JotSpot re-emerges as Google Sites

Retooled hosted wiki service aims to be a simpler, more scalable, and less expensive alternative to products like Microsoft's SharePoint and IBM's Lotus Notes

The JotSpot hosted wiki service will be reborn Thursday as Google Sites, a new piece of the Google Apps hosted collaboration and communication suites.

JotSpot's re-launch under a different name and a revamped architecture finally answers how this hosted wiki service was retooled, almost a year and a half after Google acquired the company.

[ InfoWorld's Ted Samson explains what  Google Sites actually offers. ]

With Google Sites, teams within an organization can build Web sites to collaborate on projects. It's not necessary to know HTML nor Web design to create the sites, according to Google.

"Information in organizations is siloed. Teams have difficulty pulling together all the information they need to collaborate," said Rishi Chandra, Google Apps product manager. "With Google Sites, teams can bring this all together in one central place."

Teams can embed a variety of files and content from other Google applications and services, including video clips from YouTube, images from Picasa and Apps' spreadsheets, text documents, presentations, and calendars.

Google Sites aims to be a simpler, more scalable and less expensive alternative to products like Microsoft's SharePoint and IBM's Lotus Notes, said Matthew Glotzbach, product management director of Google's Enterprise unit.

Google acquired JotSpot in October 2006, closed off new account registrations for it and kept mostly mum about its plans. Although Google continued supporting existing JotSpot customers, they sometimes complained about hosting outages and performance problems and about lack of responsiveness for technical support queries.

Jay Dempsey, marketing director at Heritage's Dairy Stores, in Thoroughfare, New Jersey, had big plans for JotSpot. However, Heritage's, a user since 2005, hasn't touched JotSpot in the past six months. Google's long silence made Dempsey concerned that the product could be phased out.

"I didn't know where they were going with it, so I backed off using it and didn't pursue any [new projects], because I was afraid it would be a waste of our time," Dempsey said.

About 20 users at Heritage's had been successfully using JotSpot, mostly to collaborate on coordinating IT projects. Dempsey had plans to roll out JotSpot broadly among the company's over 500 employees.

Now, no one uses it. The former JotSpot users at Heritage's are back using conventional software applications like Microsoft's Excel to keep tabs on team projects. Dempsey first heard about Google Sites late Wednesday afternoon from IDG News Service.

A Google spokesman said that existing JotSpot users will be notified via e-mail on Thursday about Google Sites. Most JotSpot wikis will be migrated to Google Sites, while a few with many customized features built using JotSpot's APIs will have to be moved later, Glotzbach said.

Founded in 2004, JotSpot had an installed base of thousands of organizations when Google acquired the company. JotSpot had been praised for its ease of use and extensible architecture.

Like Google Sites, JotSpot let users create collaborative Web sites without the need for programming knowledge, and users could embed in them applications and components, like spreadsheets, calendars and documents. Some JotSpot applications will be ported over to Google Sites, while others will be phased out, the Google spokesman said.

Google Sites will lack the APIs that let external developers create applications for JotSpot and customize it. However, Glotzbach said the Apps team will explore giving Google Sites an API. Still, Google Sites isn't completely closed in this regard. The service can run Google Gadgets, which are simple HTML and Javascript mini-applications that can be added to Web pages.

With the service, users can build Web sites of many types, including intranets, blogs and public sites for a variety of purposes, Glotzbach said. Google Sites is available to users of Apps' Standard, Education, Premier and Team editions.

Rebecca Wettemann, a Nucleus Research analyst, recommends that large enterprises planning to broadly offer Google Sites establish a structure and hierarchy for its sites. "Just like with any intranet strategy, it's not just about posting pages but making sure that people can find the information they need," Wettemann said. Still, it will be inevitable that Google Sites be used in an ad hoc, under-the-radar manner in some organizations, particularly because it is so easy to use, she said.

The addition of Google Sites is the latest improvement to Google Apps, an example of a new breed of hosted collaboration and communication software seen as a threat to conventional software designed to be installed on customers' PCs and servers, like Microsoft's Office, Exchange and SharePoint and IBM's Lotus/Domino.

Google Apps has been activated on over 500,000 organizations, most of them small and medium-size businesses.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.