Now, I’ll go on the record to say that I’m not completely averse to WYSIWYG website building software, as I think Dreamweaver is certainly making strides in the right direction, not to mention the prowess of certain web-based services such as SquareSpace. But I’d like to make a general statement:
WYSIWYG editors are acceptable for non-technical folk who are not looking for an extremely professional and everlasting site.
Why am I even bringing this up? I just completed a project for a friend who is of the non-technical sort. The project involved recreating webpages that were originally created using the FreeWebs WYSIWYG functionality. I’m not going to say that FreeWebs is inherently evil or anything of that nature, because I’m certain that for small niche websites, it is a viable alternative to paying for a designer, or for a more advanced service, to give a small organization or an individual the web presence they are looking for.
Let’s start from the beginning with this narrative. A local adult baseball team had created a site for themselves using a FreeWebs account. They found that after a short period of time, the amount of server space that was allotted to them was not enough to hold all of the images and pages that they had hoped to continue serving to the local baseball scene.
The coach of the team came to me (as I’ve done work with him in the past) and asked if I could help them move their old site to a new server with a more flexible plan regarding space and bandwidth. Being the good-natured person that I am (stop laughing for a moment, please), I agreed to take up the task and see what was involved and give him a solid idea of what needed to be done to transfer the site.
Personal preference aside, the site that they had originally been using certainly suited their needs, save for the amount of storage space. So, although the site was dated, and had questionably legal (regarding copyright law) materials for things such as backgrounds and music, I decided to go ahead and let them know what would be involved in moving the site.
The FreeWebs backend only allows uploads, so there was no way to get a “backup” through their system. They also don’t allow FTP sessions for easy access to the server. Well, being the enterprising individual that I am, I just did a good ol’ fashioned wget command to downgrab all of the materials included in the site.
When I opened the index page in my trusty editing program, I was shocked and dismayed at what I saw. For the sake of brevity, let’s just say that there were no standards represented in the markup, and that it was a complete mess of obviously auto-generated that was completely abysmal to the trained eye. I knew from that point that I would have my work cut out for me.
Though I’m stretching this out in order to be eloquent, suffice it to say that it was a disaster.
This is not a subject that you try to explain to a non-technical person, as they basically just want their site to run, regardless of whether or not it uses the <FONT> tag. I set out to try to correct this injustice on the interwebs, and found myself actually finding things quite easy to change.
Early on, I made the decision to change the interface to a custom one, only keeping the content from the old site. Because the backgrounds and table borders and such used proprietary materials, this wasn’t so much of an option, more of an imperative. If you take a look at the screengrabs here, I think you will agree with the choice that I made:
I know that the new design is not the prettiest thing in the world, but hopefully you will agree with me when I say that it certainly is a step up in regards to preventing your eyes from bleeding. Some of the extra design decisions were made by the customer, and regardless of my personal preference, I ultimately was attempting to fulfill their wishes.
So, 6 hours of using the “replace” function in my editor, and I’ve come up with a fairly decent looking site. The source material was definitely not something that I would have wanted to show my potential sponsors and the friends and families of my players.
Long story short, we see that paying even a fledgling developer to lend a critical eye to a new venture can truly bring out your original intent, without having to involve yourself with the technical details nor settling with a “good enough” set of tools.
This is just one example, but I think the idea behind this applies to the web as a whole. It seems to me that when I come across a site that has been made with a poor WYSIWYG editor, I am less likely to take the site seriously.
It makes me wonder why some fairly high profile sites out there on the net settle for less than good quality when there is always a geek out there willing to take on the few extra hours of work that it entails to make things right. Maybe I just don’t understand that part of the market as a whole, which is certainly a personal flaw.
The lesson I learned this week is to not always trust fancy technology to complete a task when a human can be infinitely more creative in the same situation given the same variables. If you read all the way through this incoherent rant, here’s a cookie: