David Jay is the main man behind Showit, an amazing application for web site creation. After playing with Showit and creating a pretty sweet site in under an hour (see below), I had to find more. DJ was kind enough to answer these questions for me.
For those people unfamiliar with Showit, give us the nutshell version of what it is......
Showit is a website design application that allows users to take complete control of their Flash website, from concept to launch. It's a true drag and drop platform moving all the backend Flash techy stuff and turning it into basic functions the user can control in commonly understood forms. All a user has to do is place their photos, videos and slideshows anywhere on the page and hit publish and it's live on the web. It's essentially WYSIWYG for web design. :)
There's a free version and a pro version - what are the basic differences?
The basic difference between the Free version and the Pro version is the depth of your site, and we also put a small message on the bottom of our free versions. There are some more specifics here - http://showitfast.com/#/showit-sites/. But almost all the cool features are included in the Free version because we want Showit to be known for all the great stuff we do offer (versus what we don't offer).
What prompted you to provide a free version?
When I was 16 years old my dad sat me down and said, "David, if you truly make your business about helping other people you'll always have plenty of work." I believe that's been true in his business and mine and there are 100's of thousands of photographers (and other entrepreneurs) getting their businesses started and they have tons of expenses straight out of the gate. Hopefully this can help them and if it does I believe they'll stick with us as their business grows and upgrade to a Pro account.
That beings said, before we lauched version 2.0 it kinda felt like playing a big game of Russian Roulette. We were not sure how our customers would respond to a free version, or if a free version would make Showit seem like less of a premium solution. But we felt once people tried Showit they would like it better than a template because of the freedom and control it gives them...and getting them to try it had been difficult. Free eliminated a lot of the fears potential customers had and the amount of people creating accounts since we offered a free version has been mind boggling. And we are seeing some beautiful and very unique free website getting published, which is really exciting. Before launching the free version we averaged just under 400 "limited trial" accounts per month. Since we released the free version we've been averaging over 400 new free accounts per day!
We also wanted to was cause a little disruption. Our main competitors don't have a free offering and we felt price should not be the reason you can't create a beautiful and functional website.
But to clarify, the free version is really FREE? What's the catch?
There's really no catch. I mentioned above that we want to get people in the door. A very safe door. Free from commitments. Free from payments. Free from feeling stuck with a standardized template. We want to give them freedom to control and create a unique web presence.
Another thing to point out is that free to the end user doesn't mean there is no revenue for us...it actually opens up several new possibilities for revenue that weren't available before. One of my favorite authors is Tim Sanders and he said, "Your network is your networth" and by offering Showit for free we greatly expand our network.
The free version comes with some built-in styles - tell us a little about those and how they work
Showit comes with tons of free stuff including royalty free music, free graphics and the free Styles are essentially complete web designs created by professional designers so photographers don't have to start from scratch. These can be added and changed anytime and they are a great way to dive in and get a website up fast. Simply select one and swap out the pictures and text with yours, move some things around to give it the look and feel you want and then hit publish and you're live on the web.
Some people are reluctant to use Flash-based web sites because they worry about SEO (Search Engine Optimization). How have you addressed that? And what about viewing sites on iPhones?
This is a great question and we are proud to offer the best SEO available as well as an iPhone viewable version (thanks to our group of awesome developers). There are several things we do to make our sites crawlable by the search engines. First, we automatically create an HTML page that is hidden behind the Flash page so when the search engine hits your website it can read all the content on that page. Each page is also "deep linkable" meaning that the search engines (and customers) can link directly to any page on your site. This is fantastic because search engines are wanting to deliver relevant content. In the world of SEO these features really set us apart from many of other other applications allowing the ability to create a Flash website.
How we publish the HTML page also allows each page to be *somewhat* viewable on an iPhone. Apple and Adobe haven't shaken hands yet so our hands our tied because Flash isn't available on the iPhone, but we have the ability to display snapshots of the page and then offer links below the snapshots so people can navigate your site from their iPhone...it's just not as pretty as viewing it through a web browser.
Showit seems very intuitive, but where can people turn if they need help?
This is a big focus for us right now because there is a learning curve to use an app like this so we are really prioritizing building a community of Showit users and have built that right into the application itself. It's called Club Showit and every time you launch Showit you'll see a splash screen that includes featured websites, the latest conversations happening in the Club and other cool stuff. Our entire team is active in the Club and it's also a place where our users can help each other.
What about people who use services like SmugMug - can they take advantage of both Showit and SmugMug?
Absolutely! We feel that Showit and SmugMug are a great combination for a photographer. We've made it very easy to link directly to SmugMug and place photos and videos directly from your SmugMug account into your Showit website. We plan on making that integration every better in the future.
Is there any way to hook into social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook?
You bet! This is another brand new feature in version 2.0. It's a called our "Share" feature. We created a way for users to tweet about their website content directly inside of Showit and they can also share content on Facebook, instantly create and embed a blog post on blogger or use the embed code and place their content in any number of other places using a simple copy/paste.
Finally, what do you see in the future for Showit?
This is definitely the toughest question! :) As for a roadmap - we are putting a lot of effort into displaying things in cooler and more unique ways. Version 1.0 was kind of a down and dirty get-it-done tool but now with version 2.0 we are able to add in many more widgets that allow for photographers and other entrepreneurs to market themselves in new and fun ways.
... Things change so quickly in technology so it's hard to say much more than that but a big focus of mine has always been to help people create more freedom in their life and to find more fulfillment in what they do. This is one of the main reasons we are building a community around Showit users. The first online community I started was http://OpenSourcePhoto.com and I've seen so many lives changed through the open sharing of information and the willingness to help one another. Inside of that "OSP" community over 11,000 photographers are now working together and viewing each other as colleagues instead of competition...and these communities provide a wonderful place for us to listen and understand what photographers need currently and in the future.
Thanks for all you do and share. I know many lives are changed by all the sharing that you do! I've already been receiving emails from people as far away as Russia who read about Showit through your blog and twitter feed.
For more information:
Too see my quick sample site I created in about an hour: davecross.showitsite.com