On Squarespace 6

by Casey Newton

I spent part of the weekend upgrading my site to Squarespace 6, a process that was much more complicated than the gee-whiz videos on its site would suggest. But I'm more or less happy with the finished result.

It amazes me, paging through the blogging templates at WordPress and Tumblr, how much visual clutter still finds its way into blog designs. Part of me gets it -- I spent many an afternoon as a kid changing the fonts on my school essays, just to see how it would change the feel of the report. But I want to meet these template designers who think the average person needs four sidebars for their website, along with a contact form, Dropbox integration, and an autoplaying Instagram gallery.

In Silicon Valley, we see the opposite. As others have recently pointed out, the current mania is for radical simplicity -- Branch, Medium and Svbtle all make it their hallmark. To me it seems a sensible reaction against the ad-choked pages that still dominate much of the Web. So unpleasant are they to read that entire services have sprung up to make them readable. It's little wonder, then, that the Instapaper aesthetic would find its way back to the Web.

Squarespace isn't a Silicon Valley company -- it's based in New York -- but it seems to have taken some of those lessons to heart. It isn't really built as a blogging platform; its main customers are small businesses and solo entrepreneurs who want a place to showcase their photography, interior design work, and so on. But its new layout engine is powerful and its blogging software serviceable, and given that the Back to Work gang had talked me into signing up for the service back in the days of Squarespace 5, I decided to give its successor a shot.

(Side note: Squarespace seems to be pouring tons of money into marketing. It's advertising on nearly all the podcasts I listen to, which span a huge range of audiences: This American Life, Comedy Bang Bang, the Savage LoveCast. And that's in addition to Back to Work, which sets aside an ever-increasing amount of show time each week to describing a feature of the software at a level of detail that I imagine exhausts even Squarespace executives.)

I'm more or less happy with the site I built, though it took much more fiddling than I imagined it would. For starters, there's no easy way to convert from Squarespace 5 to Squarespace 6; there are importing tools, but you have to create a new account for Squarespace 6 and then link it to your old one. This seems insane and in any case it is exhausting. I also found that the drag-and-drop layout editing promised by Squarespace doesn't work in many cases. Dragging a photo into a text box sometimes places it inline, and at other times creates a new column for the photo, and begins exhibiting new behaviors that I couldn't quite understand. The most frustrating aspect of the design came when I went to delete an unnecessary placeholder block for text, clicking repeatedly on the grey trash can icon, and it simply didn't work. Or rather, sometimes it did and sometimes it didn't. I managed to eliminate most of the unwanted boxes but not all of them. Finally I switched from Chrome to Firefox and for some reason it started working again.

These are minor issues, of course, but given Squarespace's high level of self-congratulation -- the you would not believe how easy this is kind of talk -- I found it all rather surprising. The average person is still going to be way better off on WordPress or Tumblr.

Still, I'm going to soldier on, because I like the idea of a home that I own on the Web that isn't subject to advertising. I'll continue tweaking the design, because I enjoy tweaking designs. My top wish at the moment is that I could alter the display of tweets that I have running at the bottom of the page; it seems unnecessary to me to splash my name atop every one. Squarespace 5 allowed a high degree of customization in the way tweets were displayed; here's hoping Squarespace 6 adds that customization back.