tedious stuff about comments and attachments at the bottom of every page, you need to make a template with those options turned off, and base your pages on it. And if you've made 80 pages before discovering that, you need to fix each one by hand on the page settings box for it. Sigh.
  • On a more positive note, the integration with Google Calendar,Google Groups signup, and Google Docs is top notch as you might expect.
  • The CMS seems pretty capable - my not-especially-techie co-conspirator was able to bash out most of the design and not make it look too bad, and the page editing tools are simple enough for non-technical users.

The Google Site backed site is now live, and I'll post more later on smoothing off some of the rough edges.