Hierarchical navigation and other new features for Google Sites

May 14, 2009

As a website grows, organizing its content becomes ever more important. Google Sites has always allowed you to group pages in a hierarchy, but this wasn't very apparent when finding your way around. We've been working on navigation, and today we've released a new feature that lets you set up a tree structure in your sidebar, to help show the structure of the site at a glance.

To set this up, click the "Edit Sidebar" link below the sidebar (or choose "Manage Site" from the "More Actions" menu), then edit the navigation widget. The configuration panel now lets you indent and "outdent" items to set up a hierarchy. The navigation widget can also be set up to highlight the current page, to help viewers see where they are, via a new "Navigation Current Page" color setting in the site's "Colors and Fonts" configuration.

By grouping sub-pages in categories you can give viewers a more detailed view of your site while keeping the overall framework simple. By default only the top-level items will be expanded, as shown in the example above. A user can of course expand and collapse any items s/he wants, and those changes will be remembered across all the pages in the site.

We have many more improvements to site navigation in development; look for them in the coming months.

But that's not the only user-interface change. We've also changed the toolbar to more closely resemble Google Docs, in our continuing efforts to make our applications have a more uniform look and feel. Additionally, we switched the site settings area to use vertical navigation, to make room for some upcoming features like AdSense integration. We've also started to add some collaborator tools to the site management area.

Less visibly, we made some major changes to our rendering infrastructure to improve performance and in preparation for new upcoming themes. This is meant to remain compatible with the layout customizations site owners have made, but it might have minor impacts on how your site looks. See this help article for details. As part of these changes, we grouped related Colors and Fonts settings to make them easier to understand. We also added a "from theme" option to each variable which makes it easy to revert to the original theme value. And we now allow the gadgets in the canvas to be styled separately from the gadgets in the sidebar.

Finally, we heard from you that it was often confusing to have your site content appear in one language, while other areas of the site appear in the user's language. To improve this we now offer a site language configuration in general settings ("Other stuff") which allows this to be uniform.

Posted by Jens Alfke, Software Engineer