A couple of weeks ago I got some email from Google /a folks telling me what I wanted hear for a while. They announced Google Sites. I spent an hour tonight playing with a Test Site on ObjectStrategy.com
(hunny...that logo just happens to look like the dash of the 2005 Acura RSX I picked up in Maryland a couple weeks ago...just looks like it)
Last year as chief engineer in Sun Learning Services I pushed hard (to say it mildly) to lead Sun Services teams away from email world and a human transactive memory platform to Web 2.0. For a variety of reasons we selected Atlassian's Confluence. Confluence is a solid read+Write platform (though lacking in the user experience). We looked at many cloud services providing Enterprise 2.0 collaboration solutions including Ning but Ning's identity integration solution was absent (as I recall) still many features missing at the time. The latest personalized cloud service from Google really ties it all together and this first release is very impressive. Comparing it to Microsoft Sharepoint as some have is a failure to see the forest through the trees. If Google Sites team can deliver iterative improvements like we have seen with Google Docs (including APIs...please please please) I think that organizations may find a threshold of value that cannot be ignored - though GMail and Calendar and Docs should be enough. I say "may" because until Google /a can incorporate a workflow services into the cloud they will not be easing the majority of enterprise pain. I do hope I get an notification from Google /a by early of 2009 that they have a beta cloud service like Jira integrated as slick as Remember The Milk's uber hack of GMail. The Lists content object page type is too simplistic currently.
Both personal StevensFive.net and ObjectStrategy.com have been on Google /a for a while. I tried to remain in the user experience of Google Pages for /a and it really was non-trivial to get something together for StevensFive in time for the Christmas card. While Google Sites does not let you use DHTML directly ("Unsafe HTML Tags") like object and script I still think that there is enough formatting features and sufficient templates so that you can have something looking good without dealing with your own DHTML. If there is something you need you can make your own Google Gadget and get a little farther with that.
In comparing with Confluence I think one of the best features in Google Sites are the Announcement content objects (site pages). This is the News diary/blog format in Confluence. One thing I like better about Google Sites is that you can create any number of Announcement/blog resources within a site. In Confluence you could have one News/blog per Space. Speaking of spaces, the "sites" (pural) in Google Sites is very similar to Spaces in Confluence as Jive's Clearspace. What I think is missing in Google Sites are some of the proven Enterprise Wiki Patterns including personal sites. There should be context reserved for people sites or a way to have sites indicated as being a person site. Dealing with this "who" dimension is essential. Another thing which can be easily improved are more Google Site specific widgets which can deal with intra and inter site aggregation. There are a few like an aggregator for recent announcements - but there cannot be enough of these. The only glaring issue I see is that lack of tagging - unless I totally missed it. Tagging is fundamental to resource metadata, searching and content aggregation. Really weird that tagging is missing.