The Grid and artificial intelligence for website creation

The Grid is a hosted website creation tool that promotes its ability to build a website using AI, or artificial intelligence. The project has nearly 52,000 “founding members” that have pre-paid $96 for a year long subscription to the service. That’s nearly $5 million to add to the $4.6 million dollars they’ve raised in venture capital.

With a nearly $10 million war chest, The Grid team aims to revolutionize how websites are built, calling an end to “templates” and introducing what they call “layout filters.” A layout filter enables the user to define the style of content for a particular section, and The Grid automatically takes the content and makes it work beautifully.

The video is impressive. The Grid has only just begun their beta rollout to the first 100 customers. It will likely be many months before all 50,000+ founding members gain access, but the promise of this platform — and the hype that has surrounded it thus far — is significant.

The Grid touches on a few pain points that really resonate with me. For one, the sales page is quite correct by calling traditional web templates “fragile.” Most templates are incredibly fragile. Calling programmatic content adaptation “artificial intelligence” is nice marketing-speak, but there is definitely something to the concept that I think we can learn from.

TechCrunch’s Frederic Lardinois had a chance to actually see an early version of the backend, and describes the functionality in a more practical manner my readers will likely appreciate:

The software does a deep analysis of all the content you want to add to your site. It does sentiment analysis for the text you want to add, for example, and look at whether people in your photos are smiling to determine what kind of fonts and colors it should use. It then looks for low-contrast areas in your photos to figure out where it can put text on an image. The tools can also automatically crop images based on The Grid’s face-detection algorithms, and the service looks at the overall color spectrum in those images to help decide the color palette for the site.

These features alone interest me, and they could be accomplished with WordPress. Just today, I had an organization whose website I manage contact me, asking how to prevent face cropping in WordPress images.

These are the types of practical problems that I think are worth spending considerable development resources on, that have practical advantages for all website owners. And if some of them aren’t core WordPress problems, I think they present an opportunity for product makers.

As to the hype of The Grid itself, who knows if it will mount to anything special. The sample websites I’ve seen so far are pretty meh, but I’m sure the software will improve. I’m tempted to become a founding member for $8 per month just to watch the platform’s progress.

One of The Grid’s earliest investor’s is Elegant Themes founder Nick Roach. Nick is friends with The Grid’s founder, Dan Tocchini, and he was one of The Grid’s earliest angel investors. I asked Nick a few questions about his relationship with The Grid, and he had the following to say:

I have been good friends with The Grid’s founder, Dan, for quite some time. I was happy to support him and invest a small sum of money into the company several years ago during the project’s infancy. It has been a pleasure to witness their team grow and their product develop—their talent and ambition has inspired them to create some really cool stuff, and I look forward to seeing where it leads them. My relationship with The Grid is merely that of a friend and investor, and at this time Elegant Themes is not involved. Right now I am 100% focused on Elegant Themes and the great stuff we are building for our customers, but of course I find all emerging technologies to be worthy of excitement!

I’m impressed to see someone so invested in WordPress (Elegant Themes might be the biggest theme company in the WordPress space right now, if I had to guess) investing in a platform that so sharply threatens the concept of WordPress templates.

Projects like The Grid are good for the WordPress world to keep an eye on, but not to be afraid of. Seeing how they market against WordPress (and they do market against WordPress), can help us make WordPress better.

Aversion to change is detrimental to improving the WordPress experience. A tweet from Justin Sainton properly notes the importance of moving and iteration:

Whoever said slow and steady wins the race was wrong. Moving and iterating quickly. That wins the race. Not being a dumb hare helps.

WordPress’s ever growing challenge is to be more flexible for developers and simpler for end users. WordPress is too complex for end users; many aspects of it are incredibly intimidating, and it’s important that we continue to look at the experience of using and maintaining WordPress websites with fresh eyes, and attack pain points to make it better.

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