If you’re looking for a quick way to get something online, take a look at what Google is doing.

There’s no shortage of ways to get started online with a web site, a blog, a place for collaboration, a shared calendar, a shared photo gallery, or any of a hundred other things. In fact, for many people that’s the problem – it’s not easy to articulate what their goals are for an online site, and there’s no way to make an informed choice and be confident that a service will match their technical skills, meet their needs, and still be in business a year from now.

Traditional web hosting – register a name, sign up with a web hosting company, get a web site designed, and keep it up to date – has many pitfalls. Name registration and simple web hosting cost virtually nothing, but there are many ways to muck it up, and it’s hard not to feel helpless and lost while trying to decide what companies to choose. Very few web site designers are willing to work cheaply on a simple web site, for obvious reasons – there’s no money doing inexpensive work for a customer who likely won’t come back for repeat business.

Lots of companies big and small have jumped in to make it easier to get started, typically by offering the web hosting for free or nearly free and providing templates for cookie-cutter web sites. Don’t underestimate that! Many of those services are just great and some of the templates are beautifully designed.

Microsoft, for example, has introduced Microsoft Office Live, intended to provide small businesses with the tools to start a web site and do useful things with it – online commerce, marketing, online document storage and collaboration, and more. A motivated business owner with strong technical skills can probably do wonderful things with it. I’ve only looked at the first few screens and I can see the potential, but wow, there’s a lot of things to learn! The thought of working with them enough to be confident makes me want to go lie down.

Google offers simple web hosting for individuals and very small businesses with typical Google features – drop dead simple controls, nice designs for the templates, and all completely free. Details are on the Google Web Hosting page. For a modest monthly fee, you can hire professional designers to help put your site together.

All of these services have quirks. I don’t know the details about Google’s web hosting, but I can give you one quick example. Google is not offering to host http://www.yournamehere.com for free! The service creates pages with an address in this format: http://yoursitename.googlepages.com. That’s fine for an individual, a bit funky for a business. That also means that Google will not be providing email to a custom domain name, although you can have mail from your site sent to any email address (including a Google GMail account.)

Let’s be clear: that means you can have a web site online in minutes, for free, that can be updated from anywhere. Nice!

Google Sites Today Google opened up another service that looks fascinating. Google Sites also lets you get a web site online in minutes, for free, that can be updated from anywhere. But these sites are designed for groups – sports teams, community groups, classrooms, clubs, families, anything that might involve more than one person.

The pages can easily be used for calendars, photos, videos, documents, blog-style news, gadgets, and more.

Anyone can view the pages online, but it’s also easy to give people permission to add information – enter an email address and immediately give someone permission to update the calendar, contribute to the news items, or upload pictures, for example.

This is very good stuff! The world is pretty overwhelming, I know, but this ought to be in the back of your mind so you can use it when the need arises.

Sites created with Google Sites will have names in the format http://sitename.googlepages.com.

Here’s Google’s announcement that Google Sites is now available to anyone, and here’s a news article with a few more details. Go put it to good use!

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