Google released Google Sites yesterday morning and I spent a bit of time playing with it.
Basically Sites is an easy web page builder, like a wiki, that makes it easy to collaborate on sites with team members. Sites makes it easy to just create and format text, embed Google documents and calendars, and can contain other Google Gadgets.
Sites is not available (at least yet) to individual Google account holders, but only as part of using Google Apps in a domain.
But that’s not much of a barrier, because with the recent release of Google Apps Team Edition, basically anyone with an email address (but not Yahoo!, Hotmail, etc.) can participate in Google Apps for the domain that their email address is in. All you have to do is sign up with your email address (say email@example.com) and you’ll be there using Google Apps Team Edition with everyone else who signed up in the washington.edu domain. Note, however that Google considers each subdomain as a different domain, so for u.washington.edu is a different domain from washington.edu, which is different than department.washington.edu – and you’ll be able to really collaborate with people within the specific domain you sign up for. Within the specific apps you can grant different kinds of access to specific individuals within the domain (and you can choose them from a list) or to everybody in the domain, or make content visible to the world.
What’s this mean?
I read it as a move to take the burden of providing access to easy collaboration tools off of the central IT organization at a company (or university). No need to wait for that IT group to choose, fund, and implement a complex collaboration tool! You can start using these right away!
I’m not saying you should (and there are lots of unanswered questions about what kinds of information should be stored at places like Google) but … 56 69 people in the u.washington.edu domain since yesterday.