Exit Strategy

Squarespace has been a nice home for over a year. It was like renting one of those new high-rise apartments with Centre somewhere in the name–easy and fast. But after some time I felt constrained, and I wanted to purchase a cheap lot where I could build my own eccentric mansion and do what I want, like buy a dirtbike and ride it in the backyard, or tend an organic garden. So lately I’ve been slogging through lots of HTML /CSS and a little bit of readymade JavaScript and PHP (everyone goes to IKEA now and then), slowly building a new site.

The catalyst for changing from Squarespace came when I tried to add a “mini art site” that I created way too late one night to my existing site. Perhaps I missed something and it is actually easy to do this, but I tried to wipe the CSS from a new blank HTML page to implement the mini site, and proceeded to clear all styling from my entire site. I then couldn’t find a way to reset the CSS to what was previously in place, and I spent the next hour redoing my site design. The user interface that made it quick and easy for me to set up my site became at that point a huge barrier.

There were also a few other factors, like the lack of an easy e-commerce solution on Squarespace, and also the enticing $4-5 price tags at other hosting sites. I like the idea of green hosting, although it seems that there’s some ambiguity with that industry and perhaps that’s a blog post for later.

I’ve learned a few things through the process of building a new site from scratch. First and foremost, Squarespace makes it really easy to have a functional, clean blog embedded in your site. It takes a good deal of PHP/MySQL skills to create a custom blog, and even a bit of PHP knowledge to embed a WordPress blog into a site. One good thing is that Squarespace offers the ability to dump the content of your blog into a Moveable Type file (available in the Config section of the blog page), which you can then easily migrate to WordPress. Post content, titles, tags, and comments are all there after the migration–obviously images are not, which is a pain for me as my blog is very image based. Once you have the content and images into WordPress, you can then link to the new blog from your site, or follow instructions like these to modify WordPress php files and embed the blog into your new site.

For those with photography/art sites, Squarespace also makes it easy to upload images into galleries with nice thumbnails and that fancy lightbox effect. That was one of the major selling points for me. However, if you have some knowledge of HTML/CSS and Photoshop, it’s fairly easy to recreate that exact setup. Setting up the “gallery” page templates and batch processing the images in Photoshop are the major hurdles. Once the thumbnails are in place, you can set that nice hover effect using this bit of CSS:

{opacity:0.7; filter:alpha(opacity=40);}

If this is all new to you, W3Schools have some great pages on image galleries and image opacity.

The actual lightbox effect is free and really easy to implement. You can pick up all of the necessary JavaScript and CSS here, and then it’s just a matter of positioning the files in the correct spot in your site directory. The generous creator of the effect also offers step-by-step directions. One word of advise: be careful to place the included gif files in the right location in your directory, otherwise you won’t get the nice loading effect, gallery navigation, and the “close” option.

I’m sure there are a few other aspects of Squarespace that I’ll miss, for instance the web analytics. But I would encourage those with suitable sites to make the transition–it will teach you some coding skills that may benefit you in the future.

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