I am a sound designer. I can build a synthesizer from scratch, sample an instrument with incredible detail, and know exactly how to go about creating a synthetic sound from nothing but a voltage controlled oscillator or two and manipulate the signal flow to create a new instrument that resembles a trombone while still retaining those synth vibes. I have spent the majority of my lifetime, since I was seven-years-old to be precise, crafting my skills as a musician, a visual artist working with my parents’ still camera and shoulder-mounted VHS camcorder, and as a writer. Hell, my first work to be published was a poem I had written in the 3rd grade that won a statewide contest. I know what my skills are and where my strengths and weaknesses lie. I can safely state that I am neither a web designer nor a web developer.
That is why around twelve years ago I decided to purchase a Pro Account with Weebly to build a proper website after my crummy old Blogger page with a few low resolution YouTube videos shot on mini-DV tape was no longer going to cut it. Having been hired for several piano accompanying jobs, commissioned by local filmmakers for scoring and sound effects design, and playing out four times a week on average was the sort of thing that warranted a better online image than the same page where I also expressed my rather less than loving opinion towards the game of gridiron football.
The trouble started after Square, the makers behind the gadget that plugs into your smartphone or tablet to accept payments by credit/debit cards (not to be confused with rival web builder Squarespace), purchased Weebly and turned a functional tool with quite a few handfuls of frustrations into a nearly unusable refuse heap. The plethora of page themes have been reduced to around eight. Every available theme is white and grey with little to no dark themes available, which are the preferred design schemes for artist portfolios as it helps to make our work pop. Blogs cannot be changed in the builder and changing a background colour requires adding custom header codes, and those are hidden away under a page’s SEO tab instead of with the rest of the coding. When you change a blog’s background colour, the builder does not display the change making editing difficult and then, as I discovered last night, changes to a blog page’s heading code causes the blog to crash on mobile devices but remains functional on desktop computers.
Why? What? How?
Square’s involvement has also made it so that anything built through Weebly is to be prioritized as an e-commerce website. There are fewer and fewer resources for portfolios, blogs and personal sites in favour of shopping carts, checkout tools, tax calculators, integration with the Square device, and the general assumption by Weebly that everything you are using their platform for is destined to be some sort of online store. I cannot even access “Settings” anymore on my administrative end without providing Weebly with my home address to “verify the store.”
I am not a store; I do not need this garbage.
I sell my music via Bandcamp and my artworks via Fine Art America/Pixels because it takes out the headache of packaging, shipping, sales tax, returns and the like. This allows me to focus on creating new works and, at least in the before times, live performances and photo shoots instead of concentrating on how to tax digital music downloads, how many art prints I need in inventory, how many shipping and “do not bend” labels I need, how many tubes to ship prints will I have to order, etc. If I had wanted to do all of that by myself, I would have done so in 2009 when I first built this website.
Then there was the debacle that occurred this past autumn. I have paid for my Pro Account every August for twelve years for about $50.87 according to past taxes. August of 2020 was no different. But as I was preparing a large number of allegedly true ghost/paranormal stories for Project: Boundless Junctions in time for Halloween, I noticed that my build page was filled with adverts for Square and Weebly, that my favicon had been deleted, and that my footer had been replaced with a “Proudly Powered by Weebly!” sticker. I was also being urged to upgrade to a paid plan despite already having one that had just been renewed not two months before.
This led to an ongoing battle with Weebly tech support, and delayed all of the posts that had been planned to a point where I still have to upload them. After three weeks of back and forth, I was notified that the issue was a bug involving the failure of my old Pro Account (which had weathered at least three major Weebly design changes in the past) to be grandfathered into Square’s new payment hierarchy, and that “bugs are never fun!” No shit. I was added to an email list that would notify me when the bug was corrected.
To this day no email has ever arrived. I was forced to purchase an entirely new “Starter Plan” for twice as much as I was paying for my old Pro Account just to keep this site live and advert free. That was a fun $102 to spend during the holiday season amidst an economic depression where friends and relatives of mine had to wait for hours in literal bread lines for the most minimal of foodstuffs to have at Christmas. Even after that, I still had to manually cancel my old Pro Account to prevent a useless withdrawal of an additional $50.87 in August of 2021. Oh that bug may not allow the old payment structure to work anymore, but it sure as Hell will still take your money if you forget to cancel it!
I have spent the past several months trying to redesign this page and give it some spice. My Bandcamp honestly looks better from a design perspective and that layout took me about ten minutes to create. The entirety of this week has been spent trying to replicate that sort of branding with my “Feathers” artwork as an image behind the dark grey spaces holding photos, embedded files, and text for the rest of the site. No theme allows for that sort of design. Modifying the HTML and CSS can get it closer to what I want but causes major problems on the blog pages due to Weebly’s poor structure that prevents theme changes from taking to blog pages without modifying their code which, again, is found on the SEO page for some reason.
In the Weebly builder, heading over to Themes>Change Fonts (which, though listed as “change fonts” in the menu is titled “design options” once opened) does not change a thing. Changing the title to not display in all caps does nothing: that requires going to “Settings” at the top of the builder (not the same “settings” as the admin section that is walled off unless you verify your store) and retyping the website title to prevent it from looking like the average 4Chan user’s posts. Colour options have been removed from the navigation and sub-navigation menus and any changes to colour must be applied in CSS. That is new, as I had the option to change navigation bar colours as recently as December of 2020. If I change the colour of paragraph text in this master control panel, nothing changes after publishing the site and I am forced to return to the builder where I must select all the text on the entire website and manually change colours with hexadecimal codes. Even then, it only works half the time and this task requires repeating for the changes to take effect in both the builder and on the published site.
Writing all of this is giving me a headache and these are only the most offending issues with Weebly. Never mind the little things like how the builder often crashes after adding a text box forcing a refresh of the page, or how even after writing or pasting new text to a block the “Click here to edit” message just won’t go away. Fix these bugs!
There is a way out of this mess and it comes after (re)discovering that the vast majority of top tier, professional themes and templates from a few years ago were not deleted from Weebly, but rather moved by their designers and are still available on (now) third-party websites for licensing. This likely came about after Square's acquisition of Weebly, where the higher-end templates would have become Square's property and the designers not wanting to lose the rights to their hard work, or just from designers moving forward in their careers. Whatever the reasoning, I am seeing a lot of possibilities in many of these templates, and I will hopefully have a new design in the coming months without the headache of migrating a domain name, or the further financial woes of hiring a dedicated designer to get this page back up to speed an out of the year 2008.