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AI websites that design themselves? Why I'm skeptical of The Grid

November 6 2014 · Steve Benjamins

If you haven’t heard of The Grid, it’s a website builder that claims to have created “AI websites that design themselves.”

It’s been generating big buzz- including support from Jason Fried and coverage by Wired.

Curiously, The Grid hasn’t launched yet and their homepage shows no demo or screenshots. Instead, it’s built buzz off of one lofty promise: that their AI websites just design themselves.

I’ve been covering the website builder industry for a couple years now, and I have to say I’m highly skeptical of The Grid. Here’s why:

One lesson almost every website builder learns after a few years in business is that users get frustrated if they can’t customize (even the smallest parts of) their website.

Users want to nudge their navbar. They want their exact brand colours. They want to tweak border sizes. They want to adjust font sizes.

In fact, the #1 complaint I hear from readers of my website builders guide is that website builders don’t let users customize enough.

And so The Grid fundamentally misunderstands the website builder market. Users want to customize their website. Promising to do away with customization through “AI” is a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.

This has all been done before

A few years back another AI website builder launched. It was called Breezi. Breezi was very much the same sales pitch as The Grid. Breezi automatically built websites for their customers. No customization needed.

But Breezi had difficulty finding traction and eventually made a dramatic pivot: they decided to make a highly customizable website builder.

I asked Breezi founder Navid Safabakhsh what he thought of The Grid on Twitter. Here’s what he had to say:



Two other reasons to be skeptical

Two other promises on The Grid’s homepage seemed pretty empty:

On AB tests:

Our AI will automatically test thousands of subtle variations to find the one that works best.

Do they know how much traffic is needed to support thousands of conclusive AB tests? It’s requires a lot more traffic than the average website gets. This doesn’t feel right.

On ecommerce:

Our AI removes the need for configuration … Have a product, add a price and a shopping cart magically appears on your site. Just like that, just as it should be!

This feels off. Any ecommerce store with actual sales volume has a unique configuration for inventory, taxes, shipping etc. It’s the only way to keep sane. And only a user can make these customizations- AI can’t magically “figure out” that the store uses Fedex (and not UPS) for shipping.

Having a breadth of customization options is key for any ecommerce website builder. (This, incidentally, is why Shopify built an app store.)

Conclusion

The Grid has already collected $600,000 from users in their Kickstarter-like launch campaign. So it’s clear that people are excited about it.

But I’m skeptical. I believe The Grid fundamentally misunderstands the website builder market.

I’m open to being wrong. But until I can at least try a demo, I believe that The Grid is a gratuitous tech solution for a problem that doesn’t exist.


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