Creative Commons

2009-11-12 13:33:01

Smarter Publishing? Maybe Too Smart...

My website hosting contract is coming to an end within the next month. I've heard many, many rave reviews about SquareSpace and decided that I should check it out and see if it's a good fit for me. There were three reasons that made me consider SquareSpace: $8 a month, zero downtime, and a lifetime 10% discount.

Lifetime 10% Discount

It's no secret that I watch a lot of tech shows from Revision3. The list includes Diggnation, the Totally Rad Show, and Film Riot, among many others. Revision3 is a for-profit company, just like regular TV, so they use advertising to monetize their content. One of their advertisers is SquareSpace and by using the promo code from whichever show you watch you can get 10% off of the lifetime of your order. That's a great deal!

Zero Downtime

SquareSpace is a shared hosting service like all other shared hosting services, meaning that many websites are housed on a single server. They do this because buying a $4000 server for each person who signs up for a website is ridiculously expensive and would make the cost of their service be way too expensive for the average person. So they have a single $4000 server that hosts hundreds of websites, thus reducing the cost to the user.
There is one major difference, however, in how SquareSpace does shared hosting and how everyone else does shared hosting. SquareSpace uses a clustered virtual server architecture. What does that mean? On other hosting services, if the server on which your site is hosted dies your website also dies (along with the other hundred websites on that server). Not cool. If a SquareSpace server dies, all of the websites simply fail-over to another virtual server. Your site never goes down. The virtual servers also do load balancing. If your site has ever been on the front page of Digg, Slashdot, or an equally high-traffic site your website has most likely succumbed to the Digg/Slashdot effect. So many people try to access your site at one time that the server hosting your site can't handle the traffic load and dies. This doesn't happen with SquareSpace. If your site gets Dugg/Slashdotted, SquareSpace's smart cluster architecture detects the influx of traffic and spreads your site over more virtual servers so that it can handle the load. Again, your site never goes down.

$8 a Month

SquareSpace's lowest plan is only $8 a month. My current hosting is around $120 a year (domain registration included) which makes SquareSpace's plan slightly cheaper. All plans use the same clustered virtual server architecture, so the cheapest account gets the same load balancing and fault tolerance of the expensive accounts.

The Exchange

Before I made the switch, I had some questions I needed answered. I went to SquareSpace's site and filled out the Contact form:
I currently have my website hosted with They also took care of my domain registration. I would like to switch to Squarespace but there are a few things I'd like to sort out first. 1) How complicated (for me) is the domain name migration process from to you? 2) I do not want to use your publishing system (I've written my own CMS). Can I just use your service for it's awesome hosting and nothing else? 3) Will I have FTP access to my /var/www/html (or whatever directory you give me)? SSH/SCP access would be better, but I'd like one or the other. Thank you for your time and I hope that I can switch to your service soon. Kevin

Their reply:
Hi there, 1. Essentially, you'll need to create a pointer within your provider's interface to point the domain to us. We've got a guide for doing this, as well as some illustrated guides for a few popular registrars, here: 2. Squarespace is a fully integrated CMS. Unfortunately, there's no setting to override the system that is currently in place. 3. There's no FTP portal within the system. You can upload and download files directly within the File Storage area: Let us know if you need more help :) -- Stephen Parker Squarespace, Inc.

The remaining emails in this chain were the standard "thank you for your time" emails and aren't important for this article.

The Problem

It was after Stephen's reply that I made the decision to NOT use SquareSpace. Why? The problem lies with his response to question #2, and to a lesser extent #3. My current website, as minimal as it is, was written from the ground up entirely by me. I wrote my own Content Management System (CMS) so that I don't need to write and upload web pages to my site in order to post an article. I can login to my site and write an article much the same as you would log into your favorite email site and send an email. I have it fully integrated with my database backend. I wrote my own SPAM filter to keep SPAM comments off of the articles (you'd be surprised how many of these I get). Basically, all the features offered by services like WordPress, Blogger, etc... I wrote my own.
Why did I go through all of that trouble to reinvent the wheel? There are two reasons: unbloated design and customizability. Hosting services such as Wordpress or Blogger have the same features that I wrote from the ground up, but they also have a lot (seriously, a lot) more; features I wouldn't use and do not want. Anyone who has ever had to secure code (whether it's web code or desktop application code) knows that having extra, unaccessed code laying around is a huge vulnerability. All it takes is for someone to exploit some portion of your site and they now have access to each and every function your site has available whether your using those functions or not. Let's say, for example, that I'm using Wordpress and I don't have the SPAM filter enabled for my website. The code is laying there, because Wordpress supports it and makes it available to me, but I'm just not using it. If someone were to exploit my site and gain access to the code, they could enable the SPAM filter and configure it to reject everything making it impossible for people to comment on my articles. They could also access other features and potentially block me from my own site. Not cool. This is what I wanted to prevent on my own site. The only code that is available is code that I use. There are no hidden, unused functions that could be hijacked for malicious intent.
The second aspect is customizability. This is simple to grasp. If a hosting service offers you certain addons, such as a SPAM filter, they will give you a couple settings to be able to configure that addon. What if you don't like the way it works or want to configure something that isn't on the "settings" page? Too bad, there's nothing you can do about it. If I don't like the way my SPAM filter works, I have the code and I can change it. If I wanted to add more features to my article pages, I have access to the database to modify it and I have access to the PHP code to alter the way the page looks. You don't have some of these options with you choose certain all-inclusive hosting services.
SquareSpace will not allow me to do any of this. They have a single interface in which I can write my articles and post them but that's it. I can't do any of the customizing that I want to do. I have control over nothing. The look, feel, and function of my site is ultimately in the hands of them. Not cool.
The lesser problem is that of no FTP/SSH access. If I wanted to upload a song or a picture to my site on SquareSpace, I would have to use their interface, period. Sometimes I'm working on my laptop or desktop and I just want to quickly throw a file on my web server. I'll use a terminal and FTP or SCP the file and it'll take all of 2 seconds, literally. Having to open a web browser, login to their interface, and fumble through their pages just to be able to upload a file takes way too long.

Pricing/Plan Changes

It seems that, recently, SquareSpace has changed their plan structure. It used to be that their cheapest service ($8 a month) allowed you to have your own URL, such as The only major differences between plans used to be the amount of storage space your got and the amount of bandwidth you were allowed. However, the cheap plan no longer gives you your own URL. So if you had dreams of making, you'll have to pony up for the $14 a month service, which puts SquareSpace slightly more expensive than other hosting options.

The Breakdown

It's very clear that, for some people, SquareSpace is an amazing service. If you have no programming experience and want to have your own website, SquareSpace is for you. If you do have programming experience but you just don't want to worry about coding your personal website, SquareSpace is for you. You can make professional looking sites that never go down and that is great!
However, if you're like me and you want control over your website, you'll have to look elsewhere. As Stephen said, there is no way to not use their CMS interface. You're stuck with what they give you. For a coder like me, that's just not what I'm looking for.


Post a comment!