Medium vs Squarespace vs WordPress

I have been keen to have a blogging platform for publishing more substantial pieces than my Tumblr currently provides. Tumblr can support text based blogging, but its certainly not playing to its strengths (visual content) or its audience.

Initially the plan was to compare Medium and Squarespace but a bit of convincing saw me add WordPress to the list of contenders (there are obviously others but these are the more high profile contenders). All operate in the upper left quadrant of Ben Thompson’s Social/Communication Map, but have some fundamental differences. What you will find below are my first thoughts and observations on these platforms.

Medium

Medium provides a lot of obvious parallels with Tumblr with its ease of use making it extremely easy to jump in and start writing. The designers have put words at the heart of their platform although with support for embedded images and Youtube content. Just don’t expect to be able to present content in a format outside the standard Medium container, with personal branding limited to the left hand icon and the ability to collate your own writings onto one page.

The content is published via a web based WYSIWYG editor, allowing you to quickly get a feel for how the content will appear to viewers with articles published onto a responsive design web template.

Currently writing needs to be done via Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers and posting from mobile devices isn’t currently supported although this is likely to expand to other platforms over time.

Readers of Medium content are given the opportunity to Recommend content, with the most popular content publicised to the wider Medium community.

You will be reassured to find out that Medium doesn’t make any claims on copyright or intellectual property for material published on their platform.

Finally, Medium provides a dashboard which tracks viewership and readership for your content, but it’s nowhere near as detailed as you would get from Google Analytics.
Medium Dashboard

Squarespace

Squarespace aims to provide users with the autonomy of running your own website but without many of the hassles associated with other fully featured publishing platforms.

Squarespace is designed as a content management system solution rather than simply a blogging platform with a range of 24 templates to choose from with selections designed for businesses, portfolios, stores, restaurants and personal sites.

A lot of thought has been put into the layout of Squarespace’s templates, enabling site owners to make strong use of visuals and with responsive designs that adapt to different devices.

The greater flexibility that Squarespace provides in functionality is reflected in Squarespace’s content management system. Users add multiple ‘blocks’ to webpages, enabling a rich array of different content types.

Product Review: SquareSpace CMS, Website Experts
Product Review: SquareSpace CMS, Website Experts

Supporting the platform are a range of tools including image manager, SEO, social media and Dropbox integration, WYSIWYG editor, mobile apps (iOS with Android in development) and a developer platform allowing users to customise the platform.

What really sets Squarespace apart is the relatively closed nature of the platform and the support provided. By operating in a controlled environment (much like Apple’s iOS), Squarespace is able to provide a more user friendly environment where users are unlikely to experience problems with poorly integrated elements. Squarespace also backs up their services with tremendous support with tutorial videos, forums, email and chat support.

The platform provides support for Google Analytics as well as having an analytics package developed specifically for Squarespace .

This kind of service unfortunately doesn’t come for free, with monthly pricing running between $8 and $24 per month.
Squarespace Pricing
Squarespace enables you to export your site’s content in WordPress format, reassuring users concerned about being locked in to a subscription based tool.

Squarespace also gives you the chance to trial the service for a couple of weeks, enabling you to see what you can build before committing more fully to the platform.

WordPress

WordPress provides an open source blogging tool that has subsequently developed into the world’s most popular content management system, which is reflected in the broad range of sites using it.

You can select from a large selection of free and paid for themes (or skins) either via WordPress or a wide selection of independent providers with designs that will fulfill most needs.

Customisation of the website is done via the WordPress dashboard (see below) with the download of plugins enabling additional functionality (social media functionality, analytics etc).
WordPress Dashboard
The open source nature of WordPress has enabled a vibrant community of contributors but unlike Squarespace or Medium, there is no active manager of the platform. This leads to a situation where plugins are inconsistently implemented and supported which can be bewildering for first time users used to the managed landscapes of environments like Squarespace or Tumblr.

Here WordPress leans heavily on the wisdom of the crowd, using user ratings and reviews of different resources to give website developers a steer on what resources are best. You will also find support for the more popular WordPress plugins from an active community of bloggers, as long as you are prepared to spend a bit of time going through Google search results.

WordPress does not natively support WYSIWYG editing of site content although a paid for plugin has recently been launched supporting this functionality.

Site analytics are enabled through integrating Google Analytics.

For those of you looking at WordPress, one of the key questions that you will need to answer is what hosting model you go with.

WordPress.com provides a variety of free and paid for packages with different levels of functionality and support.
WordPress.com Sign up
You also have the option of self hosting using downloaded software from WordPress.org. This requires you to take on responsibility for site hosting and domain registration and will require more technical knowledge or at least the willingness to learn.

There’s also a range of self hosted options including shared hosting, virtual private server,cloud server and dedicated server offering different levels of performance and cost.

The range of options makes it harder to get a clear view on potential pricing. For my own self hosted solution, I am currently paying a US$2.96 monthly fee although costs will go up moderately when I have to pay for the web domain after the first year.

There are also plenty of other opportunities to spend more on a WordPress site with premium themes, security services, storage and backups and developer fees but these are by no means essential.

An Overview

I’ve found the processing of setting up blogs on Medium, Squarespace and WordPress a tremendous learning experience.

Medium has been great for quickly getting words on the screen but you lose the opportunity to do so in an environment you have created. Think of it as like a colouring in picture where you work within the more limited frameworks provided.

Squarespace provides a more user friendly mediated environment for those less comfortable with tinkering and needing more assurance about systems working as designed. Think of it as like Duplo, where you can be sure that the different bricks are always going to slot together in an easy manner.

WordPress provides a less structured environment where much more of the onus for development is typically with the user. It provides a broad range of opportunities with its rich ecosystem, but it will require patience, particularly on the part of first time users. Think of it as like Meccano with the opportunity to create a more tailored solutions, but where getting there isn’t always as easy as simply putting one brick on top of another.

As for me, I am going to continue using Medium and WordPress as blogging platform. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Squarespace for those looking to develop a website or blog, but I am enjoying the challenges (and rewards ) of getting WordPress running as I would like.

Thought Starters: Content that has got me thinking 2

There has been some interesting analysis surfacing looking at the different mobile and tablet platforms and their respective audiences. Benedict Evans raises the important point that Android tablets encompass a broad array of devices making comparisons between Android and iOS tablets very difficult. Daniel Eran Dilger expands on this, pointing to IDC, Gartner and Strategy Analytics’ failure to properly unpick the tablet and smartphone market leading to a situation where apples (iPads and iPhones) are compared with oranges (low spec Android phones and tablets). The ecosystem of mobile apps and their respective community of developers has a vital role to play in the success of any mobile operating systems (no apps > no sales). In North America and Western Europe, iOS dominates the developer community, but Mark Wilcox points out that this isn’t the case for Asia and Latin America. Something to bear in mind as Asia becomes a growing source of innovation in the mobile sector.

Global Platform Preferences

Ben Thompson has taken a valuable look at the different channels consumers are using to interact with online. It’s well worth reading his commentary on the roles of the different channels.

Social Communication Map

Whilst Silicon Valley may no longer have a near monopoly on startups, it still provides one of the driving forces for the tech sector. In this presentation, Loic Le Meur looks at some of the organisations and innovations that have gained a profile in the region. Wearable computing has been getting some renewed attention with a preview of the Glass Development Kit for developers. Thomas Claburn explores some of the myths currently associated with the wearable computing sector. The Guardian continue their great work on data visualisations with a look at which corporations have made a major contribution towards global warming.

The Guardian Contributors to Global Warming

I moved from an iPhone to an Android device a couple of years ago. Whilst the Android app ecosystem is moving towards parity, every so often you come across an app that you wish there was an Android equivalent. The latest one is I PIXEL U which enables users to pixelate particular aspects of their photographs.IPIXELU_COVER2

Google has created a charming pair of binoculars to celebrate the Sydney Opera House’s fortieth anniversary, giving consumers a window to other inspirational places.

24 hour music video has been created to support Pharrell Williams’ song Happy. Beautifully executed promotion of music outside your standard Youtube container. Google profile Doctor Who with their latest doodle and when activated, leads users through to an online game. Find out more about the Whodle over at the Guardian.

Doctor Who Google

Ad blockers: Consumers friends or foe?

The media sector is going through a period of transition as it moves increasingly from print to online. A potential complication in this move is the increasing growth of adblocking software by consumers.

Adblocking software typically acts as an extension on browsers, allowing users to block a range of advertising formats including banners, pop-ups and video ads including content on Facebook and YouTube.

Adblock Plus is the most well known of the extension providers and has argued that it aims to promote advertising that is more user friendly — although their position is somewhat undermined by their unblocking of advertising from some sites for a share of their revenues.

For internet users faced with an increasingly disruptive array of online advertising formats (driven by falling response rates), this provides a welcome relief and is reflected in the growth of these services. A recent report from PageFair estimated 22.7% of internet users are employing adblocking software with an annual growth rate of 43% per year.

Media outlets do have the option of blocking viewers using adblocking services but many appear reluctant so far as seen by Ars Technica’s approach. As the use of adblockers becomes the norm rather than simply an edge case, this is likely to be revisited.

Reductions in online advertising revenues are also likely to bring forward the introduction of paywalls and the move towards native advertising where the line between content and advertising is blurred. Neither solution present particularly attractive solutions for consumers looking for a free ride.

As for me, I am going to continue to use Adblock Plus, but I am adding those sites I care about to the list of manually whitelisted domains. This way I can hopefully see this sites continue to offer advertising sponsored content well into the future.

Thought Starters: Content that has got me thinking

Smartphones are taking an increasing role in consumers’ lives. The following infographic looks at how American smartphone consumers (Android and iOS) use their mobile through the course of the day.

Always Connected: How Smartphones And Social Keep Us Engaged
Always Connected: How Smartphones And Social Keep Us Engaged, Facebook

Further evidence of the growing importance of smartphones can be seen in the movement of Apple’s iTunes revenues from music to to one App payments with a seemingly unstoppable growth trend.

Horace Dediu’s Twitter stream is a great for those of you interested in technology and its impact on consumer’s media usage. One of his more recent postings points out the rapid growth of mobile consumption among consumers in the USA which is happening at the expense of television, radio, print and even online.

Apps overtook music in less than five years—all of big media is next
Apps overtook music in less than five years—all of big media is next

Google has launched Google Helpouts allowing individuals or organisations to offer free or paid one on one tutorials. You may well find brands using this channel as a means of reaching consumers such as Home Depot are trying in the US.

I recently profiled new formats in web journalism. One of the concerns that critics have raised is the failure of media owners to integrate advertising. Polygon’s recent profile of the launch of Sony’s PS4 provides an interesting example of integrating relevant advertisers into a richer web media format.

On the subject of online media, Felix Salmon looks at the issue of consolidation in the online media sector, particularly where the new acquisitions can be aligned with the parent company’s content management systems.

We are still waiting for the mobile payments juggernaut to arrive, but in the meantime the soon to be launched Coin provides a nice solution to managing your different cards (and accidentally leaving them behind).

The Open Data Index provides a ranking of countries by how open they are in their treatment of public information. UK comes first, comfortably ahead of the USA.

Feel free to chip in with your thoughts on any of the above.

New containers: A look at the growth of new formats in web journalism

The majority of news content we receive from mainstream news organisations comes in relatively standard containers supported by text, images and increasingly video content. The use of standard format by news organisations fits in with news organisation’s needs to deliver a constant stream of output and an attempt to keep consumers within their own ecosystem.

Typhoon Haiyan: UN launches $301m Philippines aid appeal, BBC News
Typhoon Haiyan: UN launches $301m Philippines aid appeal, BBC News

Recently we have seen a willingness on the part of a few news media organisations to experiment with different containers. The New York Times in particular is one of the pioneers with feature articles on a deadly avalanche, the neglected corners of Russia, race horse jockey Russell Baze, the fighting of wildfires and the geopolitics of the South China Sea. Other media outlets have engaged in similar efforts with leading examples including Rolling Stone on white hat hackers and the melting Greenland glaciers, the Guardian on the role of the NSA and a wildfire in Tasmania, Wired’s profile of Richard Branson, Grantland on the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, ESPN’s profile of Dock Ellis, Seattle Times on ocean acidification, the NRC on the Kunsthal robbery and Pitchfork profiling Daft Punk.

Alaska Media Lab points to the use of larger images, parallax scrolling, full width pages, plentiful white space, video and scroll based events as being characteristic of these new forms.

But the new formats are as much about what has been left out. Content extraneous to the subject is typically removed including links to other content and in most cases advertising. This increases the impact of the story for readers and removes the temptation for viewers to browse to another story.

A Game of Shark and Minnow, New York Times
A Game of Shark and Minnow, New York Times

These stories though are not without their burdens. The pioneering nature of these formats mean that they typically require hosting outside media organisation’s traditional content management systems. The rich media content environment that makes many of these stories so compelling typically requires more resources from photographers, videographers, illustrators and web designers on top of the the usual diet of news reporters and editors.

The lack of links to unrelated content within the container raises the likelihood that consumers will navigate off site content when they have finished consuming the article. Finally the lack of advertising means that these containers don’t currently present a viable business model, particularly when weighed against the costs of their production.

Hopefully as these new containers become more commonplace, we will see media organisations find ways of making them pay without undoing the features that make them so attractive for the readers.

Peak Car and the Workplace: A look at potential changes in commuting and the office

David Levinson provides an interesting look at the concept of Peak Car, painting a picture of how society might look in 20 years time predicting people become less dependent on the automobile.

The blog post puts forward the view that we will be working significantly less hours in the office and spending less years in the workforce. Accommodating this change in office hours would be a further blurring of the boundaries between work and home, more flexible working practices and the adoption of technology to enable communication and collaboration outside the office (eg Yammer, Tibbr, Huddle etc).

This obviously has plenty of advantages for consumers, with long commutes associated with increased amounts of stress, divorce and other social ills.

Whether we see this come into play remains to be seen. Figures from the OECD point to a moderate decline in the average working hours in nearly all member countries including the United Kingdom — although this doesn’t amount to anywhere close to the days off work that Levinson suggests. We are also not seeing a drop in the age that people retirement among OECD countries and this is not likely to be something encouraged by governments faced with a drop in their work force dependency ratio.

We have seen the Department of Work and Pensions advocating for flexible working practices, pointing to the advantages of falls in absenteeism, increased retention rates and productivity, easier recruitment and greater employee loyalty. But this position is not necessarily unanimous given recent policy changes at Yahoo! and Hewlett Packard although discussions with Jacob Morgan suggest that these companies introduced these measures to address company specific problems.

As for the current picture,there is definitely evidence to suggest that we’ve seen a crest in traffic volumes with Transport for London showing that 1999 saw a peak in traffic flows. Whether this holds when United Kingdom returns to robust growth remains to be seen.

Traffic levels on major roads in Greater London 1993 — 2010, Transport for London, March 2012
Traffic levels on major roads in Greater London 1993 — 2010, Transport for London, March 2012

What’s happening to our newspapers…A look at the changing position of newspapers in our media landscape.

The newspaper sector is facing something of a cross roads with a general decline in readership and advertising revenues for print publications. The internet is providing a valuable alternative distribution channel to print, particularly as smartphones and tablets find themselves increasingly in the hands of UK consumers. Media Consumer Survey 2013: Love in a cold climate, Deloitte, 2013 The web though provides a mixed story on whether online advertising revenues will fill the hole. News outlets can no longer rely on their role as curator of users view on the world as consumers turn to social media and an array of services such as Flipboard and Zite to navigate around what might be important to them. This change has the potential to lead to a decrease in web traffic for the newspaper websites and also arguably increases the leverage of high profile journalists who have less need for the prestige of a newspaper byline (see the recent departure of Walter Mossberg and David Pogue as a litmus test of sorts). But all is far from lost for our traditional providers of news who aren’t simply standing still. The Daily Mail and The Guardian are both interesting examples of news organisations that are adapting to the digital age. Both organisations are embracing audiences beyond those reachable by their printing presses and have adapted their newsrooms to the always on news cycle. Results from Guardian News and Media (the Guardian and Observer’s publisher) point to an increase in online revenues that counterbalances the decline in print revenues, providing some vindication of the organisation’s digital-first strategy announced in 2011. Reassuring news, given the important role the Guardian and other newspapers have played in raising the profile of important societal to the society we live in.