Google Sites actually started out its life as a product called JotSpot which Google purchased in 2006 and then finally released in 2008 as Google Sites. Over time Google has added new features to the underlying JotSpot code (such as the horizontal navigation bar) but the foundation was still a ten year old product with new options built on top. This prevented Sites from being able to act like newer web design tools with drag and drop editing, layouts that respond to mobile devices, and such.
Rather than another update, Sites needed to be rebuilt from the ground up.
And now it appears that is exactly what Google is doing! In a recent post on the Google Apps Updates blog, they have announced a “totally rebuilt” Google Sites is coming. This is fantastic news for schools, organizations, and individuals who need to create websites but were struggling with Sites lack of updates and modern features.
So what can we expect with the new Google Sites? And when can you get access to it? See below for all the details I have been able to collect on this new announcement.
Update (December 2016)
Since I originally posted this information, we now all have access to the new version of Google Sites. I have put together a one-hour walk through tutorial video explaining all the new features and how to create a sample classroom website with the new Google Sites. You can see the video below, and can check out more details in my new post: The All New Google Sites for Schools
Although not a lot of details have been released yet, below are the key new features Google has revealed for Sites:
- Drag and Drop - In the current version of Sites all editing is done through drop down menus, or changing settings in pop-up windows, or even directly editing the HTML code. The new version of Sites promises simple drag and drop editing. This should apply to adding new content to your Site, as well as rearranging items, and hopefully adjusting the properties of images and other media. If done right this should act and feel much like placing and editing content on a Google Slide.
- Real-time Collaboration - Currently you can have multiple editors for a Google Site, but only one person can edit a specific page at a time. Once I start editing a page, Sites locks that page so no one else can make changes until I save my work and exit the edit mode. The new version of Sites claims to have real-time collaboration by multiple editors. This should function just like having several people in a Google Doc where everyone can work together live, making changes at the same time.
- Responsive Design - One of the most common complaints about the current version of Sites is its inability to display well on screens other than a standard computer monitor. What looks good on your desktop or laptop, should also adjust to smaller screen such as phones and tablets, without the need for unnecessary scrolling or resizing. This is what we can responsive web design. The new version of Sites includes includes new “themes and layouts designed to scale and flex to any screen size”. As more and more students (and adults) consume their content through a mobile phone, it is critical that schools can create Sites that will function well on all devices.
- More - According to Google’s blog post, they have “a lot more in store for ... Google Sites”. We will have to wait to see what these other features will be, but hopefully they will include an option for full-features blogging, with user comments and proper social media integration, rather than the quite limited “Announcement Page” in the current Sites.
When and how to get it?
Google says the new version of Sites is already being tested with a small group of customers, and they are now extending access to new people through an Early Adopter Program. I applied for access through my Google Apps domain and am waiting to hear back. Below are the details for how you can apply for early access as well:
- You have to have Google Apps for Education (or Business).
- You must be a Super Administrator for your Google Apps domain.
- Next sign in with your account at the Google for Work Connect website at https://connect.googleforwork.com/docs/DOC-17373
- If this is your first time there, you will fill out a brief profile screen.
- Finally you will be presented with a Google Form to fill out to request access to the Early Adopter Program.
If your Google Apps domain is added to the program you will have access to the new version to create new Google Sites. However this will not impact any previously existing Sites you have created. Those will still be accessible as normal and you will be able to edit and share them as before with the old Sites program.
For those not in the Early Adopter Program, it sounds like everyone else will get the new version of Sites over the next year, if not sooner. In their blog post, Google mentioned that the current version of Sites will still function for at least one year, and eventually there will be a process for migrating old Sites to the new platform.
Although it means having to redo a whole lot of help guides and training videos, I am very excited to hear about the new version of Google Sites. Sites can be a great tool for students to demonstrate their learning, build a portfolio, collaborate with peers, share their writings, and create a positive digital footprint. I am looking forward to seeing the educational impact a new version of Sites can have on teaching and learning in our schools.
What are you hoping to see in the new version of Sites? Share any ideas or info you have in the comments below.
Post by Eric Curts. Connect with Eric on Twitter at twitter.com/ericcurts and on Google+ at plus.google.com/+EricCurts1