Squarespace 6: The Review

I’ve been a Squarespace 5 customer for a good while. I absolutely love the service. For the vast majority of websites, the features of Squarespace 5 are more than plenty to achieve any kind of page layout or design. Even though I had extremely specific design goals with my own site — a combination of linked items and articles in a blog (or weblog) — it was possible.

This isn’t a just a review of Squarespace version 5. I’m having an in-depth look at the new kid on the block today: Squarespace 6. I’m comparing it to the biggest two competitors — Squarespace 5 and Tumblr. I feel I have the necessary qualifications to compare these services, as I’ve spent considerable time with each. First, some backstory.

I decided I wanted to start writing sometime around Christmas 2011. My first thought was that it wasn’t initially of utmost importance where I started writing — only that I did start writing. I was right. For that reason, I signed up to Tumblr and started posting two main types of content: links and articles. Some of my articles became pretty popular. As did some of my links. Tumblr was a good place for posting links — the link post type is, in my opinion, one of its best features. Link posts combined with extremely customisable theming options make Tumblr a great place to start writing.

However, there is a problem. Tumblr is free — the only way to give Tumblr money is to pin a post to the dashboard. Tumblr’s future revenue plans will involve advertising. I feel much more confident using a service I know is supported entirely by its users. That way, the users are the customers, not the advertisers. Moves the company make should be beneficial to the customers. This distinction is clear when looking at some of the moves Twitter has been making recently: the advertisers are Twitter’s customers, not us users. It’s an unfortunate truth.

Squarespace charges for a service. The users are the customers. Simple.

After realising that I wasn’t completely useless at writing, I decided I needed to take it a little more seriously. My first priority was to take control of my words. I wanted to know they were completely under my command. I never quite felt in control when using Tumblr. I am not the only person who feels this way:

I really wanted to move to SquareSpace. They support my favorite podcasts and they have good taste. A great thing about SquareSpace is that they offer a 14 day unpaid trial period. That allowed me to do a test migration of my content and tryout some designs and trial posts. The trial was a lot of fun and demonstrated why so many people are choosing to migrate to SquareSpace servers.

The main reason Gabe decided to not move to Squarespace is because he was used to the hassles which came along with hosting WordPress manually and had built up a workflow around that system. He also wanted to start programming and the flexibility of a full web host to run code on was essential for him. He was very much an edge-case — I feel sorry for him. He was disappointed that he couldn’t become a Squarespace customer.

Moving to Squarespace gives the site owner full control of the content. An example of this is how easy it is to download an archive of all past posts for easy exporting. I do this every 15 days, just in case something awful happens to Squarespace’s servers.

Luckily, I don’t want to start programming, so having a full web host is not important to me. Even if I do want to start someday, there are enough great services online I could use — I wouldn’t want to mix my writing with my programming. I moved to Squarespace because I wanted more control over my writing.

Chasing Perfection is running on Squarespace version 5. I’m planning to transfer it to Squarespace 6 in the near future, but for now I’m not worried about being on an older system. Squarespace will stick around: from their own FAQ describing Squarespace 6:

What will happen to my Squarespace 5 site? Will it continue to be supported?

Your existing site will be supported indefinitely. Much as we still support versions of Squarespace sites that are upwards of 7 years old (our legacy V4 system), we will continue to support all Squarespace sites on our infrastructure. Our customers can continue to rely on us as they always have.

This kind of dedicated support is only available from a company who puts their users first. That’s the most important thing to take away from this look at Squarespace. The experience of being a Squarespace customer is fantastic. The support staff are friendly and extremely knowledgeable. I’ve asked quite a few difficult questions to the support staff and have had prompt replies with helpful pointers and great answers. I could tell the support staff had asked a Squarespace engineer about my question. It was a refreshing and great feeling.

Shiny new features in Squarespace 6

Link blogging

The feature I’m most excited about in Squarespace 6 is link-blogging. A large part of Chasing Perfection is a linked-list. Similar to Daring Fireball’s linked list, I post a series of links to external websites, with commentary. My readers enjoy these posts — and I enjoy creating them, too. Linked Lists are a great way to learn more about a writer you’re interested in: it takes less time and attention to post a few links with some commentary added than to write a full article, yet readers get a glimpse into the life of the writer.

Squarespace 5 lacked an official way to create “linked-list” items. I had to hack it in myself. The drawback of this system in Squarespace 5 is how it works for my RSS subscribers. My subscribers click on the title of the RSS feed and are taken to the Chasing Perfection post’s permalink page, not the external link. Once they get to my site’s page, they then have to click the post title to be taken to where I’m trying to link them.

Not with Squarespace 6.

With Squarespace 6, the link-style blog post is an officially supported post-type. When creating a new post using the great online interface, simply hit “Options”, enter the “Source URL” of your choosing, then check the “External Link” box. Simple. Here’s what it looks like:

LayoutEngine

The way to layout and organise pages has been completely redesigned in Squarespace 6. When signed in to your site, each area which can be customised or edited contains an icon: a pencil shows that the area can be modified, whereas a plus symbol indicates new content or pages can be added. It’s really just a matter of pressing the appropriate button and adding or editing as you please.

Content blocks are self-explanatory. If you want to add some content to a specific page without making it a “blog”, a content block is the place to go. It’s possible to embed some pretty interesting types of content — for example, recently I’ve been playing around with Mailchimp. When I was looking at different content blocks to add to my site’s sidebar, I discovered the “form” type can be linked to a Mailchimp campaign. This is a great way for readers of a site to sign up to a newsletter or mailing list. I’m very impressed.

Posting UI

Whilst adding and modifying pages in Squarespace 6 is powerful, posting to a blog has been greatly improved, too. Let’s compare the interface of WordPress 3 to that of Squarespace 6. I’m currently looking at the WordPress posting UI — and believe me, there are thankfully very little similarities between it and the new offering from Squarespace.

The WordPress writing UI suffers from feature-bloat. It’s only changed a little over the years — and it’s easy to tell. There are a lot of buttons which are rarely used: the whole experience reminds me of Microsoft Office 2003. Not in a good way.

The Squarespace 6 posting UI, on the other hand, is much more modern. Sleek and simple, I find it easier to use than the WordPress UI. Markdown support is one of the best default features for me. Even though it contains fewer options, all the settings I find myself wanting are included. Having multiple panes, Item, Options, Location and Social, helps divide the clutter and only show me what’s important once screen at a time. I start writing in the Item view, then move along sequentially.

Sometimes, I can start to feel distracted by the clutter and want a stripped down version of the posting UI to work in. The fullscreen mode is perfect for that. The Squarespace designers really took the minimal approach to UI and took it as far as it can go. The following image is a screenshot of my entire Safari browser window, whilst writing a post in fullscreen mode.

Of course, this is quite a dramatic interface for working and it won’t appeal to everyone. I’m just glad it exists. Although I spend a lot of my time working in apps like Byword and iA Writer, sometimes I just end up using the web interface for posting articles — even lengthy reviews like what you’re currently reading. I might start in one writing environment and switch mid-way through.

It’s a known fact that online dynamic content editors can be slow and unresponsive to clicks. In the time I’ve been using Squarespace 6, I’ve felt it to be faster than WordPress, yet not as snappy as a native Mac app.

No life on Mars… yet

Whilst I’m discussing writing environments, it’s worth mentioning that Squarespace 6 doesn’t currently support third-party posting clients. “Third party posting clients” pretty much exclusively means Marsedit by Red Sweater Software — at least for me. Don’t worry — the Squarespace iOS apps still work great with version 6. I hope this oversight is temporary, as I almost exclusively use Marsedit when posting short links to my site. The Squarespace FAQ doesn’t completely clarify the situation, but this line gives me hope that third-party client support may be in the pipeline:

Features Squarespace 6 does not currently support includes:

  • Any 3rd party clients that depend on XML-RPC​

Responsive design, but no developer access… yet

Each template included in Squarespace 6 is fully responsive. The amount of work and attention to detail gone into them is quite breathtaking. Simply resize your browser window on one of the templates and you’ll see just how much thought has gone into them. This is great news for “muggles” (less tech savvy users), because it will improve the quality of the web for users unable to code the improvements themselves.

Unfortunately, us designers and coders who want access to the inner workings of our sites will have to wait. The Squarespace 6 developer access is currently in beta and will be rolled out in time. The blog post explains:

While our release today is centered around the consumer features of Squarespace 6, there is a star underneath it all. The developer platform we’ve used to create every website on our platform, ranging from our homepage to every one of our templates, will be available shortly and will enable developers to control every single line of HTML on a Squarespace site.

Closing thoughts

There are a ton more Squarespace 6 features than I can fit in this post. Your best bet to find out all of them is to check out the great tour — then sign up for a free two week trial and play with it yourself. Personally, I’ll be testing and experimenting with my Squarespace 6 account — but I won’t be moving Chasing Perfection over until the Squarespace developer access has been rolled out and I’ve converted my Squarespace 5 template to work with the new service. Because of the link-blogging improvements, I’m extremely eager to move!

I’ve reccomended Squarespace to multiple friends over the last few months and I use it myself for more than one project, including Chasing Perfection. I highly reccomend the service. It really is a great way to create a beautiful website. If you’re a geek, you have the power and flexibility to create exactly what you want. If you’re not, the default templates are not only gorgeous, but flexible enough to be customised to your own taste. Check out the official Squarespace blog post for even more information about the move. This line sums up the philosophy of Squarespace 6 well:

The driving purpose behind Squarespace 6 is to give our customers immediate access to the best in modern web design, unrivaled tools to create dynamic pages, blogs, and galleries, and social integrations that always keep you connected – all in an elegant interface that makes managing your website a joy.

Do you use Squarespace for your site? Show off your creations in the comments! I’m excited to see how many Industry readers have created something wonderful!

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