Thursday, 22 July 2010

KIN is getting Googled

KIN currently uses Sharepoint 2003 to provide an online repository for shared content - the MemberSpace. While this has worked reasonably well for us, it is starting to show it's age and is becoming increasingly limiting to use. So the time has come to replace the MemberSpace. But what with ? Over the last year, the Facilitator team have reviewed a number of possible options.

An obvious candidate is of course Sharepoint 2007 or 2010. But for various reasons, we have decided not to go that route. We have been trialling the use of Google Sites for several months now and have taken the decision to migrate to that platform for our repository (we will retain the vBulletin discussion forums).

So why the change of platform?

I'm not going to attempt to give a point by point comparison of Sharepoint vs Google Sites - they are quite different beasts really. But the main reasons we decided to switch are:

- Every 2/3 years, Microsoft issues a revised version of it's software. Unfortunately it's not just a simple matter of installing the new software and your old content is then available with the new functionality - you have to migrate it all to the new system. And Microsoft do not provide migration tools - you have to go to third party providers.
vs Google sites where you get incremental functionality additions every so often with no migration needed.
For an organisation with very limited IT support this is a big negative to Sharepoint and plus to Google. We really did not want to invest the time and effort into migrating content to a new version of Sharepoint and then have to do it again in a few years time.

- We've long felt that wiki-like functionality would be much more suited to KIN's needs. Essentially, Google Sites is a Wiki. The wiki functionality in Sharepoint still lags behind the best wiki platforms available including Google Sites.

- Some functionality in Sharepoint simply does not work unless you have the latest version of MS Office installed since it relies on some components in that suite. Since we cannot be sure that all our member organisations are using the latest version of MS Office (or even using Office at all) this would potentially limit the accessibility to our members. For Google sites, all you need is a browser.

- To get the best out of Sharepoint, it seems to me that you need fairly sophisticated IT support. For a lot of corporates, clearly this is not an issue (ConocoPhillips, for example, have done a lot to make up for the shortcomings of Sharepoint but have dedicated IT support). But for smaller organisations with limited IT support (like KIN) it most definitely is. Google Sites is 'in the cloud'. We don't have to worry about infrastructure or product updates - that's all take care of by Google.

That said, Google sites has it's shortcomings also (what platform doesn't?). For example, Google Sites doesn't provide granular security (yet... we can always hope that this gets added soon!). It's pretty much all or nothing. If someone can edit a site, they can edit everything in a site whereas Sharepoint has a much more sophisticated security model. (But KIN is a 'trust network' so we don't believe that this will be a problem).

Another plus for Sharepoint is that their list manager is very sophisticated allowing you to view the data stored in lists in many different ways to meet different users needs. Google Sites doesn't match that.

Also, in Sharepoint you can specifiy additional fields that you might want for calendar entries. The embedded Google calendar we will be using in future doesn't provide this but there are other ways to achieve the same things.

So the upshot is that we are taking the plunge and migrating from Sharepoint to Google Sites. The timescale for completing this is a bit flexible at the moment but will definitely be this year. We expect to be able to showcase the new system at the Autumn workshop and, if all goes well, go live with the new system shortly after that.

(Prompted by a response by @markvlunenburg to a Tweet I made, I have decided to write a few posts describing how the migration is going. Since these posts will be probably more technical than most KIN members would be interested in, I will be blogging here rather than on the KIN blog.)
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