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Motivation is a photography blog that discusses the creative aspects of photography. The posts will include thoughts about images and their interpretation, photographers and their work, technique, workflow, my ongoing projects, and perhaps even the occasional off topic rant.

A Website Update

In September, I updated and totally redesigned my website.  There are several new items that I added, but they are buried within some of the drop-down menus, so, since this is my blog, I thought I would give them a shameless little plug :)

There are a few new menu items hidden under the mysterious "Etc" drop-down menu:

1) Free desktop wallpaper for your computer.  You want it; it's yours to download and use.  If your monitor has a different resolution than the ones I have listed just let me know and I will add your resolution to the list.

2) Print Of The Month.  A different print each month at half-price.  If you see something you like go ahead and grab it because prints will only be a "Print Of The Month" once.

3) Blog Subscribe And Search.  This is a quick way to scan the titles of recent posts and to search back for posts over the last....yikes, have I really been posting since January of 2007??? You can subscribe to the blog from here or from the subscription link at the end of each post. When I redid my website I, unfortunately, lost my over 1000 subscribers because the blog URL had to change.  I now have 60.  You other 940....I know you are out there LOL!

4) Want to know what additions have been made to the website at a glance.  They get listed on the "What's New" page so you can know where to go for the new stuff.

5) Articles - Yeah, I know that was on the old site, but I plan on adding some new material soon!

6) After long last, I sent out my very first Newsletter recently and am planning for more in the future.  Want in?  Sign up here.

And finally......

7) My Carrie Furnace Portfolio is not only posted as a complete project, but also as a series for those that are just interested in the images that have audio content.

OK......so this post was just a big plug for some of the new material on the website.....but, hey, I do that very rarely and just wanted to tell folks about some of the new offerings.

My webhost seems to be having trouble accepting blog comments from SOME Safari and Internet Explorer browsers. If you try to make a comment on this post and are unable to please feel free to send me the comment via my contact page and I would be glad to post it for you!

Squarespace - The Cons

When I first decided to write a post about the cons of using Squarespace to build and host my website I actually had a far larger list than I do now.  Like any tool, it takes some getting used to.  Let me state at the outset that now that I have finished putting together the site I am extremely pleased with Squarespace overall and can VERY HIGHLY recommend it to those interested in building and hosting a website.

I should add that the site is now live (which I guess you already know if you are reading this) at www.howardgrill.com.  

Also, see my post about the 'Pros' of Squarespace.

So what do I think could be improved?

  • The 'blocks' from which you build your pages are mostly a big plus and the various types of 'blocks' are varied (text, image, forms etc.), but when moving them around it can sometimes be difficult to drop them exactly where you would like them to go.  Its pretty easy if you want the whole page in, say, two columns.  But if you want one column in half the page and two in the other half (such as in some of my Carrie Furnace with audio pages) it can get a bit difficult to get the blocks to behave.  In this instance I found it far easier to build the two column part first and then drop in a single column above or below. But I wasted a fair bit of time discovering that.
  • Although you can add custom code to the templates there is still a bit too much restriction.  For example, I can't have my home page play an auto-run slideshow without every other gallery also being on auto-play.  My home page configured as a gallery can't display text on it.  If I configure it as a 'Page' with a 'Gallery Block' I can have text, but then the image won't be as large.
  • Although the degree of configurability and options are quite good there are some simple options that are missing.  For example, having the ability to have a border around your content, or to have a stroke and a watermark automatically added to uploaded images.  I would think options such as that would not be too difficult to add. The ability to make changes to one specific page's appearance would also be welcome.
  • The blog pages functionality and appearance vary greatly from template to template. Since blogs are often a large draw into a website and often the most updated and added to portion of the website there needs to be more options and customization. SOME templates have a good number of blog options, but this one that I chose did not. There is no sidebar in which to insert a search function or calendar to pull up old posts.  No blogroll. It was a battle to even get the header with the title Motivation onto the blog page and it took some manipulation and custom coding.  These are real shortcomings for a blog page. I did finally manage to at least make a blog summary page that has a search function and calendar but those are things that are out of place on a separate page. 
  • What, no preview mode for unpublished posts?
  • The e-commerce function uses a credit card processor only (at a very reasonable rate I should add) but there is no ability to use Paypal.  Paypal is so popular these days that this should really not be the case.

Switching away from the negatives, I also want to mention their customer service.  It simply doesn't get any better and I should have mentioned it in my last post.  Response time is always under an hour and mostly significantly less than that.  Unfortunately they will NOT help you with any custom coding, however, I can well understand why that might be the case. And when there is something you want the template or service to do that it can't they will right out tell you they can't do it.  But let me point out two examples of what they can do besides help you accurately and rapidly with the routine built in building functions:

  • My product search block on the template simply wasn't working properly.  It clearly was a problem with the template code and not anything I did.  They didn't BS me.  They told me there appeared to be a problem and told me they were referring it to the tech side to work on, but that they couldn't tell how long it would take.  I gave it up as a lost cause. Like many things with the templates, I found a work-around that did the job another way. But three days later I got an email saying they hadn't forgotten and they fixed it.  Sure enough, it worked.
  • My domain name is held elsewhere and I couldn't figure out the myriad of settings that needed to be made over at the company that held the domain in order for the URL to point to my new site.  It took about ten emails back and forth with the Squarespace customer service.  But they responded every thirty minutes like clockwork with screenshots and specifics of what settings on the screenshot needed to be changed and what to change them to.

In summary, nothing is perfect, and neither is Squarespace.  But given the myriad of specifics that I wanted, it was clearly the closest to perfection that I think is out there.  In fact, if they would just make all the template blog pages as good as the best ones they already have they would be 95% of the way to being pretty perfect.

With the knowledge of the above issues, I recommend Squarespace highly and without reservation.  Give their free trial a try if you are thinking of building that website that you really do need!

Squarespace - The Pros

In my last post I mentioned that I had been looking for a template based web hosting service and that I had decided on  Squarespace after assessing all the variables I had mentioned. To recap what the important issues were for me:

  • the ability to utilize a custom domain so that my URL could remain the same
  • at least half a chance of being able to import my blog so as not to either lose all the posts, have to pay to have the blog hosted elsewhere, or to have to start from scratch
  • be responsive….that is to say be optimized for mobile devices
  • use no Flash
  • allow for the storage and download of digital products such as eBooks
  • be customizable so that the site doesn’t look like thousands of others that are out there already
  • be relatively reasonably priced
  • have clean, modern looking templatesbe relatively easy to use
  • have responsive customer service and support
  • optimally have the ability to embed audio for my Carrie Furnace Project, on which I spent quite some time preparing the audio clips
  • be able to do e-commerce and yet take only what I consider to be a reasonable ‘cut’ of one’s sales while also allowing for self-fulfillment of print orders

All the hosting services have the ability to utilize a custom domain (albeit at a higher price than the basic version).

All the hosts have available templates that don't use Flash and that are responsive (able to adapt configuration depending on what device the site is being viewed on) and that are clean and modern looking.

They all have the ability to do e-commerce, though the 'cuts' they take are variable. They all allow for self-fulfillment with no 'cut' as long as payment is NOT made through the site's e-commerce shopping cart (but then separate arrangements need to be made for payment, such as Paypal, but not through a direct link from the site). Having to request payment outside the website seems somewhat unprofessional to me.

So assuming that payment is made through the site shopping cart what is the 'cut'. Photo Shelter takes an 8-10% cut in most instances. Zenfolio takes 6% for self fulfilled orders and up to 12% for partner lab orders.  Smugmug says you keep 85% of the difference between the price you set and the Smugmug default price....wow, too complicated!

I like the Squarespace approach.  They have partnered with a service called Stripe to process credit cards.  You keep everything except for a 2.9% credit card processing fee and 30 cents per transaction.  This is very similar to plain old Paypal fees.  The downside is that you can't actually use Paypal.  Please note that my comments are based on the fact that I self fulfill all my sales. The considerations might be different if you use a print service.

What about blogs?  All the hosts have the ability to have a blog integrated into your website. But what about all those hundreds and hundreds of posts I have already made on my Wordpress blog that is integrated into my current website over many years? I certainly don't want to lose them. One of the very nice features of Squarespace is that they have an integrated import program that will copy all your old posts and port them into your new blog.  I tried it....it works!   The downside (which I will cover in my next post) is that depending on your template the new blog appearance can range from magnificent to, well, less than magnificent.  PhotoShelter does not allow such blog importing. Zenfolio does.  I am uncertain as to the current status of this at Smugmug.

The only service where it seemed possible for me to add my Carrie Furnace audio clips to a page was Squarespace.  None of the others seemed to allow for that.

In terms of pricing, Smugmug was $150/yr, Zenfolio $140/yr, PhotoShelter $360/yr and Squarespace $190/yr, all when paid on a monthly plan.  Each may offer slightly lower prices for yearly commitments. PhotoShelter is clearly outside the bell shaped curve on this one at twice the price compared to most of the others.

In the end, I felt Squarespace offered the best options for me.  Obviously, this may not be the case for everyone....it simply depends very specifically on what one is looking to do with their website and what type of photography and businedd concerns they have.

But don't think it is all a panacea.  In my next post I will discuss the Squarespace negatives, and there are a fair number in my mind.  Again, with a template based site it is unlikely that one size will fit all.

Choosing A Photography Website Host

A number of weeks ago I posted that I was considering putting together a new website. There were several reasons, but two which were of paramount importance: 

  • when I initially coded my current website using Dreamweaver there was no concern about how people might view the site on mobile devices.  The situation is very different at the current time and, best I can tell, optimizing a site for display on mobile devices entails quite a bit of work.
  • Because of he way my site is set up, it is quite an endeavor to add images and thus it has not been updated frequently at all.  I need a site that is easy to update and maintain.

And so I began looking at the options. I pretty quickly ruled out templates that you buy because, once again, I wanted to avoid relearning the coding and CSS that I learned in order to program my site years ago and which would be needed to make custom changes. Life is too short to both photograph and code. I then began to look at the major prefab sites:

  • Zenfolio
  • Smugmug
  • Photo Shelter
  • Squarespace

Yes, I know there are more, but these are the ones that seem most popular and utilized.

Before starting my research, I had to decide what issues were most important to me, as it seemed unlikely that I would find everything I could hope for in one location. Perhaps such a list would be useful to others who are also thinking about photography website hosting. These are the issues I found important.

  • the ability to utilize a custom domain so that my URL could remain the same
  • at least half a chance of being able to import my blog so as not to either lose all the posts, have to pay to have the blog hosted elsewhere, or to have to start from scratch
  • be responsive....that is to say be optimized for mobile devices
  • use no Flash, as Apple devices will not display Flash
  • allow storage and download of digital products such as eBooks
  • be customizable so that the site doesn't look like thousands of others that are out there already
  • be relatively reasonably priced
  • have clean, modern looking templates
  • be relatively easy to use
  • have responsive customer service and support
  • optimally have the ability to embed audio for my Carrie Furnace Project, on which I spent quite some time preparing the audio clips
  • be able to do e-commerce and yet take only what I consider to be a reasonable 'cut' of one's sales while also allowing for self-fulfillment of print orders

And so the search began.

Allow me to cut to the chase.  I ended up choosing what I suspect most will think is the most unlikely of the bunch.  Squarespace.

In the next post I will talk about what my reasons were and what the pros of my experience with Squarespace has been thus far.  After that I will post about the cons....and while there certainly are some, I do think that the pros outweigh them!

A Request

Lately I have been rethinking my website options.  A few years back I designed my current website using Dreamweaver in order to create a site with my own vision.  My idea was to present more than just images......to also present some of the thoughts and ideas behind the projects as well as specific information and stories about each image to allow greater reader 'involvement'.  However, the downside to this approach is that it is more difficult and requires more time to update in terms of adding new images, removing older ones etc.  In addition it is difficult to keep up with new coding like HTML 5, SEO issues, adding sharing to social media etc.  It is just more labor intensive than I had anticipated, though I do continue to add to this blog regularly. I have therefore been considering migrating to a more premium but 'template based' site, such as those offered by PhotoShelter or SmugMug.  My request to you is for some feedback.  Given that I think most people 'surfing' the web are looking at things for a relatively short period of time, I am wondering if what I had perceived as the benfits of  the individualized website are outweighed by the relative non-updating of the site, blog notwithstanding.  Also, are the template based sites to similar to each other compared to the type of individual coding I had done.

Any input would be very much appreciated as it would be quite helpful to me before I make any decisions.  My current site can be seen here.