22 March 2021

Google Still Don’t Understand Services

It’s been a little while since I’ve though of Steve Yeggie’s platform rant on the the state of Google’s services. But spending a few hours exploring the capabilities of Google Sites, that classic blog-post has been front of mind once again.

Google Sites allows you to build and publish web-sites using a WYSIWYG designer, similar to Microsoft Front-page (anyone remember that?). These can be viewable by anyone on the public web, but when created within a Google Workplace, they could also be restricted to those that are within the workspace they are created in. This makes it a suitable choice for publishing internal sites that live within an organisation, which is what I want to use it for.

The current version of Google Sites is actually a redesign of an older version of Sites that has been around since 2008. This new version has a few niceties over the classic” version — which is still around — like a nicer designer and better looking templates.

What it doesn’t have is an API.

Without giving too much away, I was hoping to dynamically modify the contents of the site without building something as involved like a web-app. A simple bot, or something glued together with Google App Script, would be perfect. This is possible to do with classic Google sites, but this functionality has not been ported to the redesigned version. This new version has been around since 2016, and yet the only way that the contents of the site can be changed is through the WYSIWYG editor.
If I really wanted to make the content dynamic, I’d either have to use the classic version — which is probably no longer maintain, and could be shutdown whenever Google feels like it — or take up the work to build a completely bespoke web-app.

This is a shame. It’s clear that in this instance Google has not only failed to internalise the message of Yeggie’s rant, they have actually gone backwards. It might be that they are OK with this: after all, Sites is a consumer offering and may not be targeted to those with needs that demand this feature. But this line of thinking does a disservice to their offerings. It limits what is possible with these services, and reduced the number of paths available to those that want to do just that bit more.


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