How to force Google Sites to let you make a site public.

June 8, 2008

(Jump to the fix if you want to skip the introduction.)

Google Sites is the evolution of JotSpot. It allows individuals, teams, or organizations to create simple, revision-tracked web sites. Probably its strongest points are ease of setup and ease of embedding other objects, including Google documents, videos, slideshows, calendars, and any of the “gadgets” available to iGoogle home pages. The most obvious downside is frustratingly limited customizability, as is to be expected from a free hosted solution.

Another problem is that saves can be less than perfect. Configuring and adding gadgets can be particularly frustrating, as you may find yourself starting over several times.

One problem I’ve run into is that when you try to make a site public – viewable to the world – you frequently end up with visitors being redirected to a login page. This has nothing to do with browser choice, with being logged in to other Google accounts or anything of the sort – as has been speculated in several threads on the Googls Sites support discussion group.

Please note that the problem of all links to your own domain rather than sites.google.com requiring login is a separate one. The only way around that seems to be a URL Redirect or URL Frame to sites.google.com. Both of these are less than optimal.

Back to the original problem, the fix is of the turn it off and on again variety:

  1. Go to Site Settings.
  2. Uncheck the “Anyone in the world may view this site (make it public)” checkbox.
  3. Let it save. It will tell you with the  Google’s typical yellow notification at the top of the page.
  4. For good measure you could navigate away from the Site Settings page. (I can’t empirically demonstrate that this makes any sort of difference, but the “Other Stuff” tab lets you click on “Save Changes”without having made any changes.
  5. Recheck the “make it public” checkbox.
  6. Let it save, and check to see if it worked.

If that doesn’t do the trick, you can try doing the same thing with the “Users can make sites public” setting in the Google Apps for Your Domain administrator panel.

From a usability perspective, automatically saving changes and giving users no chance to add some manual finality to the process can be very frustrating – especially when there actually appears to be a failure to save the settings, as in this case. This behaviour is one of the most irritating things about GNOME. A perfect balance between Ajax-y continuous saves and allowing users to achieve closure is in the Gmail “Save Now” button, which grays out when a draft has been saved and no changes made. I don’t know why Google chooses inconsistency so consistently. In the Sites Settings page itself, the three tabs exhibit three different behaviors. The first, which we’ve been discussing, has no “Save” button. The middle tab acts like Gmail, with a “Save” button which only becomes active once changes have been made. And the final tab, as described, has an always active “Save” button. Maybe they’re testing out all three styles. If so, I vote for the middle one.

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