Web 2.0 Expo > SynthaSite.com

UPDATE: Monique V from SynthaSite checked in and did mention they do have some design templates that allow the header to be customized. She added that it’s not obvious which ones those are but that they are working on resolving that. Hey, at least they’re open minded as well as responsive.

Popped into NYC to catch O’Reilly’s (the tech book publisher) Web 2.0 Expo (www.Web2Expo.com) at Javits Center. True, I could have stayed home and found most of the stuff online but that’s no fun. There’s something to be said for a free happy hour. As it is those beers came in handy, my head feels like it’s ready to explode from too much information.

– SynthaSite (www.SynthaSite.com)

The exhibitor listing says: “SynthaSite is a free web publishing application that enables anyone, anywhere to publish their own website. SynthaSite’s SaaS platform is Ajax-based, enabling it to run on any browser and any operating system. The product is designed with user-friendly characteristics such as desktop-like features, widget capabilities and a drag-and-drop interface.”

This is the third do it yourself site builder that I’ve exploreed. The other two being Go Daddy’s (www.GoDaddy.com) Web Site Tonight (which is not free unless you want ads on your pages), as well as Microsoft’s Office Live (www.OfficeLive.com) which is free and without ads.

Bottom line, for price and ease of use Synthasite is the way to go (as these 3 offering stand today). However…

– I checked out their featured sites. One of them had a Share button (e.g., Digg, etc.) Clicking on that button opened up the selections in the same window (thus taking me away from the page I was thinking about). Call me lacking in short term memory but I would have liked a pop up or at least a new tab/window. That said, it’s quite possible this isn’t a SynthaSite issue. It’s also possible that enabling sharing isn’t a major concern for you.

– The same complaint holds true for their Help option. It’s hosted by Get Satisfaction (www.GetSatisfaction.com) which is certainly no foul outsourcing the cookie cutter services. But don’t open it up in the same window and take me away from where my problem is. No big deal, just right click or Crtl-click and open that way.

– I did a whip up a quick test site. In doing so I was immediately asked to put in a site name and pick a template. Fair enough, you have to start somewhere. What I was looking for was some sort of status bar or somehow letting me know what I’m doing now and what’s next. Similar to a check out on an e-comm site. Please keep in mind that I took a what-if-I-was-a-novice perspective – which I believe is SynthaSite’s typical target.

– There’s an option for password protect. Ok, I understand what that’s for but I’m not so sure your average novice will. Also, maybe what I’m assuming is not how SS implemented this feature so a brief explanation, as well as an example would be nice since this can be a useful and powerful option to use.

– In the Manage Site area the home page shows up as being called index. This too could be confusing for the web-dev challenged.

– On the plus, you can actually use SynthaSite to build a site and then export it to host it yourself. Not sure why you would want to do that but the fact that they allow it is a healthy open minded approach. Points.

– I did wish there was more flexibility with regards to editing the template. For example, there was no option to upload a logo that would appear in the header. Go Daddy let me change the header, and I believe the CSS. I would anticipate that level of customization is coming but the logo feature – especially for businesses – is a no brainer that should be there now.

– The help is a forum. IMHO, at this point these things should be a wiki, or there should at least be a How To wiki as part of the more dynamic forum based help. For example, “How do I….” and then as the app is enhanced and changes that wiki page can be updated. Nothing is more annoying than finding a solution in an old forum thread that is for a previous release of an app.

The wiki could also be used as a place where the user community can post their solutions. Maybe I’m looking for a good calendar. As the (RSS feed) “eco-system” evolves I want to know which one is going to work best, or what experience other had with each. Each user shouldn’t have to reinvent their own wheel. I mention this because when I helped a friend set up a free Microsoft site the “installed” options were pretty weak. We ended up to looking elsewhere for a calendar, photo gallery, etc. If I’m new to any of those things or just want to move to something new/better then suddenly I have to look around, test it out, etc. My feeling is that most of the time some one has already done what you’re trying to do. I just want to see that and know how they did it. Bingo! Done!! Having to reinvent the wheel in a Web 2.0 world is a big no-no.

– As harsh as this might sound, the main problem I have with all these do-it-yourself sites is that in order to really appeal to the target they’re after they’re still to difficult to use. Yes, they are simple and easy. But what I’d like to see is what can best be described as page wizards. Say I want a form for having people contact me. Well, then walk me through not only building the form but also suggest to me some fields and why or why not I might want to use those. People who are intimidated by stuff like this don’t want to play around. If you frustrate them, they’ll just shut down and walk away.

– In the name of no-brainer-ness, another option would be to have site templates. In other words, have all the basic pages for various types of sites pre-made and ready to go. Then just let the user fill in the blanks, and if they feel it necessary tweak a bit. Even being versed at this kind of stuff I’d rather have a frame to build on then to always have to build from scratch. Then the next step would be such that people could share their templates with the greater SynthaSite community. Just as templates with WordPress, Drupal, etc.

Just to be clear, I do think SynthaSite is off to a great start. While I’m sure there’ll be others, this is certainly one worth watching. If I were Microsoft I’d kill their Office Live option and buy this outfit. For a person / club / company to get into the web game for free with something this slick only shows you how far we’ve come. But what’s more exciting is how much brighter the future is going to be. So grab your sunglasses and check out SynthaSite.com.