By Deane Barker

I’ve spent some time today playing with Squarespace, since their ads kept appearing my AdSense. While I try not to get too excited about new things (lest my head explode), I’m going to venture a pretty bold statement –

Squarespace is the best content management system I have ever seen within its class (hosted, structured, sans code – TypePad-ish, if you will).

This app is gorgeous in every sense – both in how it looks and in how it performs. It’s put together perfectly – it does everything you expect it to, and even more that you don’t.

A Squarespace site gives you the ability to create about anything except really tightly structured content (a custom relational database model, for instance). It groups functionality in modules, of which there are about a dozen, from a simple HTML page, to a blog, a photo gallery, a file library, and about anything in between (but no calendar for some reason).

You can group the modules into folders, thus putting logical stuff together. The menu and navigation functionality is as good as I’ve seen it implemented, given that that part of a CMS is always a huge pain to deal with. The user interface is stunning, the Ajax and ActiveX work is so good you don’t even notice it, it has a near-perfect WYSIWYG implementation, and the integrated help is, well, helpful.

The little touches are all over the place:

  • The WYSIWYG functionality is great, but I just knew that I could change it to Markdown if I wanted…and I could. Textile too.

  • You can customize your theme, and preview by launching the site under that theme. You can browse around under your new look, while everyone else sees the old one until you decide to make your switch permanent.

  • When customizing a new layout, you can pick from dozens of page elements to change – from BLOCKQUOTE tags to “Small Object Subtitles” and have full CSS control over them.

  • You can tags IP addresses, indicating if you don’t want to log them, want to mask them to something else, or ban them altogether.

In a nutshell, here’s what Squarespace has accomplished: it has the ability to be exactly what you need, no matter who you are. If you know nothing about code but just know how you want it to look, then you can use WYSIWYG and and the CSS editor. If you a Web ninja, you can use Markdown and write your own CSS.

As I played around with it, I knew I was in love when I started to imagine the Web sites I could build with it. Gadgetopia would bust the bandwidth limits pretty quickly, but I have a dozen other sites in the back of my mind that would fit beautifully in Squarespace.

Now, understand that this isn’t Drupal or eZ publish – there are trade-offs with having a hosted, turnkey thing. But not many. I’d venture a guess that 80% of informational Web sites (as opposed to, say, ecommerce sites) could live within the Squarespace environment.

Use it for 30 minutes (they have a free trial), and you’ll get the same impression I have: for something this new to be this good means that these guys are going to take over the freaking world one day.

This is item #269 in a sequence of 357 items.

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