Managing lots of information, relationships, and resources can be a challenge for any organization. While it can be easy to be overwhelmed by the variety of options on the market and their pricing there is one platform I recommend you explore, and its free: Google Sites.
I came across Google Sites while searching for solutions for managing the production of PresenTense Magazine, which entailed upward of 80 volunteers collaborating around 30 articles over the course of several months per issue. Our contributors spread from Los Angeles to Jerusalem to Budapest and everywhere in between. I needed to store items as varied as drafts of the articles themselves; spreadsheets recording who was working on what; and running blog-style thoughts from conference calls and online and in-person brainstorms. It was crucial that everyone on the team could easily access the information necessary to do their job true when working with colleagues, and perhaps even more so when working with volunteers.
Satisfying all of these specifications could be seen as a challenge. However, once the right platform of Google Sites was discovered and properly developed, managing our bountiful ecosystem of data helped enable us to convert our advantages such as geographic diversity, a multitude of ideas, and an eager crew of enthusiastic volunteers into opportunities.
Here are some benefits, tips, and drawbacks Ive discovered in Google Sites. I hope you will consider them and that they will similarly help you turn your organizational assets into opportunities.
Why use Google Sites?
Everything organized in one place.
Rather than dealing with a litany of Google Docs, you can not only store them in one place, but also use article-style pages to organize links to spreadsheets, blog pages, and file cabinets (where you can store files such as images, documents, or presentations).
Easy to learn to customize your own site.
To set up a site effectively might take a bit of practice, but it does not take knowledge of HTML. If you spend some time exploring the different template options, you can build a functional site in just a few clicks and it is easily customizable to exactly your needs.
Convinced? Heres how to use it!
Learn how to take advantage of the templates
Think about how the different templates could make sense for your use. The templates can be highly effective if you apply the right template to the right purpose. For instance, the template called List can be a to-do list or task management tool, a spreadsheet that stores contact information, or a list organizing other items stored in the site (i.e. you can link directly to article pages or file cabinets within the site). The templates each offer great flexibility so you can customize them for your purpose.
The more organized you can be, the better!
You can at any point reorganize the skeleton outline of your site (which pages are organized under which other page). You can also create a table of contents which allows users to easily jump to the page theyre looking for. Take advantage of these organizational methods to make sure everyone working on the project can find what they need, fast.
A word of caution: A few Google Sites drawbacks
Not the best tool for engagement
While Sites is a great way to store information such that it is easily accessible, in my experience it has been difficult to use it to start conversations. Perhaps the user interface is not intuitive, or requires a greater investment of time to figure out than people who are just looking for information to do their job are willing to give.
Sharing can be a little complicated
If you do not have a Google account, you have to go through the extra step of creating one. While in theory this should be an easy process, I have had some non-Gmail-users unable to find how to access Sites, and this can be a source of frustration. If your information isn’t particularly confidential, you could consider making the site public (viewable to anyone) for the duration of the project. I’ve used this approach at times and it has helped overcome this obstacle.
Whether or not you ultimately decide to use Google Sites, I do recommend that, before embarking on any new endeavor in iformation management, you take a moment to answer these questions yourself, and/or survey your coworkers on their thoughts and needs:
- What tools do you currently use to manage your projects, and if they are not working, why not?
- What functions are on your wish-list for information management?
Then, you can more knowledgeably find the tools that will work for you and find ways to more consciously tailor and employ them for your specific purposes. After all, at the end of the day, tools are only as effective as what we make of them!
Have you used Google Sites in your work? If so, how? What other tools have you experimented with for information management?
Deborah Fishman is a network weaver interested in new opportunities to create change in the Jewish world. She was most recently Editor and Publisher of PresenTense Magazine. She blogs at hachavaya.blogspot.com.