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Tucson, Arizona, United States
I work as Panther Peak Bindery and am a bookbinder, conservator and instructor working outside Tucson, Arizona for individual and institutional clients across the country. I am a two term President of the Guild of Book Workers, was a Fulbright Scholar, taught at North Bennet Street School for over nine years and was the fastest in my middle school class at running up and down a flight of stairs (really!).

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Monday, August 1, 2016

Sparkle

Our neighbor was a big time photographer with more than 500 magazine covers in his career. He was hired regularly to shoot corporate officers and other images for annual reports at ridiculously high daily rates. Well, he was very, very good at what he did so it was worth it to them! The NFL also hired him and he photographed the first 30 Super Bowls.  He was the first to put a camera in a hockey goal during a game, running the shutter release under the ice to the penalty box where he sat.  He did a television commercial.  He did it all. He has amazing stories, to say the least.

He had a thriving career and then digital photography came along. His expectation was that the business would peter out over a period of years but instead it plunged and he was done. He moved to Arizona and onto his favorite thing in the world—rattlesnakes. During his time here he has written several books on them, photographs them, studies them, and loves them. He’s the one who catches them when we spot one and takes them safely away.

But the point is this: When digital photography came around anyone could take or create a decent picture. No longer was proper lighting essential. The image could be lightened in Photoshop. Composition could be altered later. Heck, even the pyramids could be moved if they needed to be closer.  Technology replaced knowledge and skill.

Being a one-person shop, I do the conservation, binding, and teaching. I love the diversity. I’m also the accountant, the guy who answers the phone, and the shipping department. I really enjoy it all.

But I’m also the web site programmer. Funny, because I’m a bookbinder and all I know about coding is that it uses 1 and 0.

When I started out I used iWeb, Apple’s web program. It was really the best of Apple in that it took a rather complicated task and made it amazingly simple. Drag and drop, resize on the screen, move stuff around, add page links, and it would write the code for it all. I still think it was the best thing Apple ever did—taking a complicated task and simplifying it to a seemingly impossible degree.

After a few years, though, Apple announced they were going to stop developing it. I suppose because there were other options out in the world. Though folks are still using iWeb today, it didn’t make sense to stick with it because without updates one could never be sure it would continue to be compatible with newer operating systems.

I moved on to a program called Freeway. It was a bit harder to wade through, but it was also drag and drop, WYSIWYG. Though more complicated than iWeb, Freeway had more features and allowed me to make a site with more useful pages. Folks could sign up for my email list. I could sell t-shirts, and other stuff. I liked it very much.

And then those damn iPhones came along.

Then websites needed to be responsive.

Responsive means that sites need to resize and reorient themselves to fit the size and shape of each device. It is a great thing because it doesn't make sense to use an iPhone to look at a site that built for a screen ten times the size.

This complicated things with Freeway. One could make a site where each chunk of information took up x percentage of the screen, so that the chunks would shrink with smaller screens. But then things might do crazy things like move to places you didn’t want them. I remember spending a few hours trying to get my footer to stay in place at the bottom of a screen to keep my icons in the proper location and properly orientated to each other. (The icons were to my Facebook page, this blog, email and my YouTube channel.) Hours.  Other had a much easier time, for me it was enough just keeping my head above water.

But still I liked Freeway in spite of all the frustrations. Maybe it was the satisfaction of having solved problems after fighting it for a spell of time.  But the interface was pretty confusing to me, or not as clear or intuitive as one expects a program for a Mac to be.

One curious thing was that while the basic program was pretty limited, users (who could program) would write “actions,” which were free, to make Freeway do things that seemed pretty essential.  And most of the support was from a gracious group of users who answered questions on a discussion board.  They did most of the support and teaching and without any compensation.  And, it turns out, many of them didn't use Freeway any more because it was too limited for them, or they just used parts of it and did their own programming for the majority of their work.  The program didn't satisfy the iWeb refugees, because it was a bit too complicated, or the folks who were fairly advanced, because it was too limited in what it could do.  Looking back these issues were a bit of a problem.

But still Freeway served me well.

Until in early July, when I was in Seattle. Freeway announced they were going out of business. As with iWeb, the program would still work, of course. But when Apple releases a new operating system this Fall, it seems likely that parts of the site will break and there will be no one to release patches and updates to keep it running.

My web site is my only advertising. It needs to work.

Looking around I tried a few programs and decided on Sparkle.

It’s fantastic—and so much easier than Freeway. Perhaps easier than iWeb was, but with many, many more features. I wonder if I don’t feel like a recently freed North Korean citizen who found himself in Seoul. They loved their country until they saw something else that was almost unimaginably better for them.   That might be their biggest challenge.

I loved Freeway, but this is better for me.  Freeway could make almost any site. Sparkle can do almost all of what Freeway Pro could do but with 10% of the effort and time.

Sparkle is just so much more intuitive and more than flexible enough for me. There are some limitations with it, like ecommerce is done through external pages, but I haven't found much more lacking than that. I mean, it wouldn't work for a bank web site but I think for 95% of web site builders out there this is the perfect solution.

Making the site is literally as simple as using Pages, or Word.  Drag and drop, WYSIWYG, links are easy, adding video and audio files are a breeze.  One can do incredible things with it without breaking a sweat.

What sold me on the program was that it wasn't dependent on templates, though they have several free templates available.  I know what I wanted each page to look like and was able to do it without having to contort to fit into someone else's idea or design.  And it wasn't built on piecing together blocks of elements to make a page.  I wanted the freedom that Sparkle gave me.

Now my site is pretty simple by design. It’s a place for potential clients to understand what I do and why I do it. Most don’t really know much about repair and are a hesitant-to-uncertain how to approach the idea of having someone go at their family heirloom Bible.  As a result I have a 60 page site where folks can learn all they want about binding, repair and conservation.

And that problem I had with my footer in Freeway that took hours?  It took about ten minutes with Sparkle.

Though a simple site it still has a bit of bling!  Sparkle makes is insanely simple to add animation to text and images, which I've done when I want to be sure folks see something on a page.  Still, my site is pretty much text and pictures and videos. But I’ve seen sites done with Sparkle that would make Vegas proud. It can do so much more than how I use it. They have links to some amazing sites on Sparkle's homepage. Go look at them. [www.sparkle.cx]

You can also see lots of how-to videos on YouTube, including the best ones which are here:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCYoInDCDgpHMYKj06-KCT0g

But I doubt you'll need to see many of them if you've done anything in Pages or Word.  I used one to make a sticky header, so that took probably five minutes to figure out how to do.  And then one minute to actually do it.  It's crazy, in a great way.

There were two things I had problems with during the couple of weeks it took to transfer it over. One of them was because I was using a Freeway mindset and way over complicated things. The other was something that was unfamiliar to me.  I'd email the guy there and hear back very quickly with the simple answers to my questions. I think he's in Florence, probably going to all the sites where they filmed "A Room With A View."  I would if I was there.  Instead, though, he's sitting by his computer answering questions from users.  Quickly and clearly.

Another reason I like it is that it's a freestanding program so I don't have to use their hosting service which is the case for many simple web programs.  I want more control than that.  And many of them seem template driven.  Believe me I looked all over the place before jumping into Sparkle.

When I would go back to Freeway after not touching it for several months it would take me several minutes to figure out what to do again. That always kind of surprised me. Granted the documentation was great but just to change a photo I had to go through a process of “How do I do this again?”  I'd pull out their documentation, read, remember what I did and then go do it.  Not intuitive enough for an an iWeb refugee it seems.

Well, not any more. I highly recommend Sparkle. Very highly.

Thinking about our neighbor and the demise of needing to know something about photography to create a beautiful photograph, it must be hard to be a web developer these days if programs like this are around where you don't need to know how to program to make a great web site. We live in a world where bookbinders can make pretty much make any web site they can imagine without any real help, and without any knowledge of coding or other technical issues. Image what someone from a less Luddite-friendly field could do! Progress for us. Not so much fun for developers. But perhaps their field has shrunk and morphed into complicated sites, which might be a good thing for them. More interesting and probably better-paying.

But for me, it’s amazing to have programs like Sparkle that make things so simple and easy. I’d probably like it even more if I was more aware of all the work and knowledge it was freeing me from having to learn.

To learn more:  www.sparkle.cx

A follow up post is here:

http://singleflexible.blogspot.com/2016/09/web-hosting-comparisons-or-stop.html

5 comments:

  1. Great post — thanks.

    I've been a casual Freeway Pro user since FP4. Their claim of being WYSIWYG always struck me as an oversell on their part. I always had to tweak this or that to get it to do what I wanted. They milked WYSIWYG as long as they could, never really trying to make the changes needed to address adaptive design needs.

    I've been a Mac user since 1985 because I wanted to do "my stuff" rather than learning programming and geekeeze. From your description, Sparkle is the current king-of-the-hill in terms of "getting it done" web development tools. I'll be picking up a copy shortly — thanks.

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    1. I really think you'll like it, I sure have. A bit of relief, really. But, the more I think about it, the things I like the best are the ability to avoid templates and that I don't have to use a hosting service related to the creating the site. Freedom in every way. Thanks for your comment!

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  2. I'm learning to make website using Sparkle, and your overall introduction about Sparkle is very useful. Your site has blog archives, but I can't find any ways to learn how to make archives. Can you explain to me about how to make archives or let me have your file sources about it?

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  3. Hi Jeonghee. Thanks so much for your comment. My blog is separate from my Sparkle site (which is www.pantherpeakbindery.com). So the blog archives are through blogspot where this blog is hosted.

    Does that help? You'll love Sparkle!

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  4. I've got it. Thanks for your quick reply!!

    ReplyDelete