Unboxing Squarespace V5: The Apple of Content Management

As expected, the long-awaited Squarespace V5 Release does not disappoint. This is the Manhattan firm's largest update since they came out with their popular blogging platform in 2003. The new updates might take some getting used to for new users but those who've been with the company for quite some time (as I have) will notice a tremendous improvement in their production efficiency.

With V5, the process of building a website or blog has been reimagined by Squarespace engineers to more closely resemble the way people think about web production. Presumably, the company has been gathering usage data from their applications over the years in order to extrapolate a general schema, however I would not be shocked to hear that the new interface came to Anthony or one of his developers in a nightime epiphany--it's that dreamy.

For starters, major portions of the "back end" have been effectively merged with the "front end" in an effort to do away with artificial divisions, eliminate redundancy and improve the overall workflow for the person designing the site.

The major changes can be summarized as follows:

Edit Your Website As Visitors See It

You'd probably have to be a seasoned website operator to appreciate this improvement for it has to offer. Now, you can control almost every major aspect of your website the front of your site, exactlly as visitors would view it. You can well imagine how much easier this setup makes visualizing the end result than having to toggle back and forth between a "back-end" and "front-end". No longer. Visual confirmation of the changes is smooth and instantaneous.

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Content

There are four "Views" when a website operator is logged in. The first, most used view, represented by the "A" is intended for editing Content. Content includes text adjustments to Blog Posts, Section HTML, Configuring Widgets and Uploading Gallery Images.

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Structure

The "3D Box" Icon represents the Structure View, which gives site operators a new level of granularity when determining the final order and placement of their prefabricated site components. Since components are reorganized in an easy drag-and-drop fashion, this is the View you'll want to refer to when organizing your Squarespace modules.

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Appearance

The third, and final View has to do with Appearance and is identifiable by an Artists' Palette Icon. Your blog's visual styling is only limited by your imagination from this View, with it granting unfettered access to the underlaying CSS documents in a way even non-technical people can learn to use.

Each one of the Views superimposes their associated functionality on top of your Squarespace site so switching between administrative roles is seamless.

Other Squarespace Features I Love

There's more to love about this update so I'll briefly go into them now.

Forum Module

Squarespace Forums are bigger and badder than ever. You might say that the Forums module has graduated from Freshman status and joined the Upper Classmen in the Module hierarchy. Not only did the development team make the Forums more customizable but the level of visual customization is vastly improved as well.

Selective Sidebar Display

Sidebar Sections can be configured to display only when certain pages of your site are active. This opens up a whole world of possibilities for user experience-conscious web developers and, incidentally, also aids in SEO.

Code Injection Points

This will be received as a big improvement by the mass of users. "Code Injection Points" make up for the Company's decision to disable custom editing of the underlaying module code. But, I assure you, what we lost in flexibility they make up for in simplicity. Now when you want to incorporate banner advertising into your site header, footer or content areas you can select one of the 10 predefined Injection Points (I call them "Ad Zones" when talking to advertisers) from inside your General Configuration area, paste your code and voila!

Multi-Style Websites

Ever had the urge to give each section of your website a different "look or identity? Now you can. Websites that need to visually differentiate their content areas can now do so with Squarespace's upgraded support for using multiple stylesheets. You can now specify unique headers and stylesheets on a per-page basis via each Module's Configuration interface.

How Stacks Up In the Blog Platform Wars

Although considered a landmark occasion for Squarespace, I believe the greatest achievement of the V5 update has yet to be recognized by the content management theatre at large. To this erstwhile developer, Squarespace bears many of the hallmarks of a potentially disruptive product:

  • Accessibility to non-technical users
  • Technology that simplifies rather than complicates
  • Creates a "Bridges" between existing solutions in the marketplace
  • Potential to create or enroll an "ecosystem" of products
  • Curb appeal and commitment to sound design principals
  • A consistent identity
  • Mass personalization
  • Cult-like following or core users

Whenever I evaluate a service I find myself asking "what's the real market void?" First of all, the service allows anyone to create a high-impact, professional presence online within minutes of activating their account, filling a middle space between turnkey blog creation tools and large scale content management systems that take weeks or months to fully deploy.

While the innocuous WYSIWYG Editor is in my opinion the star of the service, the crowning achievement of the software from a competitive point of view may very well be the slick user experience. Insofar as "frictionlessness" is the principal mandate of user interface design, Squarespace should win an award for the strides it's taken to reduce the number of steps required to access it's most significant features.

I can assure you, that by the time you're ready to log out of your administration area for the first time, you'll have started playing around with the styling options available. "Will that be a two-column layout, or a three? You don't really like that background tile? Upload your own here." The temptation to fiddle with your layout virtually gaurantees that no two Squarespace sites will look the same. The websites can be designed according to the designer's sense of order and style and not according to products limitations.

Let's face it, reliability remains the backbone of any product experience. In other words, does it work the way you expect it to? Does it perform as advertised? If anything, Squarespace under-sells it's strengths, letting the user experience sell the product to first-time trial account owners.

If it continues its focus on usability, mass personalization and playing the game by it's own rules, this developer thinks that Squarepace has a very real shot at becoming the "iPhone" of blogging software.