Hello webbie-queers! As part of the So You Want to Build a Website series, we’re moving onto the next step: choosing a platform.
Why Is This The Next Step?
Originally, I had choosing a domain name first—but then I realized, as I was typing the post up, that not everyone might need a domain name depending on what platform they choose. Platform is the same thing as saying “website builder” or “tool to help us put some shit on the internet.” Some of the platforms I’m going to include on here are on the cusp between social media and website builder—the line is so much blurrier now, what with Tumblr. Speaking of Tumblr, I’m going to cover some builders/platforms/content management systems that you may have heard of and some you may have not. But never fear, hopefully we’ll be speaking about them in new ways even if you’ve dabbled in them before.
What Kind Of Platforms Are Out There?
From the most rigid to the least rigid, here are some tools to help you build a website that showcases your work and your ideas.
What it is: “Medium connects people, stories and ideas that matter to you.” In other words, it’s a social blogging platform.
Who’s it for (generally): Most of what does well on Medium is the written word and even long form essays, so generally the people who gravitate toward Medium express themselves best there. But it’s got multimedia features as well—cartoonists like Erika Moen use Medium.
- it’s virtually impossible to do something ugly on Medium. They even tout it as “effortlessly beautiful” on their About page.
- because it’s a social blogging platform, much like Tumblr, users can recommend pieces to specific people. Because of this social aspect, it’s easier for a piece to get some traction than if you hosted it on your own website.
- if one uses Medium in conjunction with their other site(s), one can repost things from their website on Medium and can also embed stories and collection on their other site(s).
- it’s totally free!
- everyone’s page looks the same. It’s an extremely rigid service that way, and that’s why everything looks so clean.
- you cannot use your own domain name with Medium. In that way, even though it houses content like a website, it’s almost more of a social media site. See what I mean about the lines being blurry?
What it is: A Google product that allows multi-user blogs and some level of customization.
Who’s it for (generally): This is for people or groups of people who want to blog, and blog only. Blogger doesn’t make a great static website or landing page.
- canned themes make getting started very easy with little design experience. Users can customize their themes and have a large library to choose from.
- it runs through your Google account—one less password to remember, and anyone with a gmail is already able to sign in.
- very easy to use! And very easy to use in a group. As an example, my roommate and I used Blogger when we lived in Paris because a) Tumblr wasn’t around yet, b) even if it was, Tumblr is more visual and we were writing longer, wordier posts and c) it allowed us to sign in separately, but post together as one entity.
- it’s totally free!
- because it’s Google, they have a content policy and can delete your blog.
- the themes…aren’t exactly the prettiest. And because the themes are canned, even with customization your blog can wind up looking like a “Blogger blog.”
- you can’t show a static page as your home page, and you’re limited to ten static pages—that’s why it’s not good for standard websites, just blogs.
What it is: I don’t need to tell the queers what Tumblr is. This I know. But just in case, Tumblr is a social blogging platform that allows users to both generate their own content and curate content that others generate.
Who’s it for (generally): the things that do the best on Tumblr, because of it’s curation ethos, are usually heavily visual. Visual artists, photographers, film makers and short form bloggers usually do best on Tumblr, as do humorists who trade in gifs. It’s also not wonderful for static websites and landing pages. But none of those are hard and fast rules by any stretch—Ann Friedman is a good example of a longer form writer who uses Tumblr for her entire website, not just the blog portion.
- it is very easy to use and it comes with a large free theme library, as well as many paid themes developed by others out there. It is easy to make your site look different from other sites, though it will still have the general Tumblr look and feel.
- if you’re a developer, there are tutorials out there that’ll teach you how to make your own Tumblr theme. Dash by General Assembly is a good example of this (and they teach HTML, CSS and other things as well!).
- because it is a social blogging platform with following and reblogging capabilities, your content can go viral more easily than on website and blogging platforms without this capabilites.
- you can use your own domain name with Tumblr, but you don’t have to!
- Tumblr is free.
- Unlike Blogger, Tumblr does not delete content they don’t like.
- as soon as you do more advanced things on Tumblr, like using your own domain name, you’re on your own when it comes to support.
- this could be a pro, too, depending on how you look at it. But everyone knows your tumblr is a tumblr because of its follow and reblog capabilities. If you are creating a website for a business, this may not be the best option for your main site for this reason.
- reblogging content could be a con as well—it’s easy to fall into a trap of not generating your own content because reblogging is so easy. It also sometimes doesn’t feel nice when other people can so easily receive the credit for posts and pieces you created, just because they reblogged it.
What it is: similar to Tumblr, Newhive is a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editor that lets people create Newhives, which look like independent Tumblr pages but aren’t unified by anything except your profile. It’s more like a multimedia art mixer.
Who’s it for (generally): People who like zines. Seriously. Making something on Newhive feels like making a zine, with it’s cut and paste kind of feel and the ability to remix other people’s Newhives. Audio, video and visual artists are most likely to enjoy this platform.
- far less constrained than Tumblr. Because each Newhive is brand new and has nothing to do with the last thing you made, themes don’t oppress your creative jam.
- easy to use! The buttons are very intuitive.
- Multimedia friendly—embed sound, video and other files.
- embeddable! You can embed your entire Newhive in your Tumblr or WordPress site, making it a great tool to use in conjunction with other things you make.
- Newhive commissions collections and work! You can actually pitch to them and maybe your project will get taken to a new level.
- definitely not for an entire web presence because it doesn’t truly make a website. In fact, it’s almost a stretch putting it on here, but I thought it felt so cool and I feel like not so many people know about it as, say, Tumblr.
- it’s not very easy to navigate. Sometimes back buttons are missing from pages and it’s not easy to discover Newhives unless they’re curated on the front page of the site.
- you can get real ugly real fast using Newhive. It’s easy to make jarring visual choices that make my back teeth hurt just looking at them.
What it is: A feature-rich, paid platform for making websites, blogs and stores online.
Who’s it for (generally): business owners or freelancers who want to create beautiful landing pages, portfolios or resumé sites. I think it’s very telling that Squarespace offers up both “restaurants” and “weddings” as examples of websites on their about page. Bloggers sometimes use Squarespace as well, but with the plethora of free tools that blog, I find that the people most likely to get a lot out of Squarespace are not blogging. As an example, qu.ee/r Magazine is a Squarespace site.
- ease of use! Squarespace is entirely WISYWIG and it’s final products are polished without needing code.
- themes are available and customizable to the point of your audience being unable to tell (mostly) if your website is a Squarespace or not.
- very well supported—those poor Squarespace customer service humans knew me on a first name basis over the course of, like, three days once.
- commerce! If your goal in making a website is to sell things, Squarespace is a major option for you.
- automatically responsive—that means everything works on desktops, tablets and phones without you having to do one single thing extra.
- Squarespace as an expensive subscription service. The cheapest one can have is $8 per month (and honestly, that would be fine for most people who are not selling things), but as you tack on the shiny add-ons that Squarespace is so good at, it can get pricey quickly.
- Depending on the package you get, you might not be able to get in and alter the code on your website if you do code. And even if you get packages that include developer tools, I maintain that it’s not the easiest. You also don’t have access to the file structure of your website (the places it is stored on the server and how you get there). This was a major sticking point for me.
What it is: a desktop software by Adobe, part of Creative Cloud, similar in functionality to Photoshop except it exports websites instead of images. No code required!
Who’s it for (generally): Graphic designers and other Photoshop aficionados, people who want gorgeous websites with parallax scrolling that don’t include a blogging component. In other words, informational sites, landing pages and portfolio/resumé sites.
- gorgeous output! And all with a WYSIWYG editor.
- very well supported by Adobe’s customer service.
- there’s a ton of third-party themes and widgets out there for Muse because it’s a well-known Adobe product. There’s even a website out there that combines free themes, widgets and tutorials.
- Offline editor—that means you can make changes locally without launching things live onto your website, then test them there and upload them later.
- expensive! But that’s why it so well supported! Adobe Muse comes with your Creative Cloud subscription, which is $50 per month. If you’re a student or faculty member at a university, however, check with your institution’s IT department—some schools offer free Creative Cloud subscriptions.
- it spits out HORRIBLE code and you can’t edit that code to make it better. If you code, I’d recommend going with Dreamweaver (skip down a few).
- it’s not responsive—instead of scaling your website based on screen size, you have to essentially make three separate websites to cover tablet, phone and computer screen. Major bummer.
- massive learning curve—if you’re not already familiar with the way Adobe programs work, learning this can feel insurmountable. And even if you are Photoshop familiar, it still takes some effort to figure out.
What it is: Similar to WordPress, but less well-known and nerdier. It’s a content management blogging system with very customizable themes.
Who’s it for (generally): Major nerds who want a challenge and a blog.
- it’s entirely open source!
- it’s very new—that means it takes into account things that were invented after a lot of the blogging platforms got their start.
- it’s highly customizable if you know how to code.
- it has a super, super functional posting interface.
- it’s well-documented—they have their own wiki.
- plenty of add-ons to increase an already fairly comprehensive functionality.
- totally free!
- it’s f*cking hard to use, comparatively. It requires you to install it on the server you’re using.
- unless you can customize it, the themes are…not super pretty.
- because this software is open source, it doesn’t have a dedicated support team. There are forums in which you can ask questions, but no guarantees that the answer will be correct—or that anyone will answer you at all.
What it is: Massively popular blogging platform and website building tool. 23% of the internet runs on WordPress. We run on WordPress!
Who’s it for (generally): this is a workhorse. It’s legit for everyone, whether you want to make a static business landing page or a blog about your gay wedding (please make a blog about your gay wedding, I’ll read it).
- massive library of themes and plug-ins available for free and pay, from WordPress and third-party developers. You can make a WordPress site look almost any way and do almost anything.
- totally free—and you can sign up on WordPress.com for free hosting too. A good example of this is Mamoot.
- versatile—you can install it on your web host or use it on WordPress.com, as previously mentioned. If you do install it on your host, many hosts offer a one-click install that makes life very easy.
- because you can install it on your host, that means you can use your own domain name with it. A good example of this is Quirky Rican.
- it grows with you—you can use WordPress if you know no code, or if you know some code or if you’re an expert. It meets you wherever you are on your journey.
- it’s well-documented. A quick Google can answer many WordPress queries, and the WordPress Codex is extensive.
- because WordPress is open source, there isn’t a dedicated support team to help you unless you purchase something from WordPress.com (and even then, they’re stretched really thin).
- if you don’t spend time customizing your site, it can look like “just another WordPress site.”
- sometimes when you’re learning to code, WordPress can give you just enough access to get yourself into trouble. I broke a website I was working on last week. I cried into my toast, my coffee and my mac and cheese before I figured out how to fix it.
What it is: Another Adobe product, this is a desktop website building tool in the same vein as Muse. Unlike Muse, it allows those who know code to edit the code directly.
Who’s it for (generally): designers! Great for building multimedia web projects, business sites and portfolio/landing pages. Not the best for blogging because it lacks a content management system
- spits out much better code than Muse. Plus you can edit the code.
- but you don’t have to edit the code: Dreamweaver is a weird hybrid of a WYSIWYG editor and coding.
- it’s once again well-supported, as it is a paid application.
- it’s responsive! You don’t have to do anything extra to get your sites to display well on different sized screens.
- definitely not free. It comes with a Creative Cloud subscription, but because the software is designed for professionals and semi-professionals, it comes with a price tag.
- as with Muse, Dreamweaver has a learning curve. If you’re going to build your website on Dreamweaver, plan to sit with it and learn for a while.
- this might just be me, but sometimes I wonder—if you’re going to go through the trouble of learning to use Dreamweaver, why not just learn to code from scratch?
How Do You Choose One That’s Right For You?
Here’s the thing—Queer Your Tech is written by a human woman with opinions. The above “who’s it for” sections? They’re all my opinion! So I could tell you to simply align what you said you were looking to do in our last installment with what I think pairs well with your goals, but that’s bad advice. The truth is, there are exceptions to every “rule.” And the only way to know if a platform is right for you, in my opinion, is to play around with it. You can learn pretty quickly whether or not something is working for you by trying to make a website with it, even if that website never sees the byte of day (lol). Every service here is something you can try without sinking money into it—even the paid services have 30-day free trials.
I find, though, that so many people are reluctant to just grab a tool and play. In my years teaching computers to hobbyists and business owners alike, I figured out that much of the general populace has had their sense of play (when it comes to computers, at least) beaten out of them. Perhaps it’s that smug relative of yours that can always make the printer work—maybe he smirks whenever you try something new and it doesn’t come out the way you plan. Or maybe you, like so many others, simply heard the message that you (or people like you) just aren’t any good with computers. Here is my permission (not that you need it) to futz. Please futz. The art of futzing is largely lost and if you believe in it, clap your hands! And make a tester website!
So—what platforms did I miss? What are you using for your websites? Do you have any questions? I’ll be hanging by my computer this weekend, so please chat it up and ask away in the comments below!
This has been the one-hundred-seventeenth installment of Queer Your Tech with Fun, Autostraddle’s nerdy tech column. Not everything we cover is queer per se, but we talk about customizing this awesome technology you’ve got. Having it our way, expressing our appy selves just like we do with our identities. Here we can talk about anything from app recommendations to choosing a wireless printer to web sites you have to favorite to any other fun shit we can do with technology. Header by Rory Midhani.