Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Webvanta new CMS for designers: review

My hot-tips-from-Portland connection, designer Shona Lepis, sent a link to what looks like a very new CMS so I gave the free trial a whirl.

WEBVANTA CMS for designers -

Turned on the clock to start the trial at 5:40pm




Appreciate that the pricing was right in the main menu and easy to find.


The pricing table offers a free version. The limitations listed for free were no custom domain, only one "Resource databases" and limited "Custom DB Types". There are helpful pop-ups on each item, but they left me still unsure if I would need the Resources page that would let me add links, events, book....hmm. And custom DB types is also something I am not used to with Word Press, Movable Type, Joomla! and other CMS. (this became clear later as I note below.)

It was nice that the 30-day free trial of the paying versions did not require a credit card, but I took the free version first since there was the option to upgrade if I ran into a limitation.

I could pay an additional fee to have my PSD design imported into my site by Webvanta. Or I can do all the work myself. So there are broad options.


BASIC INFORMATION: Who is this for?


Went back and read the overview about how it was quick to get started and a great tool for designers who don't want to deal with a developer or coding themselves. There was a free Webinar, but when there is a free trial, I never wait to give anything a spin.

There is a comparison to Drupal that seems almost cheeky but not untrue, and from there you can find similar critiques of Joomla! and WordPress too.

Webvanta addresses most of the housekeeping like backups and hosting which is a plus for designers who are better off investing their time in designing. Every server goes down so I did not find the argument about not getting a call when the server goes down that compelling -- since you will get a call anyway when the Webvanta server might have an issue.

I suppose if you use cheap hosting that goes down a lot (I can't even find hosting that goes down a lot these days, cheap or not, from GoDaddy to Media Temple to the $500-a-month we-call-you-every-morning-and-bring-you-coffee-in-bed-but-you-have-to-use-support-tickets-to-get-a-hold-of-us hosts) this might be a good argument. It might be a point that the Webvanta server is not hosting the hacker's choice WordPress installs. That might make them less vulnerable to the recent downtimes of GoDaddy and even Bluehost due to CMS hacking.

Looked at the forum and it looked new, a few reasonable questions and not a lot of frustrated Web professionals trying to find information on how to set up their sites - always a sign I check for before investing time in trying out a new tool.

I played the demo from the home page which talked about freedom from hassles without loss of advantages of CMS and then gives a quick walk through of the control panel.

In the demo of the control panel, I am seeing html code in a template area. Hey, this is looking like Dreamweaver more than Squarespace. But wait, there is a WYSIWYG editor. But wait, there is Webvanta script to learn and you have to know the content in your DB fields, define types and add the code to call to them.  Now I am flashing back to Expression Engine, the CMS Campaign Monitor used. At this point I stopped listening and went to the trial to see for myself if I was really going to have to learn another somewhat customized version of html like FaceBook's FBML or something like the confidential language Lasso that was the love child of Mac and Filemaker users.

Later I found if you scroll down below the pricing table you will see additional fees if you don't want to learn the script language, so you are in a way hiring a developer, or it is as if Word Press offered developers on call. Once more, you have broad options with Webvanta to either become adept at the tool or pay what were reasonable going rates not to.

I filled out the sign up form with my name and company name, got an email immediately and logged in to the new system with my chosen subdomain,




Whoops, I used my first name for the subdomain but the site name at the top of the dashboard was the name I entered for my company. Could not find where to change my account info like company name or email anywhere.

Clicked on the chat button as it was 9am PST and they were available. The help person answered all my questions and the chat interface was first class, with the important ability to upload files, plus print or email the chat.

Now I am ready to go through the actual page setup. The Getting Started Video is accessible and highly recommended.

Watching this, it is quickly evident that this is 1. A serious tool  2. Not going to give you a spiffy-looking site like a Word Press themed site in under an hour (once you've got the famous five-minute install down).

There is a well-filled out user manual:

I created a new page (do I see the familiar TinyMCE editor?) and saved it. Adding an image was easy and the image went into a library where I could easily re-use it. Somebody has to do a sexy WYSIWYG editor some day. Although in Webvanta, the editor does everything I needed it to do. I see a style drop-down with visualized styles, very good.

Looking into the menu system it was cool to be able to drag-and-drop a new page into the existing hierarchy, but I abandoned the idea of replacing the home page with my new page (looked like it was going to involve modifying template code) and just edited the home page instead. I want to get something up and publish this review and watch a movie tonight.

The second page is a blog page. It was very easy to create the first blog post and fun, it added a little icon image to the post. Although I can tell you could spend endless hours customizing and there is a learning curve -- so you hope the tool will stick around once you are on the easy side of the curve.

I stopped there since setting up a calendar or figuring out if there is a favicon is something for another day.

Here it is:




Webvanta looks to have a lot going for it. It feels good. The friendly and accessible support and thorough documentation can nurture a growing community of users who will spread the word and build the community.  Enough designers and Web site providers need to use the service to build word-of-mouth for now. I predict this will happen.

For a serious Web designer who has been around the block of designing and building sites, with a sense of Javascript, HTML, CSS and a desire to deliver a well-supported site while focusing on design, this appears to be a possible long-term relationship.  It is more of a long-engagement-to-marriage intended to foster a big happy family than a jump into bed on the first date type of CMS that leaves unsupported children (clients needing endless security updates or help with the editing that does not REALLY easily let you place images on a page) in their wake.

For a graphic designer that never wants to learn code, Webvanta could also support their simply delivering PSD design files, plus learning the front end admin if their clients want to make updates themselves. The only question then is the budget of the client matching the cost of the services, which are reasonable but realistic for a functional site.

For a non-designer developer who also wants to focus on building sites for clients rather than hosting and programming, it would need the additional boon of designers providing themes along the famous Word Press lines, or the help of a designer.

From the Webvanta site, where there are comments and thoughtful replies, this is the best advice:

Webvanta is not intended for people looking for a wysiwyg web design environment. It is intended for designers who are comfortable working in HTML and CSS, but not necessarily in any true programming language.




Thursday, May 13, 2010

Surprising Support for Facebook Alternatives

I have always been resistant to the invasive and consumer-as-prey style of FaceBook's privacy decisions. Exciting to see the support for this more community-oriented project.