Sandcastles and modularity on the web

It goes against my Midwestern upbringing, but nothing lasts forever. It doesn’t matter how much we plan ahead, think things through, or over-engineer our creations... everything is finite. Especially websites.

I wrote about this topic a while ago in The Lifespan of a Website. However, the recent launch of the Squarespace Fluid Engine has gotten me thinking about the mortality of my creations. As much as I try to create amazing solutions for my clients that will be the last website they’ll ever need, they just can’t be. 

I build digital sandcastles for my clients.

Hopefully the things I create do some good for my clients and are enjoyed during their moment in the sun. 

Ok. Let’s dial-back the armchair philosophy. The point I’m slowly getting to is that all things change. Hopefully we are able to evolve to meet these changes, but a lot of it is out of our control. I have gushed quite a bit over the Squarespace 7.1 editor… which is now being referred to as the classic editor (or CE) now that Fluid Engine is semi-mandatory. I think the move is a mistake but Squarespace is free to change their product if they think it’s good for business. The question becomes, “Is Squarespace still good for my clients?”

A small group of Squarespace users (including myself) are not fans of the change. In their effort to provide more control to people that don’t understand what they are doing (DIYers and non-coders) they have made the overall process much more clumsy, time consuming, and generally less elegant. The simplicity of CE was why I have been recommending it to clients in the first place. I didn’t get ALL of the control I wanted, but I got enough. I also was able to customize most features via CSS and JavaScript. But the real selling point was the 7.1 Classic Editor. The simple, intuitive interface meant that when I was done with the design portion, I was able to deliver a reliable and easy to use product to my clients.

As I write this, the future of Squarespace CE is uncertain. The tide is once again coming to wipe out my sandcastles. I’m no stranger to it. I’ve seen the www landscape change many times before: the advent of css, moving from tables to divs, the destruction of Flash, the arrival of responsive design, web fonts inally coming along to replace image-based text, universal ssl, mobile-first design, all sorts of SEO best practices, and more. The problem is that CE was so incredibly good that there isn’t really an alternative. Moving to anything else will be a step down in quality of the editing UI for clients while also increasing the time it takes me to build the site. So it will cost more for me to deliver a worse experience. Although I do have one platform in mind… stay tuned for that.

Which brings me to the only thing you can do as a business, large or small, to protect your investment in online stuff:


Most companies in the website business space, be they ISPs, registrars, hosts, web designers, etc. want to be your one-stop-shop for domains, hosting, web design tools, email, email list management, seo, etc. This seems convenient, but is almost always a bad move. The more you commit to one company, the harder it is to unchain yourself when the tide comes rolling in. So don’t do it. It’s a little harder to manage, but you’ll be grateful when things go sideways that you don’t have to rebuild every part of your online business.

Lesson 1: Keep your domain registrar and web host separate.

Most hosts offer a free domain name (for the first year) which makes it very tempting. This has always been a bad idea. But now that we have Google Domains it’s not just a bad idea, it’s foolish. Google has a history of disrupting and wiping out entire sectors of business… usually for the benefit of consumers. Remember stand alone GPS systems? Mapquest? Urchin web analytics? Email before Gmail? Yeah. They were all way worse than what Google provides for free.

Google Domains absolutely rocks. It’s super easy to use, cheap, provides free ownership privacy($10+ per year at most registrars), provides free access to the best DNS servers in the world, provides free email aliases, and more. As of now, every small and midsize business should be using Google Domains. You can easily connect it to any host while it remains separate and you get all of the first-class features you could want at a dirt cheap price.

Lesson 2: Cloud Email

Businesses of all sizes should have an email service separate from their web host and it should be either Google Workspace or Office365. 99% of all businesses should be using one of these tools. Make sure you pick the right one, because while websites have a service life of a few years, email systems are harder to leave. Count on being stuck with one for at least a decade.

Lesson 3: Email list management

Don’t sign up for an email list management service provided by Godaddy, Wix, or even Squarespace. I’d suggest Mailchimp for most companies even though their appetite is starting to reach beyond email marketing. But as long as you stick to their email marketing offerings, they provide excellent value and can be integrated into any website platform.

In conclusion, keep whatever firewalls and bulkheads up between your web services that you reasonably can. If one starts to suck, it’s easier to move the one part. And when it's time to redesign your website, you won't have to recreate your entire online presence.

web services, website planning