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 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.
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.
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.
This kind of service unfortunately doesn’t come for free, with monthly pricing running between $8 and $24 per month.
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 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).
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.
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.
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.
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.