Web Flow: a new responsive web design tool...and a Squarespace killer?
My brother Dan, who knows a thing or two about digital jiggery pokery and web interfaces, whacked a link to a tool called 'Web Flow' on my Facebook timeline recently, so I checked it out. It's a tool for creating 'responsive websites' (sites that automatically optimise their appearance for the device you happen to be viewing them on) without any coding being necessary - and my first impressions are good.
Web Flow is sort of like the old version of Squarespace (version 5), in that you are given a web design template to play with, plus the option to tweak every style element simply by clicking on the relevant element and changing its settings. But it's also like Squarespace 6, in that it delivers responsive websites that display nicely on phones, tablets and er, phablets. Where Web Flow differs from Squarespace (both versions 5 and 6) though is that it doesn't come with a CMS. You can't upload content to Web Flow, or use it to edit a live site; you get some code that you can export and use how you see fit (that's where the 'code-free' aspect of it ends!).
Web Flow has the potential to be great, but not until its makers do two things: (1) allow users to host and edit content with it using a built-in CMS and (2) allow multiple page designs within the same site (at the moment you just get the option to use one design - not ideal for most users, who'll probably want to have a home page design and a 'regular' page design). Web Flow also need to improve their support a bit - I fired off a couple of questions to them regarding CMS functionality and their answers were slow to arrive, and really not all that helpful (but that said, they did dangle the prospect of a future, built-in CMS tool in front of me).
If Web Flow get the CMS aspect of things right, I believe we'll be looking at a product that could pose a serious threat to Squarespace 6, because it would be much, much more flexible - the new version of Squarespace, whilst containing some good new features, is horrendously restrictive when it comes to letting you edit template designs. There are no such restrictions with Web Flow. In other words, the tool would work in a similar way to Squarespace 5 (which in many ways remains a much better and more flexible product than version 6) whilst delivering hosted responsive websites (something that Squarespace 5 can't do). All in all, it sort of feels like an example of the sort of product Squarespace should have come up with after version 5...and, in the website builder wars, it's definitely one to watch.