Are platforms like Squarespace, Wix, and Shopify worth the hassle?
Wix, Squarespace, Shopify — if you’ve ever watched some sort of tech-related video on YouTube, you would have heard these names in some form. They stalk you through various ad formats, trying to rope you with promises of being ‘code-free’, ‘easy’, ‘revolutionary’, and ‘most advanced platform’ in web development.
But as developers, we know better.
Over the years, I’ve tried my best to block these ads, but to no avail. Over the years, I’ve also had people ask me why I still bother to code if there’s Wix, Shopify, and Squarespace — which feels like a slap in the face.
In the past decade, code has become commoditized and cheap, creating large gaps in making a living wage and what the average Joe is now willing to pay. This creates a unique problem for freelance developers — how do you entice clients to spend when there’s an advertisement that bombards anyone thinking about getting a website at every turn?
What Wix, Shopify, and Squarespace actually are
For non-developers, Wix, Shopify, Squarespace, and these sites promise grand designs and outcomes for the low, low, price of less than $20 a month. However, if we take a step back and look at them for what they are, these sites are essentially WYSIWYG site builders.
But are they really revolutionary?
In their own special way — yes.
If we look back to the early 2000s, creating a site on the Internet was mostly inaccessible to people. Only the extremely tech-savvy and curious person could boot up something after a long process of trial, error, and learning. Information wasn’t as readily available and before 2005, YouTube wasn’t even a thing.
The Internet existed but not as the massively accessible resource hub that we’ve become accustomed to.
When people wanted a website, they needed to rely on people who were interested in the field. For most business owners, they’re in the business of running their business and not spending hours tinkering around, setting up hosting, and whatever else is involved. This is something that is still relevant today — and what these ‘revolutionary’ sites offer to solve.
Wix, Weebly, and Squarespace like sites are hosted platforms that gives business owners a much cheaper alternative to hiring a developer. Not everyone needs a customized application with unique features. Sometimes, the coffee shop down the road just wants something that looks nice and within a particular budget. Sometimes, a business just wants a digital billboard and nothing else.
These sites are revolutionary in the sense that it gives non-enterprise business owners and entrepreneurs digital tools to do the basics of what they need to do. It also gives designers a platform to sell their skills on a digital medium.
But are they revolutionary from a coding perspective? The quick and clear answer to this is a definite no.
The state of dev work
The way we code has evolved dramatically. As we become accustomed to commercial patterns like cart processes, blogs, subscriptions, and payment collection, we learn to craft reusable patterns that are modular and transferrable. This makes it easily accessible to other developers. WYSIWYG platform sites have merely figured out how to commoditize this in a format that’s accessible to the general public.
So where does this leave us as developers?
There are two options — custom solutions for businesses that can afford to hire, or indie entrepreneurs bootstrapping several disciplines together.
The business custom solution is an obvious path for many. In a way, it can be seen as the default path. It’s basically the process of getting a job. It’s steady. It’s sort of secure. The compensations are predictable.
The tech indie/entrepreneur is a bit different. The path itself is not suitable for everyone and requires more work and skills beyond just knowing how to code, making the developer unique through the myriad of experiences they’ve accumulated.
Both tracks — salary and indie/entrepreneur — do the same thing: they both solve a problem. The major difference is who they’re solving that problem for. The salary dev track means that you’re solving problems for someone else, in exchange for compensation from a single source. That compensation is often big enough to cover your general cost of living and maybe some more.
The indie/entrepreneur dev solves a problem that may be personal or experienced by the general wider community. They are compensated on a smaller scale, but the number of people compensating is often more than one. The main issue that indie/entrepreneur devs face is not getting enough people. In order to attract a higher number of patronage, other factors of running a business begin to come into play — marketing, networking, tribe building, and branding are some of them. At this point, the developer is more than just a developer — they are a small business that’s managed to cut the cost of hiring a developer.
The salary track of custom creations for businesses is not a bad default option. As developers, we often pick up business patterns from others in our code creation process. These business patterns are often transferrable as solutions to potential problems we may identify in the future. We also tend to pick up coding patterns and knowledge from others within the teams we work with.
However, some of us may end up going down the indie/entrepreneur dev track, sometimes bypassing the salary path completely. This is a growing trend among many new developers, where code becomes a tool to help achieve a particular goal.
At the end of the day, code is a tool — no matter how we want to put it. Our job determines how and who we use this tool for. WYSIWYG is also a tool, with a bulk part of the code completed for you by other developers.
Whatever we end up doing and whatever track we take, WYSIWYG platforms won’t price us out of our jobs. Rather, it just gives us another tool to work with. These WYSIWYG platforms often have a code layer, in addition to the non-code interfaces, they offer to their target market. Some WYSIWYG platforms are better than others at this, especially when it comes to extensibility.
As developers, there’s no shame in using WYSIWYGs — for the purposes that they were created for. The thing that makes us special is our ability to transform the tool by utilizing it beyond its obvious mainstream use. Most businesses don’t care about the intricate details about how an outcome is achieved, only that the delivered product does what they need it to do.
When we use all the tools that are available to us in creative ways, based on the skills that we have, it makes us invaluable as developers. This can come in the form of consuming APIs and using the data in a different format for an ancillary purpose. Or it can come in the form of extensions, where the WYSIWYG platform cuts down development time and saves us from the monotony of implementing something that’s already been done a million times over.