Why Squarespace sucks and will never be a WordPress killer

When I started the new year I was hoping for a fresh start with blogging, namely by using a platform that would take care of all the technical craziness of hosting, design and otherwise maintaining a a stable blogging platform for me, that way I could finally focus all my energy on my true craft:  writing and annoying people.

I thought Squarespace would be that blogging platform, where things would just… WORK, ya know?  No more manual SEO analysis and weird optimization hacks or fighting with bloated plugins, or chasing down threads in WordPress forums to fix a bug, or reintroducing code into my theme that the WP developers decided we didn’t need that of course I desperately needed.

I would spend days and weeks tinkering under the hood just to keep my blog functional and online, and when I finally had things just right (at least in the 5 minutes of peace I enjoyed before WP released another update that broke everything), I had no energy left to blog.  I was a zombie.

Squarespace gave me hope by offering an all in one solution, starting with taking care of all the hosting backend (and thus ensuring that I’ll never have to deal with frantic emails from my host claiming I’m using too many resources because one of my plugins basically blew up their server.)  Then secondly by allowing me to design my own theme, albeit one that would be limited to the rigid structure of their templates.  They had a small selection too, but fortunately their tumblelog template was aesthetically pleasing enough and had most of what I needed (with some moderate custom CSS tweaking involved.)  Finally their posting editor provided a few clear advantages over WordPress’s editor, namely with their use of blocks.  Each block has a unique trait (from simple text to video and image blocks) that could be resized and aligned effortlessly.  No having to switch back and forth between HTML and WYSIWYG to get things juuuuust right like I had to do with WordPress.  Images in a post were a breeze to add and edit, and not just images, but blocks of almost every flavor that could be added and adjusted in almost every imaginable way.

This was it, baby.  Sure there were some limits (such as their editor offering no way to change your font colors) but these were limits I could deal with.  I was content to live in a walled garden so long as everything worked properly and made sense.  I could at long last, write in peace.

And that’s when the wheels started to fall off.

Squarespace errors
Here we go…

That was the kind of error I’d receive when I simply wanted to delete a post.  Wait, it gets better.

I was starting to notice other annoyances too.  Things I always took for granted in WordPress but were conspicuously absent in Squarespace.  Like the lack of a Preview button.  The way it was designed, I couldn’t even right click on a post in my dashboard and open it up in a new tab so I could at least go back and forth between editing and then checking the changes.  Really?

There was also no “edit” link on individual posts either.  If I wanted to edit a post, instead of clicking on a simple link available on the same page like I could in WordPress, I had to go back to my Squarespace dashboard and do a KEYWORD SEARCH FOR THE SAME POST.  And there’s no sorting or filtering option available.  At all.

?????????????????????

You can’t even batch edit or delete posts, so God help you if you have a category of 100 or so posts you want to get rid of.   You’re gonna have to delete them one at a time, using keyword searches.

Oh, and if you decide you want to undelete a post, forget it.  No trash can here.  You delete it, you ain’t getting it back.  Ever.

Even more grating, if you use a custom domain, the little Squarespace widget overlayed on your site where you can make changes to your design or click to access your dashboard doesn’t show up.  As a result of this I was perpetually surfing between my domain and *.squarespace.com in clumsy and awkward fashion.  And also, if you happen to use Disqus for your comments, comments don’t show up in Squarespace’s native domain either.  (I could not for the life of me figure out why I couldn’t find a particular Disqus comment until I realized I was surfing the wrong domain.  Oy.)

Oh by the way, SS’s native comments will not export to Disqus (or vice versa), so if you ever decide to switch from one to the other, they go bye bye.

Even changing/adding meta data in a post was getting irksome (like setting tags and categories.)  I would add a category, and yet once I was done the popup window to add categories still wouldn’t go away.  Because there’s no dropdown menu I had to remember to click away to some other part of the screen to get rid of these popups.  And it didn’t always work either.  Sometimes it STAYED there, blocking part of my writing screen, to which the only thing I could do was save the post, leave the page, and then come back again.  FAIL.

Squarespace provides social sharing options which I thought would be great, except they don’t stay switched on when you want to use them.  You have to manually switch them on, every single time you write a post.  Every… single… time…

Even worse, the Tumblr sharing core dumps your ENTIRE post onto your Tumblr page.  There’s no option to have Squarespace simply push a link of the post (and maybe an excerpt) to your Tumblr site.  Seriously?

Oh, and here’s another minor and yet BAFFLING omission: you can’t customize your links to include nofollow tags, or set them to open in new windows either.  Well… you could,  but it requires placing most of your content inside a CODE block, which of course strips out all styling and formatting, so you’re now required to brush up on your HTML and re-add all the formatting you need, by hand.  Yes, really.

There were also certain things about their image formatting that really made no sense from an SEO perspective, especially given their market is supposedly heavily geared towards artists and visual designers.  Specifically I’m referring to their practice of consolidating captions with ALT tags.  When I captioned a photo for example, I usually made commentary that doesn’t always describe what the photo is all about (which is part of the point of why you’d use an ALT tag instead.)  And yet SS consolidates the two.

Let me explain to you why that sucks: In order to ensure my images get the best possible ranking in Google Image searches, my captions now have to be written as an accurate description of what’s in an image, instead of just being able to write any old thing I wanted.  For example, I post a picture of a tree.  I now have to write in the caption:

“This is a picture of a tree.”

Now, the reader sees that and he’s thinking, “I’m not blind moron, I know it’s a picture of a tree.”

BUT, if I had the ability to edit the caption and ALT separately (like I could always do in WordPress,) I could instead post the same picture, and write in the caption:

“This is one of my favorite places on earth!”

And then for the ALT tag (which the reader never sees, unless he’s disabled showing images in his browser for some reason) I can write an accurate description of the picture, which a Googlebot will then happily gobble up and give me a nice warm cuddle of search engine wubs.

It’s a little thing, and yet it achieves so much.  Captions allow me to tell the reader what I’m thinking or provide commentary that the image inspires, while ALT allows me to give the search engines what they need to properly index these images.

And yet Squarespace combines the two.  Why?  Because shut up, that’s why.

Then there’s the iPad/iPhone app.  Which at first glance seems polished and simple enough, until you decide you want to add photos, and you realize you can’t add them inline; they can only be added to the end of a post.  If I had 5 photos I wanted to add, I couldn’t place them anywhere I pleased like I could with my Blogsy app (and even WordPress’s own subpar iOS apps.)  So I’d write this post on my iPad, and all the 5 photos would show up in an awkward column after the content, and no, I can’t even caption them either.

??????????????????????

Oh and that reminds me, they’ve also completely dropped all MetaBlogAPI support too.  In other words, you cannot use any third party client to access your SS content, period.  It’s their dashboard and their apps or the highway.  Which I might have been fine with, if the quality of their interface didn’t already suck the mooseballs of rancid death to begin with.

The last straw though had to be the bookmarklet.  At first it was the saving grace: Anywhere I surfed, with one click I could immediately comment on an article I was reading, upload images and type quick and dirty posts straight to my Squarespace blog.  It was faster and easier to use than WordPress’s Press This bookmarklet, and for me it was the solution I needed:  Let it all be about blogging rather than trying to fix everything that was wrong with my site.   Sure, SS had a LOT of flaws, but they weren’t things I could control anyway, so let me just focus on blogging and maybe who knows, the rest will take care of itself.

And then my bookmarklet broke.

Suddenly, every time I clicked on it, all I’d get was a blank window.

… … … …

Now, if there was ONE thing I absolutely NEEDED Squarespace to deliver on, it would be to spare me the agony of diving into WordPress forums for hours, days and maybe even weeks on end, hoping I’d find some kind hearted WP guru to help me fix something that had gone horribly wrong with my blog.

Instead, I knew if something went wrong on Squarespace, they HAD to fix it, since it does after all affect ALL their customers, and they’d lose business if they didn’t.

I opened up a support ticket, and to their credit they answered in minutes and let me know they were aware of the issue and that the developers were working on it.

I sat back and breathed a sigh of relief, knowing for once I didn’t have to bear the burden of fixing something that goes wrong with my site, and that it was merely just a matter of waiting until Squarespace addressed and fixed the problem.  They’ve got top men working on it after all.  Top.  Men.

THREE WEEKS.  IT TOOK THEM THREE WEEKS TO FIX THIS $%&@*(@ BOOKMARKLET.

This bookmarklet played such a huge role in reducing my blogging workflow that I was blogging on almost a daily basis… and then it breaks, and STAYS broken for WEEKS.

So what happened?  Of course I didn’t blog for weeks either.   Just kind of threw my hands up in defeat and went on a Netflix marathon binge so I could forget about the world for a while.

But eventually, they finally fix it right?  Except it breaks, AGAIN, not TWO DAYS LATER after they fix it.  As far as I know at the time of this writing it’s probably STILL broken.

My Lord, what did I get myself into?

It made me think, if they let something like that languish for weeks without a fix, what else was broken that I DIDN’T know about?

Reading from their little known service update blog (now defunct, likely so people won’t notice how buggy their platform really is), I would venture to say, A LOT.

The hard truth was that I had given up too much control over my site and I wasn’t getting back enough in return.  They get a lot of feedback in their forums, but because there’s no roadmap it’s anyone’s guess if they’re even bothering to listen to what their customers are saying.  I’ve sent feedback to support myself, which they always respond along the lines of “We’ll send this to our developers for consideration.”  Which pretty much means, “We’ll fix or address this issue sometime between now and never.”

So… it was back to WordPress.  My long lost love.  Only this time I took great care to minimize my plugin usage and go with a professionally designed theme framework that I could get support on if I had issues.  And you know what?  It’s SO much better now.  It really is.  I feel like I’ve finally become a man and can at long last write like one too.

While scribbling naughty things about Squarespace on bathroom walls that is.

Oh, and here’s some irony for you: when I went to delete my website entirely from Squarespace after I moved everything back to WordPress, of course the dashboard crashed yet again with another error message.  It was almost… poetic.

So long Squarespace.  May our paths NEVER cross again.

And still my employer doesn’t understand why we need to upgrade from Windows 95

Money quote:

Shortly after I began my IT career 40 years ago, a pioneering study was released that showed a significant productivity drop if a computer-based system took longer than two seconds to respond to user input. That two-second limit was the gold standard (or at least a target) for many years. Developers of client-server and web-based applications somehow lost sight of that standard – possibly related to the network latency that practically guaranteed significantly longer waits. This study seems to confirm what we old dinosaurs have known for decades.

You know how long it takes for my work computer to respond when I add a single data form?  FIFTEEN SECONDS.  No wonder I never get any work done.

A crate’s worth of International Delight iced coffees #IcedCoffee #cBias

This shop has been compensated as part of a social shopper insights study for Collective Bias… even though err, I didn’t actually shop for anything, and this was really more of a giveaway, but I’m disclosing it here so I don’t get arrested for practicing capitalism or something.

The giveaway entailed getting a free crate of International Delight Iced Coffees and sending it to a vict– err I mean a lucky winner, so I picked Casey Petersen, who has been a friend of mine for years, where we enjoy a sort of real life House-Wilson friendship, me being the ornery Dr. House, him being the weenie-who-loves-everybody Wilson.

Casey Petersen Blog
My blog is better.

He recently started a brand new job at Collective Bias, so it seemed appropriate to send him boatloads of sugar and caffeine to keep him awake and lively so he can continue to steal my ideas and advance his career on the shoulders of my superior intellect. Just kidding. (He only steals half my ideas.)

But seriously, the iced coffees should help. I’ve previewed the flavors in another post and been since gulping them down to help me get over the winter blues.

International Delight Iced Coffee Cartons
Putting your coffee on ice.

I think International Delight may actually have something here, especially because I’m not aware of any other brand offering iced coffee in cartons you could easily pick up in the dairy section (ID’s own coffees will be available starting January 15th, 2012 in the dairy section of Walmart.)

If you see and decide to grab a carton then, let me know what you think. My friend liked the Mocha flavor, but I’m all about the Original.

This comet had better put on a show for me if it knows what’s good for it…

One of the things that I love to do that I never do is stargaze.  Being in New York, I’m lucky I can spot the moon let alone Orion’s Belt with all the light “pollution” I have to deal with here.  I remember one time there was a meteor shower that took place a few years back, so at 2AM I went out to the beaches to see if I could find a nice quiet, dark spot to enjoy the show.

Right.

If it wasn’t the orange glow of the street lights that ruined it, then it was the 8 million other people at the beaches who all had the same idea.  And they were LOUD.

“Oooooooh look at that one!  OOOOH LOOK AT THAT ONE GO!!!!  OOOOOH….”

*face palm*

So that’s one of my dreams, finding a pitch black place on earth with no one around from which I can enjoy the stars, or some celestial event taking place, like this particular comet that’s planning to prance about our solar system this year.

To help with the cause, I also picked up Dark Sky Finder for the iPhone, perfect for helping me find those lesser known spots away from lights and people.  The only downside is my abject fear of visiting a place so remote that I might either A) get eaten by bears or B) get robbed naked… and then eaten by bears.

That’s why I also dream about watching the stars with that special honey swoogie poogums, mostly so that if something bad happens, I can trip her up while I run for my life.

I keed, I keed.  Besides, I’ll never meet such a special girl anyway.  There’s having dreams, and then there’s having fantasies, after all.

So anyhoo, if there’s one resolution I’d like to make this year, it’s to find a great vantage point from which I can enjoy watching the comet.  Which of course, the aforementioned article, in all its verbosity fails to address.  All that talk about the comet and yet no mention on where the comet could best be seen from.  Helpful.

Ah well, I’m sure more details will be forthcoming, and with any luck it will provide me the perfect excuse to go back to say, Colorado, for some righteous star peeping.  *grins*

Previewing Upcoming Iced Coffee Treats – #IcedCoffee #CBias

This shop has been compensated as part of a social shopper insights study for Collective Bias, which I am participating in due to being a greedy capitalist and because I like iced coffee, but mostly because I’m a greedy capitalist.

I seem to have a love/hate relationship going with coffee in general. The blend has to be just right for me to keep from spitting it out like I just drank gas fluid. Same deal with iced coffee too. But when they get the taste JUST right, it can be a psychedelic experience, yo.

That’s why I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try out International Delight’s new upcoming Iced Coffee blends: Original, Vanilla and Mocha. (The coffees will soon be available in the dairy section at your local Walmart, January 15th, 2012.)

International Delight Iced Coffees with Teddy Bear
Koko awaits his coffee treat…

I was surprised to see them arrive in milk cartons, since I was expecting the more flashy and shapely containers like I’ve seen with their usual cream selections, but eh, as long as it keeps it preserved…

International Delight Iced Coffee Carton Label
Well, it wouldn’t be iced coffee if it didn’t have ice.

Love the insulated glass they sent me too, does a nice job of keeping things cold. I decided to sample the Original first, and must say, that seemed to strike the perfect balance between coffee and milk creamy taste, especially since I like my coffee the same way Winston Wolf likes it: lots of cream, lots of sugar.

International Delight Iced Coffee with Whip Cream
Added some whip cream, which in hindsight was a completely unnecessary ingredient.

I then tried the Vanilla and err… hmmmm. I guess I was expecting more of a vanilla ice cream kind of taste, but here vanilla was more like vanilla extract. Don’t really have a taste for that, so I didn’t enjoy it as much as the Original.

The Mocha might be been the most disappointing though. I didn’t really taste the mocha at all and the blend here was more like sugar and water than anything resembling the familiar taste of chocolatey goodness.

The amount of sugar is a bit staggering too, almost 30 grams per serving, so careful not to drink TOO much.

Koko takes a sip...
Koko takes a sip…

 

Koko passes out...
Koko passes out…

With so many coffee drinkers eschewing sugar for dieting or low carbing purposes, I personally think International Delight needs to invest in creating sugar free versions of these drink as well, but that’s just my opinion.

As far as the Original goes, I’m definitely hitting that up once it comes out on the 15th. Unless it’s 2 degrees out, then I’ll probably hold off till the summer so I don’t look rather silly freezing my inwards from sipping icey cold coffee.

Resource Usage: Just how much was I really using?

As I mentioned in a earlier post, hogging server resources was one of the reasons why I kept jumping from host to host to run my WordPress powered blog.  Despite trying to optimize my site and using Super Cache to reduce resource hogging, the thing still gave me fits.  I used to have 30+ plugins, then reduced it to 25, then 20, and so on, watching all the funsie features that once made my blog stick out from the rest slowly disappear.

While WordPress bills itself on its boundless features via the use of plugins, it’s never emphasized enough that these boundless features come at a price: they SUCK UP the server’s juice faster than Megamaid sucking the air out of Planet Druidia (Spaceballs reference for the un-informed.)

The problem was, it was never readily clear just how much of a resource hog my blog truly was.  I’d run it on a host and things would be fine for a while, and then suddenly it would go down, with unexplainable cryptic server errors or Gateway 502 messages that were about as helpful as a GPS without a battery.

Eventually I wound up at Site5, where for the first time my blog finally hummed along without issue for a few months.  The service was SO good I thought I could finally put these issues behind me once and for all… that is until I got a message from Site5 support saying I was using too many resources.  This after not hearing a peep for 5 months, and not doing anything different with the site.

Wuuuuuut?

Nothing on my blog had changed in that timeframe, so I couldn’t understand it.  Still, I did what I could without fundamentally revamping the backend of plugins I crucially needed for advertising, and after a few days of hair tearing, they said I was fine and closed the ticket.  By this time though I was getting down to bare functionality.  I may as well have started a vanilla blog at WordPress.com for all the features I now lost.  That’s pretty much when I threw in the towel for WordPress.  It had become the Bane to my Batman.  I was broken.

Ivan Drago Death Stare
I must break – whoops, too late.

And then a couple of months later I get another message from Site5 support saying I was using too many resources.  AGAIN.  After insulting the poor guy’s mother (or something), I relented and upgraded to a higher tier service at their suggestion, and the ticket was closed again.  It was only a couple of dollars more a month, but I was still insulted.  I was absolutely convinced they were lying about my resource usage and were only trying to upsell me into more expensive hosting plans.

But then Site5 did a smart thing: they had an ongoing project to develop a resource usage metric that customers could analyze for themselves, and thus get a better sense of just exactly how much of the server’s juice their sites were using.  It’s being rolled out on a continual basis, but I noticed it was available to me early, so I checked it out of curiosity.  Sure enough, I was just above the allotted resource usage allowed for my account.

Sigh.

Because they’ve been so behind on notifying users that have been going over resource limits, I was humming along with the false sense of security in thinking my site was finally operating within limits, yet the reality was I was eventually going to be notified again.

There’s been some noise on the web that the algorithms they are using to monitor resource usage are either too strict or being faked as a marketing gimmick to badger customers into upgrading into more expensive hosting plans, but I don’t believe that’s the case.  While it’s proprietary, I do believe they have plans to release the algorithms that drive these metrics, so I’m confident that there’s no malice here, and while their resource usage requirements are a bit stricter, it’s still more than adequate to handle the vast majority of sites running on their servers.  A well built WordPress site simply should not be using nearly as enough resources as mine was, even if my traffic quadrupled, especially with caching.  There’s just no way.

I knew I was going to have to do something though, so I went to work to get my usage down, finally addressing what I had been putting off, which was RIPPING out a plugin called PHP Code Widget, which allows me to add PHP code to my WordPress widgets.  I was using it for my ads, but I switched over to a Javascript solution instead, and spent a few hours reworking the code.  I knew if that wouldn’t do the trick I was going to have to change the theme.  There was no other possibility that could explain the resource hogging.

So did it make a difference?  Well:

Daily Resource Points Graph from Site5
Slight difference there…

Oy.

A mystery that has plagued me since God only knows when… is finally solved.

And you’re all wondering why I burned out from blogging?

I now feel bad because I was really obnoxious with Site5 the last time their support contacted me.  I was just so fed up with everything that they bore the brunt of my frustrations, yet, they are actually the first host to take a more proactive role in at least giving me some idea of how bad my resource usage was (although I think Media Temple has something similar.)  Now when I add a plugin I can see how it impacts overall resource usage right away, so I know whether it’s safe enough to keep running it or delete it altogether.

Not that I would, since I’m no longer using WordPress (that ship has LONG sailed now.)  Imajustsayin.

Still, it’s good to know that’s one chapter I can FINALLY close with all finality in a final way.  Finally.

A New Beginning

Welcome to my millionth, caboolionth, fafillionth, shabbamoolionth blog!

It’s hard to believe I’ve been blogging for a decade now, each blog ending in an epic flameout of biblical proportions that always leaves me in a state of mental disrepair, babbling incoherent nonsense about cheese and monkeys and drooling all over my fashionable Old Navy hand-me-downs.

This time, I’m trying for something new.

It used to be I’d spend more time trying to keep my blog online than I did actually WRITING on it, or adding all kinds of plugins that gave it bells and whistles that nobody ever used.  I’ve jumped from one host to another in the vain effort to keep myyyyy precioussss stable and humming along just long enough so that I could at least focus my creative energy on creatively creating stuff using all my creativity.  I don’t think I ever truly got there.

And it wasn’t just the obsessive backend tinkering that threw me off either.  I also got wrapped up in the fantasy of turning my blog into a professional MONEY MAKING MACHINE that Donald Trump could be proud of.  I wanted a profession that allowed me to make a living without ever stepping outside my apartment.  No having to talk to people directly, no need for networking, just write and watch teh monies rolllzzz in baybbeeee…

But… that meant having to follow certain rules if I was to ever join the ranks of the .0000000001 of elite bloggers who live exclusively off their blog earnings.  I needed to blog every day, preferably between 10AM and 1PM to maximize exposure.  Eastern Standard Time.  I also had to focus on a niche and write only extensively for that niche.  No eclectic writing for me.  No meanderings about nothing in particular.  Nope, it had to be niche specific and be heavy on keywords Google bots can pick up on to help my search engine rankings, and each post had to be 300-500 words, but no more, or I had to break them up into series.  And tags!  Gotta make sure each post has the appropriate tags!  And hashtags, and with social buttons people can click on to share on social media, and and and and….  *tears hair out*

Then I had to find brands and beg, plead, cry or otherwise whine at high pitch frequencies for them to sponsor me.  Sometimes it worked.  Most of the time it didn’t.

And I couldn’t be controversial.  No offending certain demographics (especially if they have enormous purchasing power, which pretty much meant all mommys in existence.) I had to be a cold and calculating machine, dishing out new content on a daily basis until my audience grew enough that I could finally “make it.”

I learned something though.  It’s easy to blog for yourself.  Blogging for others?  Not so much.

I love to blog about my travels for example, but blogging about how awesome a hotel was so I could get a freebie stay there?  THAT was a chore.  In fact it was so much of a chore that I eminently preferred keying mindless data into a database (like I do at my current job) to the terrifying prospect of having to whore my blog out to prop up a brand.  So between that, and watching my blog singlehandedly bring down fleets of servers because of a random plugin gone awry, I finally burned out.

Months went by without me typing a single word in a blog, any blog.  I was DONE.  With EVERYTHING.  My muse was destroyed, and I had lost all ambition for writing and pretty much living in general (except for Netflix, hot cocoa, pizza, and the occasional Nancy Drew mystery game.)

Only recently did I get the writing itch again.  Events would occur and I’d write about them in Facebook status updates, but sometimes there was more I wanted to share.  A thought would occur in my head that I immediately wanted to write an essay about, and yet I was limited by the functionality of Twitter or Facebook (and sometimes Tumblr too.)

It started happening more frequently, until one day I was writing about a topic on Facebook and thought, “Gee, if only I had a blog to put this stuff on….”

… … … … … … …  o_O

So here I am again.  The Great Blogging Experiment starts anew, only this time under my rules, and using a platform (Squarespace) that fully manages everything so I never have to be distracted by backend/hosting issues again.  I hope.

Before, my blog was about… stuff.  This time it’s about me. Not in the sense of acting like a narc… narcarcissist.. narciss,td… narrc..ssnist…. whatever, but in the realization that my muse cannot be bound by rules or niches, or else it will wither on the vine.  It’s about the ability to express myself freely, whether it’s a quick and dirty post at 3AM in the morning about family and relationships, or a more organized and expressive essay on the virtues of using melted chocolate as dip when eating nachos instead of cheese.  Or some such thing.

Speaking of such, I believe I shall ring in the new year with just such a dish.  😉

Thanks for reading, and for all those who continued to stick around despite my occasionally crazy cuckoo incoherence and random disappearances, even after all these years.  ^_^