Jotspot to Google Sites, by way of Spreadsheet and Gadgets

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I'm missing JotSpot. JotSpot was an enterprise wiki platform, with all the usual features (WYSIWYG editing, versioning and diff, fine-grained permissions), but with a server-side JavaScript-based application platform built-in, letting users script and develop applications based on the platform. It was surprisingly elegant and powerful. Jot was acquired by Google in 2006, at which point in time active development shut down, and engineering efforts got redirected into building Google Sites, Google's hosted wiki system. JotSpot is being shut down on January 15, leaving users scrambling to migrate content to other platforms.

Unfortunately, Google Sites is as feature-free as JotSpot was featureful. It has no export capacity, no ability to rename or clone wikis, no RSS support, zero scriptability, and no API. The lack of an API is particularly disappointing; given even a simple API, a motivated coder can build up the rest of the functionality.

I've been trying out a transfer of JotSpot content into Google Sites, and it's been like pulling teeth, painful at every step. That is, until I discovered that you can embed Google Gadgets within Sites content.

Google Sites has no ability to manage structured information, but there's always Google Spreadsheets, the pearl of the Google Docs platform. Spreadsheets works like the web. It has a flexible API with which you can get data in or out--including a JavaScript API that works with Gadgets. Gadgets are used mostly for publishing (invariably useless) content snippets on personalized Google home pages, but they're flexible little bundles of HTML and JavaScript that can be stretched to do the right thing. Unfortunately, the official IDE is Windows-only (I'm a Mac and Linux guy), and Google's web-based "IDE" is incredibly primitive.

So I took my structured data out of JotSpot, stuck it into a a spreadsheet, and proceeded to blunder my way through building a Gadget that could access spreadsheet data, and display it flexibly, in ways that I could embed throughout a Sites wiki. It took some doing, first to learn spreadsheet access, then to bundle the entire thing together. The process was slowed down throughout by the lack of debugging tools. It may have been just me, but the Gadget source was being cached between edits and error messages weren't being thrown, so I ended up going through a complicated process of creating a new gadget source file at every step, to make sure the system was seeing the latest version of my code.

23 saved versions and a few hours later, I had my Gadget built, set up to take arguments, so it can pull in appropriate structured spreadsheet data on different parts of a Google Site. I wouldn't actively recommend the process, but JotSpot developers downgrading to Google Sites could do worse, if only to maintain some basic level of automation after JotSpot goes dark on January 15.

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