Even Monkeys Can Build Websites Now

By Lance Ng

Lance Ng

The end of the road is coming for ‘plain vanilla’ web design companies and freelancers.

Freddie, Mailchimp’s mascot. Source: Flickr

“…shouldn’t we exploit the fact that all humans love and adore monkeys?”

— Ben Chestnut, founder of Mailchimp on his inspiration behind the name.

Yes, the title was tongue-in-cheek. But behind the ‘monkey business’ I hope to deliver an important message. Websites, and web developers, are nearing an inflection point in history.

A few days ago, I received Mailchimp’s invitation to try out the beta version of their new website builder. I immediately gave it a spin.

I was impressed.

It’s free and it’s easy to use. To build features all you had to do was drag and drop. The result is a mobile responsive, professional looking ‘one-page’ website that is the norm for small businesses these days.

And small businesses are the exact clientele that Mailchimp is after. Sticking true to its roots of serving DIY entrepreneurs, it surveyed over 500 small businesses when they first started designing the product.

It’s a clever move; extending their services to cover all of the digital needs of small businesses starting up — get a domain name, buy a web hosting package, set up website and email, register social media accounts, do online marketing and digital advertising.

More importantly, Mailchimp’s move also heralds an age where building and hosting your own website may not even be necessary anymore.

The reason is this.

For most small businesses the need for a website is simply to maintain a brand presence and project some credibility. Most of the actual online customer interactions are being done through their social media accounts.

Think about it. The typical company website these days is comprised of the following static information — about us, products & services, contact form, testimonials, photos, videos and articles etc. These can all be placed on a LinkedIn company page or Facebook business page.

They are free and provide unlimited storage and excellent transmission bandwidth. They also come with other useful features like instant messaging and community management tools. All that a small business really needs is a domain name that redirects to their Linkedin/Facebook page and a basic email hosting service.

Around 1998, I remember reading a survey in the US that said web designers were the most enviable profession of all jobs. The pay was great and demand far outstripped supply.

That was when websites were still largely being coded by hand.

Now anyone can go onto Wix to create a website with interactive effects and advanced features without even knowing what HTML stands for.

That’s just for the usual company or personal websites.

If you wanted to build an online magazine, you could use Medium’s publications feature to create one. The best part is there are already millions of users that would receive your articles through intelligent recommendations the minute you start publishing.

No need to do digital advertising or search engine optimization (SEO). No need to select, maintain and understand the technicalities behind hosting, cybersecurity and user analytics.

Likewise, if you wanted to do e-commerce, there’s Shopify — and other similar platforms — which helps you to build a blogshop almost instantly. The logistics of inventory and fulfillment are taken cared of by their integrated dropshipping partners like Oberlo.

It is also already possible for entrepreneurs in many countries to sell products directly within Instagram or Facebook Messenger. Their customers would not have to leave the app. So why would an amateur or new e-commerce entrepreneur need to build his own website?

But here’s the real kicker.

Researchers have already developed AI such as Bayou and SketchAdapt that can code and develop computer programs on its own. It won’t be long before building a new website is as simple as literally speaking to a computer and telling it what you need.

WAIT! Scratch that!

There is already one. It’s call “Leia”.

Click on the pic to try out Leia

Not so hot on talking?

How about AIDA instead? She has 650 options, including e-commerce stalls, business sites and personal portfolios. Not pleased with the results? She’ll do it again and again until you’re smiling.

So what will happen to web designers/developers?

To be precise, everything we’ve discussed above applies largely to ‘plain vanilla’ websites for small businesses and B2C use cases that don’t require custom features or enterprise grade I.T. architecture.

Many MNCs, governments, financial institutions and tech-based businesses will still want to build their own websites or apps, especially if their business model revolves around using the internet to deliver their products or services. A good example is online banking. It is unlikely that different banks will share a common, third party hosted, internet banking platform — for regulatory and control reasons. They will still build and host their own.

Because of that, future web developers will need to be full stack trained or have other complimentary skillsets like cloud computing or cybersecurity in order to be valued as a skilled professional.

They will only be hired by organizations that require multi-featured, interoperable websites that connect to various API sources. These websites will need to be highly robust and secured, as well as require a consistent and high level of maintenance.

Previously, I’ve predicted that “The End Is Near for Mobile Apps” that provide only information and no utility related features that leverage on a smartphone’s hardware or operating system.

The same is happening for websites. This era marks the start of the end for freelance web developers, as well as the many small to mid-size web design companies that typically serve small businesses.

It’s time to upskill or diversify if you are one.