Webs Review

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3.5

Packs a ton of functionality into an easy to use interface. But a few cracks are starting to show.

Webs uses a drag-and-drop interface for building pages that works simply: all themes have blank content regions that you drag and drop elements into. Drag and drop is pretty standard among website builders, but there’s a few things worth pointing out about Webs drag and drop interface.

One thing that you will find helpful is that Webs includes redo and undo buttons. These work as a handy safety measure. You feel more confident creating and deleting elements when you know an undo button is a click away.

The column editor is another example of a way that Webs has made the standard drag-and-drop interface feel effortless:

To resize a column, you drag on the lines to expand or contract each column. But here’s a common problem: what if you want the columns to have a perfect ratio? Well luckily, Webs has thought of that problem. When you are resizing the columns, there is a snap-to-grid for precise perfect ratio measurements. This saves you from having to sit inches from your screen trying to line up columns!

Creating perfectly centered columns is easy with snap-to-grid

Creating perfectly centered columns is easy with snap-to-grid

But I also ran into problems. For example, let’s say you want to change the color of some text. You highlight the text and choose a new color. You are not happy with the color, but luckily the text is still highlighted so you assume you can choose another color- wrong! You have to re-highlight the text to choose another color. This is a basic interaction that we use all the time, from Word, to Photoshop to website builders. But it doesn’t work on Webs.

This is a small thing- but website builders are made up of small interactions. So it’s worth it to find a website builder that gets the small things right.

So what can you drag and drop into your pages? Webs includes all the standards (text, pictures, videos), but goes a bit beyond that. There is a number of extra elements that I haven’t seen in many other website builders. For example, you can drop-in a Facebook comments widget, social media sharing boxes, Twitter feeds and login sections for members only areas. All nice additions.

App Store

Drag and drop interfaces are great for creating static web pages, but what if you need dynamic content such as blogs, forums or membership areas?

Webs handles this with App pages. Apps are not elements you drag and drop into pages, they are rather additional pages with more complex functionality.

There are 19 different apps that you can add to your site:

Some of the Apps to choose from

Some of the Apps to choose from

Here are a few example apps:

Donations – Accept donations through PayPal. Includes a thermometer option to encourage users to hit a fundraising goal.

Blog – You probably know what this is!

Etsy – Embed your Etsy store onto your website.

While some of the apps are basic, it’s still nice to know they are available if you need them:

Example: The calendar app

Example: The calendar app

Update as of Nov 19 2013: I’ve received some feedback from Webs that they are “trying to de-emphasize apps.” Here’s their statement on why: “when third party app providers go out of business or change things, it’s a mess. We will keep the main popular apps, but our primary focus is making our core product (the builder) the best possible. An alternative is to use widget providers and implement those widgets using the custom HTML option.”

Membership Sites

Webs has taken the often neglected feature of membership sites in website builders and really ran with it. It’s one of it’s core features. And in an industry where membership functionality is underserved, this makes Webs stand out for anyone trying to build a membership site.

Here’s how it works: you drag and drop the “sign in or register” element anywhere on your website:

The membership element

The membership element

You then create pages that are “protected” so that only members can view them:

It's easy to set pages as members-only

It’s easy to set pages as members-only

From there, members can sign up, edit their profiles and even invite other users to join the website. It all works out of the box and is easy to implement. Plus you can add Facebook Connect to make registration painless for users. And you can even send out email blasts to all your members.

Combining these basic membership functions with apps is where things get interesting.

For example, you could build a basic intranet for your company. Just setup the membership functions, and start adding apps: forums (company discussions), appointments (meeting room bookings), a blog (for company wide announcements). Impressive!

Or maybe you’d like to build a community fan-site. You can setup the membership functions with a forums app, a CafePress store (so fans of the website can order swag), and the membership app (which allows your website users to post pictures, videos and announcements). And if the website ever needs to fundraise (to upgrade their Webs website for example), just add the donations app!

The alchemy of combining apps and membership websites is the strength of Webs.

But it’s important that this is a website builder first and foremost. So of course, Webs membership functions are not very customizable. You will get the most out of it if you try to use the features as they are rather than trying to customize them. Membership systems are really quite complex. If you are using a website builder, you will have to accept trade-offs if you need to build a membership system.

If you are looking for deeper control of your membership system, you may want to check out Ning. Ning allows for granular control over a membership system, but lacks the ease of Webs drag-and-drop interface.

Themes & Mobile

Themes are a weakness for Webs. Here’s a few examples:

Template Example

Another template example

Template example

As you can see, these feel very basic and a bit outdated- and that’s how most of Webs themes feel.

Webs mobile solution also feels a bit lacking. There are 8 or 9 lame mobile themes. Here’s an example theme:

The mobile themes feel a bit lame

The mobile themes feel a bit lame

It looks kind of cheesy right? Webs allows some basic style customizations for mobile, so you can change text and background colors. But generally those style options are not enough to inspire much confidence.

Salesy

Webs just feels salesy. They always have “Today Only” sales happening:

Don't believe it: there is always a 'today only' sale

Don’t believe it: there is always a ‘Today Only’ sale

… and hiding their real prices on the pricing page with “As low as” pricing:

'As low as' pricing is annoying. More transparency please!

‘As low as’ pricing is annoying. More transparency please!

Nothing ever feels very transparent. Maybe these tricks move the needle with sales but for users the ambiguity and sleight of hand are annoying and hard to follow. It’d be nice to see more transparency from Webs on this.

Customer Service

One last thing: I usually do not touch on customer service (I haven’t figured a good way to test it as just one person). But of the 30 user reviews we have of Webs, many seem to complain about Webs poor customer service.

So just be aware that those complaints are out there!

Conclusion

Webs is a bit of a mixed bag.

There are things to like. Most notably, the drag-and-drop editor that works great, the app store and the membership system.

But there are also cracks showing: templates are boring and uninspired, customer service complaints are common, app pages offer minimal customization and there is an obnoxious salesy tone throughout the app.

But if those problems don’t bother you, Webs might just work for you!

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