Doing a lot with simple tools—Google Docs as a wiki and web site

A friend and acquaintence of mine wants to build a web site. He wants something simple up quickly, and he needs it to be easy for a large team of non-technical people to update fairly quickly. Impressively, he’s come up with a very novel solution: use a collection of publicly-viewable Google Docs to emulate the feel of a “wiki”-like web site.

This is actually quite a clever and novel use of Google Docs that had never occured to me before. Furthermore, it’s a wonderful example of how flexible tools that impose very little in the way of their own use can allow people to add arbitrary meaning to the things they create and, thereby, create arbitrarily complex relationships among the things they create. Said more simply, leaving the meaning part of things up to computers is a perfect way to box yourself into a useless use case.

Google Docs contains all the functionality required to build a very simple web site. Google’s own accounts provide authentication for arbitrary users. The documents themselves can be shared and viewed publicly. An editor can embed links, styles, and other rich text, media, and formatting elements into the page. And best of all, any arbitrary selection of users can be invited to edit the page.

Does this sound familiar to you? It should. It’s the fundamental building blocks of a wiki. Sure, it doesn’t have any of wikipedia’s fancy features, but it does have all the basics. And with a little ingenuity, you can end up doing quite a lot even through the use of only very simple tools.