Saturday, April 5, 2008

Synthasite: Highly Recommended

I'm slowly teaching myself web design programs and editors like Adobe's Dreamweaver, but for now I am happily reliant on Synthasite. Even if I start coding my own sites, they will have an important place in my plans.

Synthasite offers easy-to-use tools to design your own web site, and hosts it for you at no charge whatsoever. If you can accept some limitations, there's no easier way to get a web comic or other site into public view on your own site, unless perhaps you wedge it into a blogging format.

There are other companies offering similar deals, but I like Synthasite because they are in Beta and I am getting in on the ground floor. Just as I master the current features, they add more. And their customer service is among the friendliest, most human and most dedicated I have experienced.

After signing up, you select a template for your site. The choice of templates is a limiting factor, but they have an abundant supply. I recommend using one that allows you to change the stock images, unless you're mostly posting text and like a particular image option.

The operating principles will be immediately familiar to the web savvy, but for the rest of us, let me describe it briefly. You have a page onto which you drag and drop various widgets. Grabbing a text widget allows you to input text in that space, and so on. Widgets are moveable and flexible in size. An HTML widget is great for inserting things like Google Analytics code.

Arranging all this into a comprehensive web site is beyond the scope of this post, but a few sessions of playing around will have you building a site without slogging through a slab-like manual. Check the Synthasite blog and tutorials as needed. Don't panic if you hit a conceptual wall: you'll find yourself figuring it out on your own before you know it.

A factor that limits the service a bit is the lack of live feed capability, but I am informed that this is in the works. Also in the pipeline is the ability to submit your site map to Google.

The Synthesite editor currently offers about eight web-friendly fonts. I know the number of fonts recognized by each browser is limited but I hope there will be more. A workaround is to embed the font you like in an image, like a big , white rectangle, and import it as a graphic.

There is image editing software called Piknik, but since I am a Photoshop guy, I only played with it. It seems to work fine. If you don't have Photoshop or haven't mastered its complexities, on-site access to Piknik is a tremendous value on its own.

If you plan to have your own site someday, you are not a prisoner. You can download your site into a ZIP file, point your Synthasite site toward your new location, and walk away.

Your domain name at Synthasite will look like this: Having "Synthasite" in the address is of course a giveaway that you're using their service. If you have a good name for your site and it's available, I recommend you register it against the day when you move. GoDaddy offers two years for twenty bucks.

When I came to Synthasite, it was still pretty buggy for Safari, and I used Firefox to build sites. I can report that they have made huge strides since then. The other day I used Safari on Synthasite for eight hours straight without a bug.

Keeping in mind that four months ago I had only built one site, some years ago, using horrible software, take a look at some of the sites I've been building at Synthasite:

Scratchin Post is my web comic. I couldn't edit away the red line atop each page because of template restrictions, but everything else is my work. This was my first effort.

Psychedelic Tree House is a different template. I was able to put my own header banner in, and I put different ones on different pages.

I've got others that I'm not ready to show off.

There may be opportunities here for young entrepreneurs, building simple web sites for web-skittish small businesses. Even veteran programmers might love the ease of dashing off a complete site in a few hours.

If you value the human touch in your vendor selection and you like the idea of growing with the company, I highly recommend Synthasite.