A website builder is an offline software or online platform that helps you create your own website, without much coding.
Websites created in starting years of the World Wide Web (early 1990s) were manually written in a programming language called HTML. The webpages then had mostly text and images, then came videos and Flash and then interactivity (output of web forms to database etc).
Website Building Software (Offline)
During those heydays, some smart people came up with software to help non-programming novices to create web pages visually. FrontPage was the first such software created by Vermeer Technologies in 1995. The company was acquired by Microsoft in the same year and since then it was known as MS FrontPage till it was retired in 2003. FrontPage was followed by Macromedia Dreamweaver which quickly became the market leader in the drag-and-drop website publishing field. Dreamweaver was later acquired by Adobe (the people who created Photoshop).
There were / are many other such applications. All of these were offline website creating software i.e. FrontPage or Dreamweaver had to be installed in your computer. Then you opened it like other applications (say, MS Word) and start creating your website. After your webpages were done and structured as a website with links and all, then you could upload them to the web hosting company’s servers. If something didn’t work as expected, you go back to the software, edit the pages and re-upload them again. Every new change or edit meant doing that. (I am not even mentioning other complications like FTP and FrontPage extensions etc!)
Online Website Builders
Around the same time, some companies came up with online website creators. Yahoo Geocities, Lycos Angelfire and Tripod were some of the leading ones. There was no need to install any software. You could just access their service using a web browser. Then sign up for their free accounts, select a template and start adding pages and content to your website. You would typically get an account with 20 MB space (!) and a domain name like www.yourname.tripod.com or www.username.geocities.com/somename .
This caught the fancy of many non-programming web enthusiasts. That led to almost all web hosting companies to offer some kind of online website creation tool. Nothing too earth-shattering about their technologies, but it kind of got the job done for those who didn’t want to hire web developers for their small 4-5 page website.
Online Website Builders Today
As technology evolved, online website creation tools became even easier, offered many other functionalities all at much cheaper cost. Today, there are two types of online website builders. One is the classic template-based platforms where you choose one of the pre-designed templates, customize the design and then add your content.
Second type is the AI platform which is a result of advancements in AI (Artificial Intelligence). AI website builders work by creating a website for you based on your preferences, functions required and site objectives. Once you sign up, they will ask you a series of questions using web forms e.g. what is your profession, who will be your typical site visitor (their demographics and needs), your design preferences and so on. After that, the AI engine creates a website in minutes. You can of course then edit and customize this AI created website. The good part of this AI creation is that you have a website up very quickly.
There are dozens of services who offer online website creation. Some of the most popular ones are Wix, Weebly and Squarespace and more. You do not need to install any software on your computer.
You use your web browser to sign up to one of these services, say Wix. Then you can either create your website using their AI creator or the classic editor. If using the editor, you can choose one of their templates, customize the design and layout and add in your content like text and images. You can easily drag-and-drop elements to your pages (as you would in MS Word or PowerPoint) and create your website. Your website is ready in a few hours or even minutes!
Read this post on why Wix is the best online website builder
You can create anything from a basic personal website / blog to a full-fledged store selling your stuff online. Services like Wix assist you in creating your website through online help pages and how-to video tutorials as also technical support by email and phone.
Moreover, they offer templates for a range of business and professions. You can select a template of your choice, say a restaurant or physician and just add your own text and images.