First Month with Squarespace

Note - This is the written version of episode 36 of the JPG Podcast, except without the music, the improvisation or the Logic Pro X dicussion, but this written version includes a few nuggets of extra info.

Introduction

Anybody who consumes even the slightest number of podcasts will have listened to an advert from Squarespace. They are almost everywhere.

I bought a Squarespace account because I wanted to to merge my original and ageing WordPress blog with my Viewbook website which hosted my photography portfolio (btw nothing wrong with Viewbook, I never had a problem with them ever so I still recommend them if that's what you want). Getting a Squarespace account though meant I could merge these two sites together, that was important to me now.

Now before we get into this, I didn't intend to podcast with Squarespace in the beginning as I didn't realise it offered podcasting as one of its features. I think I know why though because it seems from the advertising and for the good publicity that they have, the podcasting part is somewhat underdeveloped, but it is free, anyway these are the things I found annoying and awkward with the podcast service

Podcasting

Space is limited on the basic account, you get 2 GB. This is *okay* for the show I use it with because I don't recording high-quality episodes and 2GB will last awhile and the show I’m making has a set life span. But other users might want more eventually, (which costs more) for example my other show JPG is between 60MB is 100MB in size at 128kbps so if I used Squarespace I’d only get 20 episodes out of the space offered. That's less than half a year of service before I start deleting episodes or upgrading. The space is manageable for me, but you need to know.

The second thing you maybe not didn’t know is you have to generate a second RSS feed. I say second because you might already use an RSS feed for your blog. This also means you need another tab at the top of your site, for a minimalist like me it's eating at me, but it does simplify things for visitors.

Hello Internet do this for their Squarespace site, but they don’t have a blog so it’s fine for them. Im trying to give you another example aside from my personal experience. 

Okay a little bit about automation with podcasting. Whenever you create a podcast with Squarespace you have to specify the minutes of the podcast, upload the artwork and subtitle the show. With a service such as Libsyn it’s done for you, the process is more streamlined to get your work online. I can't automate the things I took for granted using Libsyn (like uploading artwork). It's very odd and not as advanced, even though the interface is nicer than Libsyn. If I'm not clear, I have to upload artwork for each episode, whereas Libsyn will save it and apply it to future episodes.

With Squarespace you can push updates to any social sites you own. Twitter and Facebook work fine, but Tumblr doesn’t get all the information, even though Tumblr explicitly states it pushes a blog post in its entirety. It took a while for we to realise when I checked out the state of my tumblr site and noticed the audio file wasn't attached without explanation. There's no fix I've found so people were being made aware of a podcast update, but couldn't listen to anything. At the moment I include a link back to iTunes.

There are no stats with podcasting via Squarespace. Instead I have to use Podtrac. Again a little disappointing.

In summary, I will still use this service, it’s not exactly perfect, but it is free to me because I didn't realise Squarespace offered this service upfront. When I first found out they did, I was thinking I could move all three of my shows to square space, but then having 3 extra rss feeds and tabs at the top of the site could be a problem. I just use it for one of my shows to save money.

So that's podcasting for me at the moment. Maybe in my ‘My Year With Squarespace’, I’ll have something else to say about this service. It will be renewal time after all.

Photography (and blogging)

Now photography and blogging which was the original reason why I got Squarespace in the first place, blogging is much better than WordPress, much much better, the interface is kinder, more dynamic, less techie looking and faster. Templates are kinder on the eyes and much more manageable. There's nothing more to say, blogging is so much easier than before.

But, I had greater expectations with the photography templates. I would expect the templates to take my text files and image files and just plug them into the new template I selected. But it doesn't, you have to remove all the demo stuff that came with the template then add your own. I'd rather the service showed me the demo and upon transitioning to the template, it removed everything and inserted all my stuff. It makes setting up a site longer. That aside I haven't found a single Squarespace template that allows for full screen images that don't crop images. It's like Squarespace doesn’t understand photographers when we want to maintain the integrity of our photos by keeping them how we intended. I'm thinking of the Momentum template that caused me no end of pain as a bad example of this. I currently use the Forte template now because it doesn't crop my photography, but I don't get full screen images either.

This is something Viewbook understands as I did have full screen images, shame it didn't have a blogging features. Another downside with the Forte template, is that you get all your photos in diptychs and the caption text is present without the option to hide the text.

Stats

Blogging stats while they are extensive (more than Wordpress) only makes me want to find out more and I'm being suffocated, take subscribers for example, all you get is a number, there's no other way to relate with the information, all I know is I have some and it changes dramatically at the end of each week, I don't know whether they are coming from the blog or the podcast. It's the same with Facebook’s, you can get subscribers from there, but you don’t know who or how.

Positive Notes

  • Square space provides really good apps for free with their service. They are a blogging app and a stats app. The blogging app is very clean, very minimal and I've used it while I've been making commutes around Hong Kong, stats are great, but againI want to know what is behind the information.
  • Cheaper, though it does feel this is the main reason why I've been passive to some of its shortcomings.
  • It has done the job of merging two sites into one.
  • The online help service. The help service is amazing and that’s the truest part from the advertisements. Many times I’ve needed their help and they answer in a short space of time without you waiting that long. They even send links to video explainers which show you how to navigate to that part of the site you need to be in order to tweak something or switch something on.

In summary the service works, even if it isn't as effortless as they say. Especially with setting up templates, that could be much easier.

Going forward I’d like to see updates to fix the lack of automation with podcasting or just work harder on that part as it is a bargain for what it is, it could be a major selling point. I would also like to see square space develop better photography templates. They really need to create some genuinely dedicated photography templates.

Link to the podcast discussing this topic here.

'Where New Yorkers Play' by Franck Bohbot

Really interesting piece of work because it's something similar to what I want to do here in Hong Kong, though naturally our reasons differ. I want to highlight the unnaturalness and contradictions of the park spaces that have been provided, but as Bohbot states for Fast Company:

“I’m interested in the relationship between the built environment and people in general,” Bohbot says. “I found it interesting to photograph courts and fields because they have a big personality. In my opinion—this is the place where everybody who comes from everywhere plays together.”
— http://www.fastcoexist.com/3041730/take-a-tour-of-the-beautiful-gritty-places-where-new-yorkers-play#5
Baseball field, East River Park & Domino Sugar, New York, NY, 2014

Baseball field, East River Park & Domino Sugar, New York, NY, 2014

 

The togetherness he describes as existing in New York doesn't apply in Hong Kong. When the space is being used it's akin to having different schools of fish coming together for protection against predators, but won't actually mingle because they are different species. I've seen it happen here. The majority of his pictures don't include people who inhabit the spaces he photographs. 

Commenting on the work itself, only highlights how different I envision my project can differ. Hong Kong as a comparison is denser and the places I envision being photographed could come across as being compromised because of where they are located, whereas his photos illustrate how lucky New Yorkers are with the green space they have available to them.

The Guardian: Join Instagram, join a collective act of self-delusion (Repost)

Jonathan Jones writing for the Guardian:

    I speak as a recovered digital photography addict. I more or less stopped taking photographs at all once I realised I was subscribing to a cheap self-deception about the originality, beauty and meaning of my tens of thousands of pictures. An enthusiam has frozen into revulsion. I love the convenience of digital cameras and their potential to create beauty – but I hate it, too.

    When did my photophobia begin? When I realised that I was buying into the same delusion of grandeur as everyone else. I have a decent camera and it can take lovely pictures. It has a close-up focus that can capture perfectly crisp images of a flower petal or a bee up close. So I think the moment it all went wrong was on a visit to Kew Gardens. There I was, having fun snapping water lilies, when I realised that about a hundred people were doing the same thing. Grannies, kids, babies, all with cameras and a sense of being artists. I am waiting for dogs and cats to get their own photo-sharing site for their genuinely beautiful snaps.

I think the main problem immediately lies with Jonathan Jones' perspective on photography, not with the behaviour of Instagram, in his decision to take lovely pictures of flowers and bees; the same, accessible, non-taboo, subject material that everybody else points their camera at and has done since the Kodak Box Brownie. Instagram quite rightly lets us share these images, but it certainly isn't digital photography or Instagram that's at fault here. Guns don't kill people, people kill people!

I was in Victoria Park (in Hong Kong) where there were plenty of photographers chasing the butterflies, around the greenery. The most professional, seasoned photographers seemed like they were standing at the back, resting their heavy cameras on monopods, intuitively knowing, instinctively when it was the best time to get the wining shot. In front of them was the closest you could possibly get to a polite scrum, with many younger photographers competing for space amongst themselves and those passing by, who were inspired by the silent commotion to join in for a few shots with their compacts.

Ignore the lack of his originality, something which Jones should be scolded for, but where is the imagination to make images of something more meaningful in that moment of personal crisis? This is instead of assuming 'grannies, kids, babies' are deluded artists or to blame Instagram. If one feels photography is cheap, it's because one is not spending enough time with the photographic medium.

When I saw all these photographers taking pictures of butterflies on my trip to the park, I thought it would be fun and much better to take pictures of the photographers chasing the butterflies instead and make a social commentary, it would also be a slight commentary on the spectacle of it all. 

It's too simple to get disgusted with photography. Even what you don't photograph can and will be a statement on our world.

Has Jonathan Jones stopped to think about why everybody takes pictures of what amounts to being the mundane? Surely he is aware that we the general public are socially discouraged from taking pictures of things that are not mundane, maybe more dramatic because either they are a photojournalist, weird or viewed as a pedophile. Imagine the variety of photography on our news feeds and timelines if we concentrated our gaze and interest on ourselves or on other people outside of what are still 'Kodak moments'. There is a minority of people who do, it's a shame many other people don't do that. You're not weird or a pedophile if you want to explore beyond what Jonathan Jones is arguing against.

I wished the Victorians had Instagram, because not many people know that the Victorians photographed the dead or the dying. Not in a macabre ways (though by today's standards it would be), but in a way where the dead person looked like they were in-between life and death. Victorians even dressed dead people up so as to look their best for the camera. The Victorians did this with the aim of preserving their deceased relatives beyond the physical with a belief they were capturing their soul in an image. Imagine a Victorian gaze uploaded onto the Internet mushed up with today's type of photography on your newsreader or dashboard.

The issue here stems from the larger problem of what we have been conditioned to photograph (just google 'kodak moments') and what we have come to think of are supposedly 'proper pictures' from other people's camera's. Now this isn't a call to action to photograph dead people, more of a polite request to acknowledge there is more for us to photograph out there and to photograph something different within our respective world's.

While I'm on this topics, I don't think it can't be done with single images, those that make a quick comment and are digested within seconds off a newsfeed, they need to be something longer or viewed under a differing context and not necessarily something complicated either. When I say longer I mean through a photo essay, photo series or a visual diary. Something that anybody can sustain if they spend more time with their camera than Jonathan Jones does.

In 2012 I started a visual diary; just something to show friends and family (though it's open to all) who are back in the UK, to show them what I was witnessing here in my new country of residence. I've been brought up academically as a photojournalist, working on long term projects, working with and documenting other people.

How I photographed, has changed when I began photographing in a diary format, I have taken on another awareness of the photographic medium, which makes me think in other creative ways. Again it comes with spending time and developing that awareness on a single or a few topics, I'm at an advantage to the layman, but it's a skill I believe anybody can acquire.

That is how we can solve the problem that Jones incorrectly addresses without blaming fashionably unpopular social network 'x', until we do, don't expect anything to change on your respective timeline. Instagram is here to share our photography, not teach us photography.

NOTE - This is an edited and updated version of a blog post from my old wordpress website.