Toolbox

After debuting to a private audience at South by Southwest Interactive (SXSW) Los Angeles-based WYSIWYG social Web publishing platform Needly is pulling back the curtain and launching to the public today. The general idea is to allow anyone, regardless of technical ability to design any website from scratch using drag and drop tools. In addition to this design and publishing functionality, the platform also includes social following of other content creators – inside and outside the Needly network – and a RSS-baser reader solution. (Yes, another one!)

Needly is the vision of serial entrepreneur and angel investor Fred Krueger, who is also the founder of Top Level Domain Holdings (TLDH), Adconion Media Group, Tagworld (sold to Viacom), and Fauve Software (sold to Macromedia/Adobe). Krueger began working on Needly after paying one too many design contractors an absurd amount of money to develop a website for one of his portfolio companies. Frustrated that the process isn’t much easier today than it was a decade ago, he assembled a small team and created an alternative. The result is the simplest method of creating a professional-looking website that I’ve ever encountered.

It’s hard to tell exactly what Needly is trying to be, but it does a lot of things well. During a recent demo, I saw a company employee recreate pixel-perfect copies of the PandoDaily, TechCrunch, and Chase Bank homepages from scratch, each in a matter of minutes and without writing a single line of code – all three designs which surely ran six (or even seven) figures in development cost to create.

At the same time, the platform offers a Tumblr- or WordPress-like community platform where publishers and creators can follow one another and share content amongst themselves and to the Web at large. Finally, Needly offers a Google Reader replacement, because, well, who isn’t making one of those these days. Needly’s reader incorporates its social DNA by allowing users to create both public and private groups among which to share content.

Needly will fit in nicely with Krueger’s TLDH, which is a domain registrar similar to GoDaddy. When users purchase and host new domains – including those fancy top level domains like .beer and .london that the company has acquired – they’ll have the option of quickly and easily designing a website. While the two industry giants, GoDaddy and Web.com, claim to offer the same tools, the experience in both cases seems straight out of 1999. Needly is a dramatic improvement, and one that makes professional website creation a realistic endeavor for the novice small business owner, school teacher, homemaker, and others.

Needly has raised “over $3 million dollars” from Upfront Ventures (fka GRP Partners), Wellington Partners, and multiple angel investors, according to Krueger.

So, in summary, Needly is Photoshop plus WordPress/Tumblr plus Google Reader. That sounds great, so what’s the catch? Well, some of it costs money. The reader and basic design product are available for free. But anyone looking to host a site of any substance will need to pay for the the base, self service version of publishing platform, which runs $19 per month, giving the user 4GB of storage capacity and 8GB of bandwidth. The full service, managed solution costs $99 per month, ups storage and bandwidth to 6GB and 20GB respectively, and means the company’s experts will design and maintain your site for you.

For a business owner, both solutions are reasonably priced and offer plenty of value. But for the individual consumer, even the basic plan is a legitimate barrier to entry at $228 per year. A large component of the success of both Tumblr and WordPress is that they are entirely or partially free to use, allowing them to build up massive network effects. The same is true of the late Google Reader and now Digg Reader, Feedly, AOL Reader, etc.

As a relatively unknown product, Needly is going to have a hard time overcoming its cost differentiation. Perhaps its reader and designer can serve as a set of Trojan horses to bring users into its ecosystem who can later be upgraded to paying users. Perhaps. Otherwise, Needly will be another impressive product that not enough people get to see and benefit from.