Google's Gmail has tried, and usually succeeded, at curing many of the ills of modern email. Long multiparty email chains are threaded together. Spam is almost a non-concern. Attachments, sending to Bob S. instead of Bob D., opening Word documents on any computer - Gmail, and its Apps counterpart, have made us forget these were problems, at least until we open our old Yahoo accounts.
But the one thing Gmail can't do very well is get ten, six, or even just four people to agree on something. So rather than email, Google Apps users should turn to Moderator, a much lesser-known free tool that doesn't do one-eighth as much as Gmail, but that's exactly the point.
Google Moderator is not included by default in a Google Apps installation. Your administrator must add from the Labs section of the domain settings, which Google explains on a help page. The biggest downside of Moderator is that it doesn't make itself easy to get to from other Apps sites: it's not in the black toolbar, it's not even on the "google.com/a/something.com" landing page. The good news is that you can set up moderator on any sub-domain URL you'd like: questions.something.com, lunchchoices.something.com, whatever you think works best.
Once someone arrives at Moderator, it's pretty darn easy to see the topics that have been set up and add new things to them. In my case, I'm starting the ball rolling for TEDxBuffalo 2012, the local version of the big-ideas TED conference and video series (which I wrote about previously). So I find a video I think would work great at the event, I head over to TEDxBuffalo's Moderator space, I click the right "topic" ("videos"), and I get a pretty simple prompt to add a "suggestion."
The only thing I can do is type in a relatively short title, add some explanatory text within 250 characters, and maybe attach a YouTube video. In my case, that YouTube attachment is great, because most, if not all, of the TED talks are available on YouTube. And in the case of most things you're going to submit, there's a YouTube video as well: a promotional video for a business, a funny clip to explain a topic, and so on. You can include links in your description, but you have to keep it brief. That's what Moderator is there for: make your point, make it quick, and let its popularity carry it up or down.
When you submit a suggestion for a topic, your submission automatically counts as a suggestion - there's no rhetorical "Should we consider this" option here. People can do one of four things to your suggestion: vote it up, vote it down, post a response of less than 250 characters, or report it to an administrator as inappropriate or something akin. The main view of each topic shows the top-ranking suggestions, starting with most popular. Administrators can pull things out and edit them, but generally, it's mob rule, in the nicest sense. What's popular is popular, and nobody has to do more than click once to add their voice.
Can you see a place for Moderator in your Google Apps install, even if it's just to pick a place for lunch? Have you installed Moderator in your own Apps setup and have some notes for the rest of us? Your comments are welcome.
Kevin Purdy is a freelance writer, a former editor at Lifehacker.com, and the author of The Complete Android Guide.