South by Southwest (SXSW): Needly Brings WYSIWYG to Website Building

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At South by Southwest Interactive, the panels, presentations and parties are the main event. The show floor — which occupies one medium-sized hall, and isn’t open for the entire event — is a sideshow. But at one low-key booth, I got a demo of one of the most interesting things I saw at the conference: Needly, a new web-based service for designing and running websites from scratch, no technical expertise required.

Needly competes with WordPress, SquareSpace and other tools and services for publishing sites. It looks more like a powerful conventional graphics/design application such as Photoshop or Dreamweaver, however, and you design everything in WYSIWYG mode. That stands for What You See Is What You Get, and it’s a once-common tech term which has largely faded away; these days, you just assume that something like a word processor will show you what your final product will look like as you work.  The big-time web-based site builders, however, still aren’t WYSIWYG. And in some cases, such as with WordPress, you either need to use a canned theme or know a fair amount about HTML, CSS and other web technologies.

At SXSW, I spoke with Needly CEO Fred Krueger — a veteran entrepreneur who previously used the Needly name for a Craigslist-like services marketplace which didn’t take off — and CTO Ben Nunemaker. Krueger said that the new site has been a long-time dream of his, but it’s only been recently that web technologies made it possible: “Between WYSIWYG and non-WYSIWYG, WYSIWYG wins — everybody’s been trying to build this tool for twenty years.”

The demos at SXSW, which involved quickly and precisely recreating the look and feel of well-known sites such as Gilt and TechCrunch in Needly,  were impressive. “I couldn’t replicate the New York Times,” Krueger told me, “but I will be able to in three months.”

The service is still in private beta; when it goes public, which Krueger says will happen within a few months, it’ll use a freemium model with free and paid plans. It’ll also partner with Top-Level Domain Holdings — a company chaired by Krueger which will sell new domains such as .london — to offer packages which include both a domain name and Needly service.

Krueger says that the goal is for Needly to be so capable that even big-name media brands might use it to design and operate their sites. He notes, however, that such outfits will only trust Needly with their sites once it’s no longer a ten-person startup with an unreleased service. But even if Needly doesn’t turn out to be the next WordPress — which hosts everything from personal blogs to TIME.com — it could be a big deal for consumers and small-business owners who want to create sites that go beyond the basics.

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