Cloud Cannon: A Dropbox-powered CMS for Designers

For web designers the big contracts are always the most exciting. But regular, monthly income derived from on-going clients can keep the lights on when feast turns to famine.

The most popular CMS by far is WordPress. Most website owners will never use it to its fullest capabilities, yet still pay expensive hosting fees and manage complicated design issues.

Cloud Cannon is a web app which allows designers to lighten the client-side workload. IT promises to take care of all hosting issues, make the website easily editable by the client and best of all – it’s all done through Dropbox. But is it worth the hassle for small design firms and individuals? Let’s see.

First Impressions

The first gold star for Cloud Cannon comes from its super simplistic sign up feature. No forms. No credit cards. Just click the ‘Free Trial’ button, redirect to Dropbox to allow access and create a username.

Done. All in about twenty seconds or less.

Register and set up DropBox in Seconds

Register and set up DropBox in Seconds

There are no ugly technical dialog boxes getting in the way, or unnecessary options. Everything is clean cut and fast. The moment you’re signed up a Cloud Cannon folder is added to your Dropbox. Each individual website folder is contained within this folder.

The free trial period lasts a month and is more than enough time to get to grips with some of Cloud Cannons awesome features.

How it Works

Once you’re through the sign-up phase you’ll be tasked with creating your first Dropbox based website. On the main user homepage simply click ‘Add New Site’ and fill out the specifics such as the name of the website. If you have a URL you can attach that to the site. If not, your URL will read mywebsitename.cloudvent.net.

Creating a website in CloudCannon creates a folder in Dropbox

Creating a website in Cloud Cannon creates a folder in Dropbox

If you have a static website (with image files, HTML and CSS) good to go on your computer then you can simply drag it all into the Cloud Cannon folder in your Dropbox. If not you can opt to use the default Cloud Cannon theme.

Within seconds your website is live. I thought the speed at which a website is published was fantastic, particularly as everything is syncing through your Dropbox.

Changing Things Up

There are numerous ways you can edit your website.

Click on a section to edit it

Click on a section to edit it

From Cloud Cannon you can view a visual preview of your website. By clicking on text or images you can edit them. The text editor which appears just above a segment being edited editing reminded me of the WordPress editor both in terms of its functionality and appearance.

Edit code directly or insert 'editable' tags

Edit code directly or insert ‘editable’ tags

If you’d prefer to edit code directly you can do so from either the Dropbox files or the Code Editor built into Cloud Cannon. If a section of the website is for some reason not editable, all you have to do is add an ‘editable’ tag to the < div > tag within the code editor. Then, in the visual editor when you place your mouse cursor over it, the section will be editable. Simple.

Of course the main purpose of Cloud Cannon is to give clients access to their website – and this is by far my favourite aspect. There are two ways you can do this. If the client are themselves a Cloud Cannon user you can simply share the website with them. If they’re a non-user (such as a paying client!) then you can add a password protected section to the website and create user profiles. This allows them to access the site editor.

Cool Features

Cloud Cannon has some nifty tricks up its sleeve behind the main UI. For example, every few days websites are compressed and CSS files optimized to be ‘Google Friendly’. This ensures that your website appears higher up the search rankings without the need to slave over new code for SEO optimization.

Also, as a designer you might want to keep the fact that you’re using Cloud Cannon a secret from a client. When a client logs in to edit their website there is no Cloud Cannon branding – just a simple editor. This means you can charge clients a monthly maintenance fee for the hosting and editing privileges without the need to explain the middleman.

Pricing

Providing a continual hosting and editing package to a client would cost a designer a minimum of $10 per month through most hosting providers. Cloud Cannon charges $5 per month. This means a greater profit margin for the designer.

As you scale up the saving become even greater with the top bundle of 20 websites per month for $49 working out as $2.45 per website per month. Not too shabby.

Final Thoughts

Do I think Cloud Cannon is the best thing since sliced bread? No. When push comes to shove it’s a simplistic editor that isn’t going to appeal to a lot of clients. If the website is simplistic and generally not updated daily then it could work. But for clients who blog or post heavy media files then there are better options (such as WordPress).

I do think Cloud Cannon is a useful tool for designers with SME clients looking for static portfolio websites. It’s easy to use, easy to set up and best of all, from their side all the magic appears to be your own with no Cloud Cannon branding.

If it fits the bill, I’d say ditch the traditional Hosting/CMS package and try Cloud Cannon.


Summary

Cloud Cannon is an easy to use CMS build for website designers. It allows you to sync CSS and HTML files in your Dropbox with a website, essentially hosting a website in your Dropbox.

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