I fired up Google Reader this morning and came upon the most wonderful news. Normally, I'd simply share the item with a quick note, then move on to the next shiny bit of news.
But not today. Not for this. This is too awesome.
The most glaring limitation of Google Sites, a key part of the Google Apps suite of cloud-based productivity and collaboration applications, has finally been addressed.
Google Sites now supports page-level permissions!
Anyone who has built or maintained an effective Google Apps installation has made the difficult choice between creating several redundant "private" Sites with limited users, or one big free-for-all Site where everybody sees everything.
For example, if you wanted a corporate intranet, you were forced to make one Site where each department could see the content for every other department. This is fine for companies whose corporate culture is somewhere between "Kumbaya" and "We Are the World".
If you work someplace like this, please email me directions to where your leprechauns keep their gold.
Back in the real world, you probably found yourself doing something like this: You'd create several departmental sites, linked awkwardly from one to the next, and tie them all to one large "Master Site". Need to change something that effects the "whole" intranet? Well, cancel your weekend plans because you've got a ton of manual changes ahead of you. Fun times, eh?
Thankfully, that's all in the past now that Google has debuted page-level permissions for Sites. Thank god!
Enabling Page-Level Permissions for Google Sites
According to the Google Docs Blog, only site owners can enable page-level permissions, which are turned off by default. Once enabled, page-level permissions make some pages private for certain users, while allowing other pages to be viewed by a wider audience.
The new permissions work much as you'd expect. Pages can inherit current site-level permissions, and you can elect to include, or ignore, any future site-level changes. For more information, check out Google's getting started guide.
What's Next (Hopefully) For Google Sites?
Truly, this is a HUGE upgrade. Page-level permissions open up a world of new possibilities for any organization using Google Apps. Make no mistake, though. There is a LONG way to go to truly perfecting Sites.
For starters, Google must extend the permissions scheme to include comments. This would allow site viewers to participate in discussions without requiring them to be site editors. After all, just because I want you to read and comment on my blog, doesn't mean I want you editing my posts.
The editor for Sites could also use an update. Table editing, in particular, needs some love. For that matter, Google Docs needs a better table editor, too. Come on, Google...Two birds are sitting here waiting for you to pick up this stone!
It would also be very useful to save page drafts. Perfect for when you're working on something that you don't want to share with everybody just yet. This functionality already exists when adding posts to pages created with the "Announcements" template. I hope that Google can find a smart way to incorporate this functionality more broadly within Sites.
Finally, I'd also like to see a way for custom URLs to be used for non-public Sites. This is a tough nut to crack given Goolge's distributed infrastructure, so I won't hold my breath for it. Besides, I'll have my hands full consolidating all those departmental Sites into single, secure, one-stop-shop Intranets.