Wix on-the-go: what is it, how does it work and should you go for it?

Wix is a new approach to hosting. Complete with templates and assets on-site, it offers an affordable way to get set up with a neatly HTML5 and CSS based site. But what’s it actually like to use? Before Wix, there was WordPress. And WordPress has gained such massive popularity – mainly because of its extremely flexible Content Management System (CMS) backend – that other challengers to its crown are having to come up with truly unique ways to assail the giant. Wix is one of those – let’s find out more.

Firstly, Wix offers a fully ‘HTML5 and CSS’ website, eschewing Flash. Adobe recently announced that Flash was going for good anyway, so Wix’ first tagline only brings it up-to-speed with the rest. In this article, we’re going to take a look at how easy it is to set up a website on-the-go. I have a three-hour train ride and a laptop: let’s see what we can do. My laptop is not a top-of-the line model; it’s comfortably mid-range, and won’t be breaking any speed barriers soon. However, it’s a very functional piece of kit with a big battery life, and it should provide us with the goods we need to make a website.

The Wix sign-up process is efficient and fast. That’s a good sign: in web design, it’s perfectly acceptable to judge a book by its cover. Wix’s main site is speedy and impressively responsive on my laptop. If it lets me build sites like this, I’ll be happy.

OK, we’re in to the templates. There’s a huge range here – Wix claims several thousand – from design agency services to e-commerce. You’re not going to be stuck for a starting point here. But, as ever, my crucial question is ‘how far can I go from the starting point?’. I like templates to give me initial ideas – in my romantic mind, that’s the same as composers of old drawing from commonly-used motifs to construct a symphony – but I want as much customisation on top of that as I can get.

This is where Wix failed to impress. Compared with other build-you-own sites, such as SquareSpace, the WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editor is quite a let-down. I can set backgrounds and play with margins, but I can’t inject my own CSS and I can’t get at the code for the site I’ve got.

This is a serious downer for me. The website I made using the WYSIWYG editor was only half-functional and wasn’t very fun at all. I couldn’t do things like delay hover transitions, which is one of my favourite CSS3 web effects. In the end, I wound up using the old ‘Inspect Element’ in Chrome and studying the structure of the site. No wonder you’re not allowed to change it: it’s a mess. A real mess. Though ‘clean code’ is really only the snooty domain of web developers, I strongly believe that to make something great you’ve got to make sure all the little bits that people will never see are great, too. Readable code matters Customisation matters. And Wix fell down pretty hard on both of these accounts.

It doesn’t look like there’s any movement to allow access to code through Wix, either: the platform seems to have decided that WYSIWYG is, well, WYG. And that, to me, is a hugely missed opportunity: they’ve built an incredible content ecosystem, and are cutting out swathes of developer clients that want just a bit more accessibility.

By the end of my flight, I had a website, but it didn’t feel fair to say I’d made it nor that it was mine. And that’s a real disappointment from a service that could offer so much. Luckily, these kinds of web template companies are cropping up all over at present, so there’s bound to be a provider more tuned to my loyalties. What was SquareSpace’s address, again…?

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