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I'm a programmer at a domain registrar and web hosting company. In the past year or so we have branched into custom web design for individuals and small businesses. Currently all our solutions are WordPress-based.

We find that we have a small but vocal group of clients that are not ready for custom web design, and are not prepared to learn WordPress to build themselves a site either. Currently these clients are using our legacy templated website builder solution based on a classic ASP framework that we purchased and customized. While the platform is a complete dead-end, it does have several good features, including sub-page support, galleries, contact forms, product catalogs, and Paypal integration. It is also easier for a non-technical user than Wordpress -- better at holding their hand with wizard interfaces and big buttons, etc.

Some within the company are suggesting what essentially amounts to an updated version of the same solution, based on Plesk's SiteBuilder platform. I believe this will simply lead to another dead-end a few years from now. What I would really love to adopt instead is an open source, template driven website builder UI that produces a working WordPress site. (Note that it can be commercial and paid, as long as we have access to the source to customize/maintain it.) My thinking is that the future of the WordPress platform is bright and stable, and any clients that build small templated sites on it will be able to easily upgrade them as their needs grow in the future. In addition, should they later require custom development, we will be in a position to leverage our WordPress know-how, including any plugins and themes that we have customized, to get their job done faster and cheaper.

I'm surprised that after five minutes of Googling, I haven't found something that matches my description. Maybe I'm using the wrong search terms. I would have thought that such a huge and mature platform as WordPress would already have spawned something like this. Does anyone have any suggestions?

Another way to put it is that we want to offer a service competitive with GoDaddy's WebSite Tonight, but that produces a working WordPress site. We want a completely non-technical user with no knowledge of HTML to be able to build their site without human assistance. In other words, a nice colourful wizard with big buttons and 3 steps:

  1. Pick a theme.
  2. Setup page names and paste in your content.
  3. Optionally install some common free plugins: contact forms, photo/media album, Google Analytics, product catalog, PayPal integration, etc.

It's OK if the wizard can't edit the site once it's generated. At that point it will be better for the user to learn how to edit within Wordpress proper. But the "kickoff" has to be through the super-simple friendly UI. If nothing like this exists, I would love to help build it, but I doubt our management team could allocate the time :-) Maybe as a side project.

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closed as not constructive by toscho Dec 9 '12 at 16:13

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I think that it wouldn't be a massive project to build something like this - for instance several hosting providers have automated setup of WP and it's database etc using a simple .cgi script (thinking of heart internet here). With a little customisation of WP's database contents, you would be able to make setup simpler for a non techie which would just be a customised wordpress install with several options set. IMO this would be your best bet, there are numerous other solutions but if none fit the bill, better to build your own. –  jammypeach Mar 30 '12 at 15:20
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I've upvoted @kaiser's answer, but based on your reply comments to all of the posted answers, I've close-voted this question as too localized. I think your requirements are far too narrow to benefit a wider audience. (Actually, tried to close-vote; the open bounty is preventing close votes.) –  Chip Bennett Apr 4 '12 at 14:55

3 Answers 3

up vote 2 down vote accepted
+100

What you're wanting essentially is to not have to intervene, to let the customer do it all without needing human intervention by the company other than when things go wrong, am I correct?

Of note, Wordpress.com already operates in an environment where the end user can do it all themselves.

I estimate the time needed to build this as 2-3 days. I'm afraid there isn't anything that will do it all for you straight out of the box. The others have very nice solutions that let you modify an existing wordpress sites design extensively without needing to do any code or stylesheet work, but as you've mentioned that's not what you want.

So you need:

All the themes and plugins would come preinstalled with your multisite network/wordpress install package, all you need to do is that last step of building the Wizard GUI

I would advise that you're problem of clients not being ready for custom design is not a technical problem, nor is it a problem with their knowledge, but a marketing/sales problem, and one that could be very profitable if it's solved.

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This is probably the most comprehensive answer I could hope for given my specific requirements. I also really appreciate all the legwork of explaining some of the major steps and linking to example code. Thanks Tom! –  Jordan Rieger Apr 4 '12 at 19:08
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Thanks! Do remember to report back if you find anything helpful along the way so that I can update this answer for others –  Tom J Nowell Apr 4 '12 at 22:24

Here's

  • Builder
  • Constructor - a little older and ugly at a first glance but offers something similar from the back-end.
  • Themeswell is so far in beta, but I guess it is close to what you want.
  • Afaik, @ungestaltbar maintains something like this for his clients. You may meet him in the Deutschpress chat room here on WPSE.
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Thanks kaiser, those are interesting, but what I really want is something that our non-technical end users can use without any human intervention from our end. Ideally they would sign up for a hosting package and then our system would automatically setup this wizard/builder tool for them. They could use it to create a working WordPress site, and then later if they want more customization they could modify it through WordPress or through the tool. The tools you linked seem a little too complicated for our target client. –  Jordan Rieger Mar 27 '12 at 0:18
    
Join the chatroom and ask @ungestaltbar. –  kaiser Mar 27 '12 at 0:26
    
I look a look in the chatroom but it's German. Do they mind if some one barges in who can only speak English, or uses a poor Google Translator? :P –  Jordan Rieger Mar 27 '12 at 16:54
    
Everybody over there speaks english as well. Just leave a note to him using @ungestalbar. –  kaiser Mar 27 '12 at 17:12
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Late reply, sorry. What Kaiser is referring to is this plugin, as seen in this quick screenr: screenr.com/rJS8 But this plugin is about managing (predefined blocks of) content and not about setting up basic themes, even if I think that these are two different tasks anyway. –  ungestaltbar Mar 31 '12 at 17:06

We (PressCrew) have been working on such a solution for almost two years now. It's called Infinity, and it's an GPL WordPress Theming Engine. We just presented the solution on WordCamp NL, and our main focus is making it easier for both a theme developer / WP Business to create a flexible and maintainable theme framework for their clients, but also focus on making customization of the theme a lot easier for the end user. Here's a short summary of some stuff you might like:

"Every client has different needs, we've learned as much as that doing years of WordPress projects! WordPress has evolved to the point where it can handle practically any type of project, and while this is great for your business, it presents you with certain challenges. A traditional framework might come with a great option panel packed full of features, and additional code for popular 3rd party plugins, causing code overhead and often confusion for your clients. Infinity offers you not only a boilerplate theme that can handle virtually any project, it also allows you to build a Control Panel for your clients. "

More information can be found on our homepage at: http://infinity.presscrew.com/

More details for developers: http://infinity.presscrew.com/intro/development/ and something about the custom dashboard builder: http://infinity.presscrew.com/feature/dashboard-builder/

If you have any questions you can also join our community and get support on http://community.presscrew.com!

everything Infinity does is done on a theming level, so you would need to look at ways to automate the actual hosting or control panel if you want that type of management (outside WordPress).

Hope this is useful :-)

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That's really cool. But I think it's still not exactly what I want. I want something as simple as Website Tonight, where a completely non-technical user with no knowledge of HTML can build their site without human assistance (except it will be Wordpress, not proprietary). In other words, a big shiny wizard with big buttons and 3 steps: 1. Pick a theme. 2. Setup page/menu structure and content. 3. optionally install some common plugins: contact forms, photo/media album, Google Analytics, product catalog, PayPal integration, etc. That's it. I've updated my question and started a bounty on this. –  Jordan Rieger Mar 29 '12 at 18:28

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