Not long ago Web design was the sole domain of professional graphics and Web designers using high-end tools and charging prices for their work that were well out of the range of the average Internet surfer. The average user was relegated to a small amount of space from their service that was linked to a clunky HTML page with a small list of links and scattered family photos. In recent years, all that has changed.
The average user is no longer satisfied with a stale Web page. They want and are demanding cool designs and the ability to update their sites on the fly with fresh content. Not only do users want to change the content, many expect to be able to change the layout and design of their site as often as a new holiday or sporting season rolls around.
With the help of the Macintosh shareware community there are several applications on the market that will allow users to do all of those things.
One such application, which has been in development for a year and a half, is
RapidWeaver, developed by Daniel Counsell. The idea to make an application that could build an entire Web site and manage content came from feedback Counsell was receiving from users on other projects he was working on.
“It’s really nice to see people putting RapidWeaver to good use,” Counsell told MacCentral. “If it wasn’t for RapidWeaver a lot of these people would have to spend weeks learning HTML or spends hundreds of dollars on complex Web creation software.”
For the $34.95 shareware fee, RapidWeaver includes everything you need to get a Web site up and running. The newest version includes integration with iPhoto and .Mac allowing users to publish their sites on their .Mac Web space. There is also an export function that allows users to publish their sites to any ftp server if they don’t have a .Mac account.
RapidWeaver supports several different page layouts including Blog, File Sharing, HTML Code, iFrame, Offsite Page, Photo Album, QuickTime and Styled Text. While the application is still missing some functionality like “More” links found in some blog software, Counsell said that these features will be included in future versions of the product.
Growing community support
As with many applications, RapidWeaver has a growing community supporting the product. While Counsell designs most of the default themes for the application, he says the theme community is coming onboard quickly.
Currently there are many RapidWeaver theme sites that have a combination of free and commercial themes available. Sites include
Bench Design Themes,
Med Designs Themes,
RapidWeaver Flash Themes.
Applications like RapidWeaver have drawn the attention of amateur and professional designers alike — just because you are using a shareware application, don’t assume a professional graphic artist didn’t make the theme you are using.
In addition to his other work, U.S. Army veteran and professional graphics artist/Web designer Dave Cantu has built a business (RapidWeaverThemes.com) around designing themes for RapidWeaver.
“I found RapidWeaver to be very useful for quick site building but it didn’t have many themes included,” said Cantu. “I thought it would be a good idea to create some of my own and to offer them to everyone.”
The response to his first theme pack was so positive, Cantu decided to continue designing themes and selling them on the Internet. Currently Cantu is offering 12 different theme packs for RapidWeaver ranging in style from Apple’s Aqua interface and corporate designs to simple CSS designs and kid oriented themes.
Cantu also sees other applications for RapidWeaver. While targeted to the average user to build their own Web site, there are ways the professional Web designer can utilize the application as well.
“Even for experienced Web designers this is an awesome way to put a site together in just minutes,” said Cantu. This helps a lot when showing clients different ideas to choose from.”
Putting some power behind the design
For some users, applications like RapidWeaver don’t provide enough backend power to drive the type of Web site they want. These users typically want dynamically driven content running on a MySQL database and PHP — with the increasing interest in Web publishing many companies are offering free and commercial publishing systems to satisfy those users’ needs.
“The biggest thing is that people are now embracing dynamic publishing systems,” said Rick Ellis, CEO of pMachine Inc. “The popularity of publishing is there because these systems have been made available to the masses. That is the fundamental shift — the empowerment of people to communicate on a daily or hourly basis.”
offers users a free version of its blogging software, suitable for beginners and the average user, that includes enough features to satisfy most users needs for a Web site. Ellis sees the awareness of the average user as a huge reason for the increase of blogs on the Internet.
“I don’t know that our customer base has changed, but there are a lot more people now,” said Ellis. “There is a lot more awareness among people who are not keeping their finger on the pulse of the Internet. The average person is much more likely to have heard of blogging nowadays.”
In recent years, Ellis has seen the need to expand his company’s offerings to include a pro version of the software, giving users even more power to mange their content.
With the corporate and high-end user in mind, Ellis launch ExpressionEngine, a new $199 offering that would give companies that would have spent $100,000 on a content management system just a few years ago, most, if not all, the power they needed.
“People want a way to manage information and content — they don’t necessarily need something as big as they did before,” said Ellis.
The community, says Ellis, is very enthusiastic about ExpressionEngine, proving that even the average users that use pMachine want advanced features in their content management system and are willing to pay for them.
“People are really embracing ExpressionEngine. Even among pMachine users, a huge percentage have already made the transition,” said Ellis.
As with RapidWeaver, pMachine and ExpressionEngine have growing communities that not only answer other users questions, but they also submit plug-ins and modules to enhance the management of content.
It is the community that Ellis is reaching out to for help with themes so people can more easily customize their site. As with most blogging software like pMachine, most sites have the same look and feel, unless the end user customizes them.
While several themes are included with ExpressionEngine, Ellis would like the community to help build a backlog of themes while his company works on enhancing the software.
“Our job is to integrate the features that we feel are going to be the most useable by the most people,” said Ellis. “We do our best to listen to our community and integrate the things that make the most sense.”
ExpressionEngine has just launched a new contest to get the community involved in making new themes. Aimed at both sets of the company’s customers, the categories for submitted themes are Blogging and Professional.
In part two of this series we will look at how one company has looked at the shifts in the Internet a bit different than most.