A couple weeks ago, Site44 had its one-thousandth signup. Steve Marx and I thought we should celebrate this by commencing our blog.
Site44 began out of the frustration that Steve and I had with creating websites on a whim. Steve is particularly fond of creating websites that demonstrate whatever he has on his mind. See http://www.flatterist.com as an example of one of his sites. While Steve was unlikely to be deterred by the sorry state of web hosting, I found it unbearable. I often rejected putting up a website because hosting was so painful.
So, Steve and I set out the create “absurdly simple web hosting” for ourselves with an eye towards creating a product. We quickly settled on the idea that nothing would be simpler as a deployment mechanism than copying files to a special directory (or simply editing them in place). The challenge was how to get those files to the servers in a way that was absurdly simple.
Fortunately, Dropbox provided just what we needed. By connecting to a user’s Dropbox via Dropbox’s API, Site44 can have access to files that the user edits and copies naturally. Once we convinced ourselves that this would be a great way to upload content, we then focused on how users would connect their Dropbox contents to domain names.
We also wanted the domain name issue to be absurdly simple. We believe we are mostly there. Creating a domain name under the site44.com domain is as simple as filling in single text box and claiming that name. Once a user has done that, there’s a directory by that name in his Dropbox whose contents will be served as that domain. Similarly, he can associate a domain that he owns, and Site44 will again create a Dropbox directory with that site. This seemed simple enough.
While getting Site44 to serve a custom domain from a Dropbox folder was as simple as we’d like, obtaining a custom domain is not absurdly simple. Making DNS point requests for that domain towards Site44 servers is even worse, involving all kinds of unpleasant jargon and concepts that most of us would like to never deal with. We looked into trying to solve this problem—and return to it frequently—but for now, it’s a lower priority than making sure the rest of the experience is a good as possible.
In April, we invited about 20 “friends and family” to kick the tires on Site44, and we were delighted that people quickly understood what we were doing and how to use Site44. In May, we opened up a Beta release to the world, and we’ve been very pleased with its reception. Based on feedback, we’ve added some features (like passwords), and changed some features (like how to refresh the server’s copy of a site).
So, what’s next for Site44? Our top priority right now is to implement billing so that we may charge customers who are exceeding the free limit of 100MB per month. We’re doing this for two reasons: (1) obviously, we’d like to make money with this venture, and (2) we’d like to give our users the confidence that Site44 is a thriving enterprise that has the means to continue providing simple hosting in the future.
What’s next for this blog? While I fully expect that we will be posting about any changes or improvements to the service, many posts will cover “How To” topics for Site44. Some may go into greater detail about topics already covered in the Advanced Topics, like using custom MIME types. Others may be about how to get the most out of Site44’s static hosting, like embedding a DISQUS thread in a Site44 page.
If you are a current Site44 user, we always appreciate feedback on the service itself, and on topics that you would like us to address in the blog. If you are not yet a Site44 user, please give it a try and let us know what you think—it’s free!