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2009.10.19 Starting Over With Google Sites

posted Oct 25, 2009, 10:43 AM by Troy Cheek   [ updated Oct 25, 2009, 12:53 PM ]
Someone famous once said "It's easy to make something hard.  It's hard to make something easy."
For many years, I've been trying to make maintaining my website easy.  It's been hard work.  What I wanted to do was simply sit down and start creating.  Links and page location?  There should be some tool to take care of those for me.  General style and theme?  I should be able to change those at any time.  Page formatting?  There should be some way to define different templates for each section of my site, pull them up, and just start typing.  Navigation and copyright and email addresses for each page?  I should be able to change those once and have the changes propogate to every page.

I tried my own system of GFA BASIC programs, text manipulators, javascripts, server side includes, custom headers, custom footers, custom sidebars, and custom God knows what else.  While I did manage to make some things fairly easy, I was still having trouble getting a consistent look across the whole site.  I'd click over to check something on another page and find that it looked like I'd gone to a different site altogether.  Worse yet, sometimes I'd have moved something and the click just take me to an error message.

I'd looked into Content Management Systems or whatever you call those things.  All the ones I checked seemed to be very expensive, or have a gazillion features I didn't need, or required that I host the site on my own server, or something like that.  I ended up deciding to do without.
While looking for something else, I stumbled across Google Sites.  Actually, I was looking for a website creation and hosting service simple enough for a novice to use but powerful enough to do everything needed for a particular purpose.  I was looking for someone else.  I certainly didn't expect to find something I could use myself.  While I wasn't looking, Google went out and created (or bought a company that created) the exact type of website management system I had been looking for.
Of course, just because I've located the perfect tool to create a new website doesn't mean my problems are over.  This is primarily because I'm not trying to create a new website.  I already have a website.  I've had a website for years, with tons and tons of content and hundreds of pages.  Do I start over from scratch?  Do I try to keep as much of the old look and feel as possible?  Do I transfer all of the content over to the new site?  Do I create "View from the Corner" articles as standalone webpages, as announcements (blog), or some new form that I haven't discovered yet?  I expect several false starts, but so far, so good.
Aaaaahhhhh, Google Sites.  Is there anything you can't do?
By the way, that's not a rhetorical question.  So far, I've found a few things I might want to do later that apparently Google Sites can't do.  For one thing, I'd like to add a copyright notice at the bottom of the page like on my old Cheek.Org site.  (Funny how I'm already thinking of it as the "old" site.)  Nothing fancy, I know, but a little bit of javascript showing the current year meant that every page had a current copyright notice.  I haven't found any way to alter the footer that Google Sites shows at the bottom of every page to include a copyright notice, let alone automagically add the current year.
Another thing I had put in that footer was contact information, specifically a different email address for each section of the website.  Not only have I not seen a way to add my email address, but the only way I've seen to add a "click to email me" link has shown the raw address in the HTML.  By that, I mean that spammers and webcrawlers and havest bots can read my email address and automatically add it to their lists.  Over at Cheek.Org, a little bit of javascript decodes a scrambled version of the email address when it comes time to display the page.  Bots see gibberish, but human visitors see the real address and just have to click to send email.  Google sites, though it uses quite a bit of javascript internally, doesn't seem to allow users to add their own.
This is why my contact address is over in the sidebar, written out longhand.  I'd give you a link to click if I could.

I have no idea how I'm going to manage my Bard's Tale IV petition.  I think I can do it with Google Docs, but I have no idea what that is.
Finally, on the old site, after considerable searching, I was able to come up with a template which allowed me to use three panels (some say panes; I say panels) on a page.  I had the navigation on the left, Google Adsense or other advertising on the right, and content in the middle.  I can do something similar with Google Sites, but it just doesn't look right yet.  I'm not sure yet if I'm doing something wrong, or if I'm supposed to be delving deep into the code, changing things at a basic level, and then saving the result as a template.
Well, off to scour the help section again!