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Google Sites

July 23, 2008 in 4 out of 5 stars, A service, Collaboration, Free, Hosted "Office", Hosted software, Issue trackers, Productivity, Project management

What is it?

Google Sites: A poor man's (pretty darn good) intranet. An online, Google-hosted wiki-meets-project management software service. Google gobbled up Jot Spot (a hosted wiki service headed by Joe Kraus) before it even really got going, it was later re-born as Google Sites.


Who makes it?


Why is it the killerest?

I have a growing and widely dispersed team for my latest venture. I've set up a Google Sites website which is serving as an "intranet" for this team, and it's working quite well.

It's like a wiki in that anyone (whom you allow) can edit or add pages or documents. It also has several built-in tools to help you create things like, a file download repository, a todo list, an issue tracker, or an announcements board.

Googlesitesss There are also many more options available through "Gadgets" like a Google Calendar, a Presentation (read: Microsoft Powerpoint-like document), or a Spreadsheet. Plus hundreds of third party gadgets like maps, weather, games, news feeds, and chat. Not to mention a million other useless things no one would ever want (Woody Allen quotes?). Fortunately it's easy to ignore that stuff.

Most anyone can set one up and manage it, it's not difficult, there are no HTML skills required. You have some limited control over the look and feel; for example you can easily brand it with your own logo and colors.

They've made management of the site very simple. You can invite others as owners, collaborators or just viewers. You can also optionally make the site visible to everyone on the internet.

You get 100MB of storage space for free, and can bump that up to 25GB per account for their paid version which costs $50/user/yr.

They even have an API.

What could be improved?

My primary beef is no discussion forum built in. That would make it twice as valuable for us. Even if they just took Google Groups and married it in, we'd have a winner. This is a huge omission.

I would also like the option not to have previous versions of all my pages available to everyone. It's not a huge deal, but I don't need the last umpteen version of a page viewable forever, and there's no facility to disallow this.

How much does it cost?

Free for most everything, $50 per user per year for the deluxe version with lots of storage space.


Reviewed by Carson McComas

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July 2, 2008 in 4 out of 5 stars, Hosted software, Productivity

What is it?

RescueTime: A time management and analysis program.


Who makes it?

RescueTime (3 guys rocking it with some YCombinator funding to start)

Why is it the killerest?

Because it achieves the holy grail of being fun to use, and darned useful too.

It consists of two parts. An application (software) you install on your computer (PC or Mac) and a website which reports on your time usage.

Rt The software logs the applications you use (a plain text log). By default it logs in two-second increments to paint a pretty accurate picture. Then every 30 minutes it beams this information up to the mothership. The mothership is a glorious reporting site you can pull up to see how you're using your time. It features all manner of reporting graphs and charts. It shows you how productive you're being, where you spend your time, how you're doing on your goals, and more.

While it's pretty helpful even with zero configuration effort (just install and let it go), you can really make it come alive if you spend a little time telling it about the things you do through simple tagging, and rating for productivity. It's an intuitive process that unfolds as you want it to. The usability is solid.

The first benefit to me was realizing just how much time I was frittering away with useless garbage. It was troubling information. Well, harrowing is more like it. And it has already changed how I use my time. As an entrepreneur, being accountable even if only to RescueTime is proving to be very valuable. The old "what gets measured gets improved" adage once again proves true. I'm rigorous about measuring so many other things, it's a little embarrassing I haven't applied that better to my time until now. I guess I just needed the drop-dead simple "do it for me" solution that RT provides.

In addition to measuring time, RT lets you set up goals, which it then tracks for you. Some example goals might be "spend more than 3 hours per day working on my secret project" or "spend less than 1 hour per day on email." 

They also have some paid features that allow groups to use it together so you can compare how you spend your time versus the average member. I haven't dived into that. Everything I'm using is free.

I've really resisted having a big crush on RT, but have so far failed. I love it.

What could be improved?

This is still immature software, and it's important to know that going in. I sincerely hope they can make their revenue model fly so that they can evolve this to the point where they build on the killer progress they've made so far.

In fact, if they would address the issues I'm about to outline, I would be perfectly happy to pay a modest fee (say, $4/mo) to keep my records indefinitely (right now they only keep a 3 month backlog) and have the following features:

1. I'd like to do intra-application tagging. For example - if I'm writing a poem about my dog in Word, I'd like to tag that differently than a work proposal for a new client. As it is today, they only break things out that way for the web browser.

2. I'd like to be able to manually enter time. Right now it only tracks your time at the computer - which it does spine-tinglingly well. But if I have an off-site meeting, I'd like to enter that in as productive time to gather a more accurate picture.

My other lingering concerns are privacy, and support.

Privacy: You're sending some potentially pretty sensitive information up. They've got some mechanisms in place to limit what you send if you want. For example, they've got a web site whitelist so you can say "only send specifics from this set of websites" so you'd specify the top 20 or so websites you frequent, and everything else would be sent as generic web use. You can also easily turn off logging for a period of time, you can tell it to ignore certain data (which is claims to delete and ignore), and  finally if you have a panic attack, you can delete your account and all data, which presumably deletes it all from their servers.

However, even with all this, the privacy policy still feels a little weak. Essentially stating, "we'll never look at your data, unless we need to" [link]. Mint.com for example says something more like, "we won't ever look at your data, and couldn't if we wanted to" [link]. Obviously Mint.com deals with more sensitive data - but for many users, that doesn't matter.

Support: This is a pretty minor concern, but I'll mention that I ran into some odd logging times, sent an email to support, got an almost instant personal reply (under 1 min) with some information, and a request to send some debugging logging information to them, which I did, but I never heard back (it's been about a week now). It wasn't a critical issue, it's free software, and it actually seems to be behaving properly now (I may have just done something stupid) so I didn't push it.

How much does it cost?

Free for individuals, unlock some groupy/teamy goodness starting at $7.95/mo for the first 6 users, and $7.95/mo more per user after that.


Reviewed by Carson McComas

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