A Widget for Your Finger!

Chad Pytel

Note: Widgetfinger is no longer operational. Please contact us if you would like a product like this for your company.

The transitions that thoughtbot has gone through over the last 12 months have been incredible. We’ve successfully transformed from a full service information technology consulting company to a web application development company, continued to build a team of great developers, and completed some truly fun and amazing projects for clients.

While we continue to do great client work, I’m happy to say that the time has finally come to begin to pull back the curtains on thoughtbot’s first product—widgetfinger. We (thoughtbot and shotgunflat) have been using widgetfinger internally now for several months, in fact the shotgunflat website has been hosted on widgetfinger for a little over two weeks now, and many of their client’s sites have been successfully running on widgetfinger for quite a bit longer than that.

The old thoughtbot used to make normal, portfolio type (home, about, services, contact us pages) websites. Over the past several months, we’ve transitioned away from this work—working closely shotgunflat to transfer the work to them in as seamless a transition as possible for our clients.

As part of building and hosting these normal websites, we ran into a bunch of issues that we feel most design firms likely face.

  • Needing to maintain your own servers, or maintain lots of disparate hosting accounts
  • Struggling to keep track of passwords
  • Giving your clients access to edit the copy of their site is difficult, if not impossible

We never quite found a good solution to the first two, and the last item we had solved by giving our clients access to a pretty lame editor we pieced together in Perl, which did the trick, but had several issues, not the least of which was that it was not straightforward to use, and needed to be set up from scratch for each new website.

We also found that full fledged content management systems were way overkill for the majority of portfolio type websites, and most still had the issue of needing to be set up from scratch for each new website.

In the position we were in, we started to formulate some ideas about a simple content management system, specifically geared towards small design firms and one man shops, that would abstract away the drudgery and complexities of maintaining your own hosting environment, renting piecemeal accounts, and giving your clients a dead simple way to edit their website.

With our long-time design partner, shotgunflat, at our side we began about the work of building something that we could use. We felt that if we could build something that suited us, that it just might suit others, as well.

We hope that we’ve been on the right track, and its moments like the one below that have indicated that we are:

|Drew M.|widgetfinger is #awesome| |Jon Y.|Thanks!| |Drew M.|it just took me 38 minutes to go from a PSD to having my| | |internal pages done| |Chad P.|thats great!| |Chad P.|“widgetfinger is #awesome” - we’ll use that as a| | |testimonial on the website =)|

Well, anyway—this post is turning out to be pretty long. I’ll cut to the chase. We’re now putting widgetfinger into a private beta phase. We’d like to find a few like-minded design firms who think widgetfinger might be for them, to give it a shot. Since widgetfinger is a hosted webservice, it’ll be free during the beta phase, and we’ll eventually offer discounted plans for those people who participated in the beta who decide to stick with it.

A last word of warning - widgetfinger won’t be for everyone, and thats the way we want it. Its very much geared toward the simple, portfolio type website, and we’ll be fighting against any tendency to go beyond that. We feel that by focusing on that specific functionality, we can make a very powerful tool.

If you’re interested in participating in the private beta, please contact us. You can also enter your email over at www.widgetfinger.com, and we’ll be sure to keep you posted as things progress.

Over the next few days (in between sessions at RailsConf), we’ll be following up this post with some more posts exposing some of the functionality in and technology behind widgetfinger.