Google Page Creator is a free Google service that allows you to create a website using an online web creation wizard together with an online What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get (WYSIWYG) web editor. The pages are published and hosted on Google's web servers free of charge. At the time I wrote this, it works only with Internet Explorer and Firefox (which is to say, browsers like Opera and Safari are not supported.)
Note that like all reviews, this article is specific to the version of the Google Page Creator that I used. Google probably improves their online web builder all the time, and some of the features and flaws mentioned below may have changed by the time you read this. You can find the date I reviewed the service above. I should also mention that the Google Page Creator is currently marked as being in beta testing at this time, which means that it is still under development and that Google does not consider the service ready for general use.
Update (7 August 2008): it look like Google Page Creator is no longer accepting new sign-ups for the Page Creator service.
It's fairly easy to get started. If you don't have a Google Gmail account, you'll have to sign up for one. With that same account name and password, you will be able to log into the Google Page Creator. You should choose your Google Gmail account name carefully, however, before you start, because whatever name you select for that Google account will end up as part as your URL. For example, if you select email@example.com, your website's URL will become http://some-silly-name-just-for-fun.googlepages.com/. There's no way to change this in the site settings. In view of this, you might want to create a new Google Gmail account just for your Google Page Creator website even if you already have a Gmail account, so that you don't inadvertently attract all the spammers in the world who have figured out that every page with a ".googlepages.com" suffix implies a Gmail account they can spam.
A related issue to not being able to set your own URL for your Google Page Creator website is the more serious problem that you cannot associate your own domain name with the site you're creating with this online website builder. This is more problematic than it may appear to some, since it means that you are totally dependant on Google Pages' continued existence for the life of your site. If your site becomes famous, and you need to move somewhere else with more facilities (or if, perish the thought, Google Pages should close), you will not be able to do so without losing your URL, your current customers and your current search engine ranking. You'll have to start from scratch again. This inability to upsize your site once it becomes successful, to my mind, rules Google Pages out as a web host that you can use as a beginner to start your business. It is a place where, at best, you can use to experiment with designing websites. Once you're serious, however, you need to get your own domain name and move to either a commercial web host or a free web host that allows you to host your own domain.
It's fairly easy to get started on a website with Google's web design offering. You can select a design from a variety of web templates and standard layouts. That is, you can choose the appearance of your page as well as how many columns you want your page to have. Unfortunately, this is not immediately obvious to the newcomer, since the user is initially confronted with a very dull default design when he elects to create a new page. Google should take a leaf from its Blogger offering, and offer thumbnail pictures of the templates available at the very outset when the user chooses to create a new page. That, in my opinion, is more intuitive than having the user locate the link that allows him to change the template after he starts out with the initial dull template. Let's face it: everyone will want to choose their own design, so why not offer it immediately?
The WYSIWYG web editor interface allows you an easy way to change font faces and sizes, make text bold or italicized, and align it to the left or right.
You can also add headings to your web page, using the links/buttons labelled "headings" (corresponding to the HTML <H2> element), "subheadings" (<H3>), and "minor headings" (<H4>). Text marked this way appear differently from normal text; "headings", "subheadings" and "minor headings" are typically larger, in bold, in italics or all of the above. Curiously, there doesn't seem to be a way, via its WYSIWYG interface to create a heading using the HTML H1 element, which on many websites is used to display the main heading. Even the large text at the top of the page used for the main title does not use the HTML H1 tag; it uses a styled paragraph tag to achieve its title-like effect. In case you think that I'm being pedantic here, most people consider it good style to use the H1 before H2, H2 before H3 (etc). Furthermore, some search engines give slightly more weightage to text enclosed in the H1 tag, since webmasters usually use it to display the title of a page.
Included in the web page builder is the facility to insert images from either another website or from your computer. However, after I uploaded a variety of images (GIF, JPG and PNG), the wizard did not seem to be able to render them. In fact, after inserting my graphic, the editor gave it a height and width of 0 by default, which was silly since it could have easily peeked into the file to determine its width and height. I tried manually to modify the height and width through the "Edit HTML" button, but when I switched back to the WYSIWYG interface, I could not longer see or find the image. (There was a brief moment in which the broken image icon appeared in a rectangle with the size I specified, then the entire rectangle disappeared.) I suspect this image insertion facility is a work-in-progress at this point; that is, since Google Page Creator is still in beta testing, the facility is possibly not complete yet. The bug may be gone by the time you read this, in which case you will have the ability not only to insert images, but move it, crop it, resize it, and even change its contrast and brightness.
The web page wizard also allows you to insert links to other websites as well. There is also a simple-to-use facility to link to pages that you have created within the Page Creator system, as well as to files you have already uploaded. If you are creating a link to a new page on your site, you will not have to mess about with getting the filename correct. The web editor handles this behind the scenes for you.
There is an "Edit HTML" button for those who are familiar with "raw" HTML and want to tweak the code generated. However, you can only view and edit the current block where your cursor is at in the WYSIWYG interface. You have no access to the rest of the web page, or the <HEAD> section at all. As such, you have no way of adding meta tags to add descriptions, keywords or manage search engines robots using Google Page Creator.
From the Site Manager screen (the initial screen), it appears you can upload files of any sort and delete them if you don't want them any more. I tried to upload a robots.txt file to manage the search engine robots visiting the site, but when I viewed it later both from within the Page Creator interface as well as from the website, the file was empty. I even tried linking to the file from my site, hoping that such an action would force the website builder to make the file accessible on the website, but that didn't work either. This is probably just another bug that will be fixed eventually. The facility to upload files to your website is very useful, allowing you to add documents like robots.txt, PDF documents, and so on, to your website.
When your page is created, Page Creator automatically forms your <TITLE> tag: it combines your site name with the title of your page. So, for example, if the name of your site is "Ridiculous" and your page has its top line reading "Home Page", the TITLE tag for that page will read "Ridiculous - Home Page". You cannot control or change this, and this automatic creation of the title tag is done for every page on your site. In general, this method of creation of the title tag probably works out well for most novices, since they typically don't have much of an idea what to put into the tag anyway, and are often unable to figure out the difference between a title tag and the title they display in the body of the page. A more seasoned web designer will probably find this automatic-title-generating facility limiting, since the title tag is somewhat important in search engine positioning. On the other hand, a more seasoned web designer will probably not be using the Google Page Creator anyway.
The interface also allows you to add "gadgets" (Google's terminology) to your website, such as a calendar, Google search box, etc. This may or may not appeal to you, depending on the purpose of your website, but it is there nonetheless if you want them.
Publishing your website is as simple as clicking a button that says "Publish". That's it. You don't have to mess around with FTP settings (the stumbling block for many newbies) or finding a web host (Google Pages is your host). You are given up to 100 MB of web space for your pages. However, I was not able to find out how much data transfer (bandwidth) you are allowed to use.
The Google Page Creator tended to become unresponsive every now and then, particularly when you are doing more complex tasks (such as when you're fighting the interface to get your graphic image recognized). When this happens, most of the links in the editing interface become unusable, and the only way out is to quit and re-login again or to go to "My Account" and re-enter the editor. Until this bug is fixed, or even when it is fixed, you would be wise to save your work regularly.
I did not evaluate this web hosting aspect of Google Page Creator for this review.
As an online WYSIWYG web builder, the Google Page Creator looks very promising. It has a simple, uncluttered interface that makes it easy for newcomers to quickly get their website published. Users can easily benefit from the selection of web templates and standard layouts to easily create their site. The programmers appear to have put in some thought into the usability of the editor for the new webmaster, automating things that normally confuse them, such as automatically creating a TITLE tag from the user's own title for the page. Other aspects of the service also show the same consideration given to usability - for example it is an easy matter to add a link to another page and create the page that it links to without having to worry about filenames. The web builder automatically takes care of building the correct link to the page.
All in all, I would say that this free web service is useful for the novice who wants to create a simple website for fun. It provides most of the rudimentary facilities for creating and publishing a website, and for the most part, makes the process simple. Among its shortcomings in the web design aspect is the inability to add things that many websites typically need, such as an ecommerce shop (shopping cart) or a feedback form. However, you can probably get around this by using external script hosting services for such facilities. A more serious shortcoming is the inability of Google Pages to host your domain name for the site you create. This means that you will not be able to use the Google Page Creator if you are thinking of starting a simple website that you hope will grow in the future.
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