You might wonder how, or perhaps rather why, they came up with the name Squarespace. Why is it square? Do they mean the geometric shape or is it slang for boring and unhip? Uncoolspace? Is it a senior centre? The logo offers little help. In addition to not having a single square shape in it, it looks either like a series of broken paper clips or two blowjobs, depending on how much you’ve had to drink. Rather cool, in fact, and definitely cost Squarespace many, many tens of dollars on Elance.
That was just a humours remark, and not at all fair. Since Squarespace have been blessed by investor capital we have no doubt they spent a million dollars on this and that a senior partner in some large international design agency is currently looking at a retirement home in Barbados commenting to his wife that there is one born every minute.
So, the name offers few clues to what might be hiding on the squarespace.com domain. Thus, we typed in the URL and was struck by a complete absence of senior citizens. And BJs. The simple and user friendly home page cleaned up the mystery in the simplest of sentences: “Everything you need to create an amazing website – try it free”. And so we did.
Notice the word “try”, though. Unlike many blogging and content management tools, Squarespace is not free. Prices start at $8 if you prepay for a year and are happy with a very limited account. For a full account the price is $240 per year if you opt for monthly billing.
When we do these reviews we usually hope the site will be shit simply because it makes for better reading. But again we were disappointed by Squarespace. It wasn’t shit at all. It was pretty good in fact. Signing up requires only your name, email, password – in addition to a username which will also be your Squarespace subdomain. We went for www.squarespace.com, which disappointingly returned the rather general error “choose another login”.
The Squarespace dashboard is brilliant. And that is not a word I use lightly about anything but myself and my own work. At first login a walk-through even pops up, making the site accessible for the intellectually disabled too.
As with many of these content management sites, though, the dumbing down has the disadvantage of making the site confusing for people with normal mental faculties. Have you ever heard a mother trying to explain to her three year old daughter how babies are made? Well, if you have you probably wouldn’t know it. It would not be obvious that “and then a little boy flower tickles a little lady flower’s tummy” actually means “and then after the blowjob daddy takes mommy doggy style on the kitchen table and fucks her brain out”. And it is like that with Squarespace too. When creating a form, for example, normal people are used to references like “text field” and when faced with field options like “single line text” and “name” all you can do is guess. Does “single line text” mean a single line of text – like a header text for example. No, it is a single line text field. And “name”? Turns out that is two text fields saying “first” and “last”. You can’t change that wording either – so if you are trying to make a German site you will probably be upset. And we all know what happens if you upset the Germans.
The most depressing part of Squarespace is probably the template selection. Yes, like everything else on the site changing layout is easy – it takes only a couple of clicks. Unlike Tumblr the dashboard updates immediately, and you can see how your site will look with its new layout before you approve the change. But all you have to choose from is five basic styles. Five. Single digit. I have underwear more personalized than that. Sure, you have sub options allowing you to change font size, move a column from left to right et cetera et cetera. But this is a paid site! You would expect millions of options. A complete website design on Elance will cost you $30! Granted, it will look like Pakistani shit, but it will be your Pakistani shit. No-one else will have shit like it anywhere.
And here we are touching upon something essential. The official story of the birth of Squarespace is pretty much like the official story of any Internet start-up. Back in 2004 (or 2006 depending on which article you read) Anthony Casalena wanted to publish his own blog. He looked and looked for a suitable publishing tool, but couldn’t find anything good enough. So he stayed up late one day and put together Squarespace. Sure. And back in 1969 Neil Armstrong couldn’t find a direct flight for Thanksgiving dinner at his parents’ house, so he stayed up late and hammered together Apollo 11.
I have a problem with this story. I have a problem with it because – and let us get this out of the way quickly – Squarespace is pretty good. It is so good that one might say that it is perhaps a bit of an overkill for a pimply college kid who just wanted to publish some random articles.
At this time you may be thinking that, yes, young master Casalena might have an overactive imagination. But even if he is sitting in a padded cell screaming “mind the fairies!” every time someone enters, who cares? If Squarespace is good then we should all use it. But, I don’t think we should. Because here is what I think happened back in 2004 (or 2006). I think Anthony Casalena sat down one day not because he wanted to make a blog, but because he wanted to make money. So he stayed up many, many, many late nights and put together Squarespace. I think he said “here is a hole in the market. There are no good publishing tools online and I want to be rich like that Zuckerberg nerd”. And I commend him. I like people who want to make lots of money. But I don’t think he spotted a hole in the market. I think Casalena missed many good publish tools back then and I think that there are even more good free publish tools available today.
But, you might say, Squarespace is only $8 a month. But it isn’t. Let’s be honest – the basic plan gives you 20 pages of website and no forms and no user registration. If all you need is something that basic, there are plenty of tools that give you that and much more for free. And if you need more, Squarespace is $20 if billed monthly. It’s still cheap, but we are talking about $240 per year. For that you can get a WordPress blog with a professional layout adapted and installed by some Indian guy on Elance and still have money to spare. And you will be left with something that truly looks like a professional website.
A year or two ago, Squarespace was charging $50 for 5GB of storage. Now they are charging $20 for an unlimited amount of storage. An act of pure generosity? I don’t think so. I think that Casalena knows he has a problem. He can spend millions improving Squarespace and it will never be quite as good as what is offered for free by WordPress or Google’s Blogger. And I don’t think the investors will be happy when they realize it.