This begins another series of posts on my experiences in optimizing my web gallery and blog presence. Like the last set of posts I did on this subject, it could just as well be posted on The Bleeding Edge, but, since I figure that my struggles with this issue will be useful to most photographers with an on-line presence not based on social media, I’m going to post it here.
About 18 months ago, I converted my galleries from a plain-old-CSS to WordPress. That went pretty well. About six months ago, Google started flagging sites that don’t use secure sockets layer (SSL) in ways that went beyond the absence of the green padlock. Some of the warnings are now pretty scary. Google wants all web page addresses to start with “https://,” and they’re tightening the screws to bend the ‘net to their will. I sympathize, and know that the right thing would have been for me to switch to SSL even without their prodding, but I guess I was just lazy. A month or so ago I moved both The Bleeding Edge and this blog over to SSL. Things appeared to work fine, except that the pictures didn’t load as fast as they used to. I also changed the main site, where the galleries are, and found the performance unacceptable, so I switched it back.
I don’t know why SSL slows things down, and I don’t have the server-side expertise to find out. So I started exploring other options. It’s taken a while, but the three I’ve worked on the most are:
- A non-WordPress, hosted package from Squarespace.
- Managed WordPress from Media Temple, my current hosting supplier.
- Adding a content-distribution network (CDN) to my existing WordPress sites.
I happened upon Squarespace because I have a friend who converted a CSS-based photography web site to their offering. What you get from Squarespace:
- A graphical user interface for creating content
- A set of pretty templates
- A hosting platform
- Use of their SSL certificates and services
- Security and backup services
- Features that make it easy to set up a store
- Access to their CDN
Does that sound good to you? Great. Don’t want all that? Tough. Want to mix-and-match with your own pieces? Forget it.
The good news:
- It’s dirt cheap: 18 bucks a month for the whole ball of wax.
- It’s fast.
- They do the staging of images in multiple resolutions for you.
- The highest resolution they recommend is 2K on the long side, and sites with images that big still load fast.
- The GUI is reasonably well thought-out.
The bad news:
- The templates don’t work like WordPress templates. Each template has a set of features, and if you want some feature that isn’t in the template, you switch to another template.
- There are caching issues with the GUI. Sometimes, you can make changes, and they won’t take. But the next day, when you go back to the site, there they or. Or not, seemingly randomly.
- There’s no off-line GUI, just a browser-based one. So site development takes place at web speeds. Sloooow.
- When you switch templates, your content becomes unlinked, and you must build your website manually all over again.
- There is no programmatic interface, and thus no way to automate bulk changes. You have to laboriously drag and drop your way into making them.
- You can’t clone a site. That means that, if you want to roll out a big change, you need to set up a new site, manually recreate your original site, make the changes, test, change the DNS entries, let them propagate, then take down the original site.
- As far as your content is concerned, SquareSpace is a bit like the Hotel California. You can put in all the data you want, and you can get much of it back in XML, but you can’t then import that to copy content to another Squarespace site, or to move that content to a WordPress site.
My take is that, although unashamedly proprietary, for some users Squarespace is just about perfect. But not for me. It just doesn’t seem like it has the tools that serious web developers expect.
Next: the two WordPress options.