About web site


This web site is partly for exploring and demonstrating some Web publishing methods of current interest to me. I've worked on Web design, publishing, and collaboration more or less since it emerged, with the launch of the 1st web browser Mosaic in 1993, so the notes/practices here come from many reflection, projects, and experiments, in a variety of contexts from large organizations to startups to civic initiatives to personal publishing.  

This site is hosted on the free Google Sites service, which launched in 2008, and which in my assessment is a surprisingly good and underappreciated web hosting platform. I think it serves well my and many people's purposes. for many Web tasks. 

I'm quite wary of Google and other BigTechs' power and practices, and would generally prefer to use open-source and decentralized tools. However, for me maximum usability and collaborability are paramount, and here as in other things I reluctantly find Google's offerings compelling, particularly in combination. I and a preponderance of people I know use Google tools for core workflows like email, documents, calendar, and file handling/sharing. Google Sites is a good web publishing tool because it directly integrates, in many way works similarly to, and extends those other tools.  

Google Sites itself is somewhat limited in customizability, and in extension to other capabilities e.g. e-commerce, compared to, say, WordPress software's great extensibility and plugins ecology. However:

Key goals, and how Google Sites helps. 

Easy setup

For me, good tools are those which best facilitate capability, comfort, and flow. In the high states of productivity (also often, of satisfaction & pleasure) described by 'flow'),  characteristically one is able to mostly remain focused on the goals, and collaborators if any, and on high-level foci such as one's mental model of the work subject, open imagining, or adapting from inspiring material. That is to say, not focusing on or perhaps even conscious of the tools. 

A principle of user-interface design (UI / UX) I've long espoused is, the best user interface is often the one the user is already using.  [I think I coined, or at least independently came to, this formulation, though it is basically applying a famous founding statement from "ubiquitous computing" field, that "The most profound technologies are those that disappear," from Mark Weiser of Xerox PARC,  in"The Computer for the 21st Century" 1991 ]. 

Meaning that, if the goals/task can be achieved without having to create or get users to employ a new interface, this is probably better. From my perspective, I and most people I work with already do or can write/edit in Google Docs, and manage resources in Google Drive with its well-understood conventional folders and permissions structure. So if a web interface and publishing system can be wrapped onto that with little to no effort, this has some strong advantages. 

[Aristotle said, character is that which you do regularly.  Similarly, you might say the true character of a tool/product is defined by what actions and experiences it most regularly, consistently facilitates]. 

So I suggest, for an easy & effective quick start: 

From that simple step onwards, you will in a sense have a fully functioning and fully up-to-date web site that the right people can easily update and manage, using tools they already know. It will have greater usability for your team/org, and be more up-to-date and transparent for any web visitor, than 99% of all web sites out there.

Co-governance, co-ownership 

These are often important issues for an organization's site, but not really for a personal site like this. 

I write about these topics and suggested approaches in ongoing article, "Equity Organizing", section "Building co-governed, collaborative media tools", which also incorporates most of the contents of this "About web site" page in somewhat rewritten form. 


You can have a Google Sites site display Google documents or folders that are hosted/owned elsewhere. This is quite helpful if you have a decentralized organization in which various parties might start & own documents or folders of materials. People tend to this naturally, when using the most-at-hand tools, and it's a good idea to pay attention to what people, unprompted, find the easiest way to do something.

Also, letting project participants start, own, and manage their own documents and folders, while it could be a mess, might also be a good way to enact/allow collaboration and share trust, without having to do so formally/explicitly.

Mobile, life-embedded, continuous partial engagement work

While  "lean-forward" tools/interfaces like a desktop or laptop computer -- as opposed to "Lean-back" tools, in Jakob Nielsen's terminology -- may conduce to focused 'flow' working, sometimes also good flow and productivity comes from having minimal barriers to action. For example, being able to turn to a mobile device easily any time, and see or add to work.  This is a key idea of "ubiquitous computing," noted above, in which many capabilities require little to no "turning to", but are automatic or at hand. 

Google Docs pioneered and continues to lead in mobile, realtime-collaborative document editing, and Google Drive also has high mobile usability.  So I suggest, a great solution for a lot of cases is to set up a Google Sites web as described above, thereafter allowing most people most of the time to do all editing and managing of the web site using GDocs and GDrive as they already know how to use or could easily learn to.

Free service

Anyone can set up a site, to appear at URL sites.google.com/view/[SITE NAME].  You can, optionally, register and use with it your own domain name, e.g. "tmccormick.org", registed at Google or any other domain registrar.

You can also get comparable free hosting on other platforms such as Wordpress.com (which offers hosting using the very popular free/open-source blogging software WordPress). Your site will then typically be reached by a 'subdomain' URL, such as "tmccormick.wordpress.com".  However, my hunch is that these other services aren't as long-term stable as Google's is, and they don't offer as good likelihood of archival stability (see next point).
Also, such platforms are generally offering paid levels of service or add-ons, and I find that in using them, and Wordpress site-building tools generally, you tend to be beset with distracting/confusing upsell promotion.

Google Sites, by contrast, offers no paid services, and seems quite free of upselling or cross-marketing confusion.

Archival stability and discoverability 

Google Sites sites are free and apparently remain up perpetually -- though they don't make any explicit commitments of longevity, as far as I know.  So is true of e.g. Wordpress.com free sites, but my guess is these are less likely to be long-term stable. Also, significantly, the way Google Sites works is, you set up the site with sites.google.com/site/[SITENAME], and this URL works ongoing, whether or not you also set up a custom domain, or whether that domain registration  in future lapses or gets used for something else. [not true, I think, with Wordpress.com and other free hosting platforms, although I haven't entirely verified that].  

Incidentally, a good strategy for any person/org really concerned about archival preservation of your web materials, is to do initial and ongoing automatic saves to Internet Archive. It's easy to do this manually for any URL, using the Save Page Now feature at https://web.archive.org/.  IA will also automatically tend to pick up and archive your pages if they are publicly linked to much, and there are way for larger projects to setup automatic archviing.

Some Google Sites features that help ease of use: 

I've compared Google Sites to various other site-building options such as Wordpress.com, Wix, Squarespace, and free Wordpress installation as offered by general web-hosting platforms like Dreamhost. I find Google Sites to be the easiest way to set up and maintain sites, and crucially, the way in which others are most likely to be able to take over or share in creating and maintaining the site. In my experience, most web sites die, go stale, or underfunction because of the comparative difficulty of maintaining and collaborating on them.  

Some of the features contributing to ease of use: