Squarespace Takes a Swing at WordPress and Tumblr with a Heartbreakingly Easy New Interface

We can't help but wonder about the market, though.

Gorgeous friends not, to our knowledge, included. (Image courtesy of Squarespace.)

Finally, officially out: Squarespace 6, a complete rework of the web design platform that’s been around since the olden days of 2003. The beta has been trucking along since last October, but today the company finally flipped the switch. The new platform is the culmination of two years of work, following a $38.5 million investment made by Index Ventures and Accel Partners back in 2010.

Included in the overhaul is practically everything but the kitchen sink. A brief summary, from today’s announcement:

The Squarespace 6 platform adds over 50 new features to Squarespace’s core service, including LayoutEngine, a transformative technology for building web pages. Other features include sophisticated media management, a new blogging engine, deep social network integration, Facebook page publishing, real-time statistics, a new commenting system, multiple author support, and more.

In a walkthrough of the new software for Betabeat, founder and CEO Anthony Casalena described Squarespace 6 as a “totally new product” and called the rebuild a “monumental undertaking.”

“The foundation that we created with 5, which lasted us basically the better part of a decade, that was good. But we needed something that would get us through the next 5 years,” he said. Asked what had taken them so long to launch since the beta, Mr. Casalena sounded affronted: “You can’t just in a couple weeks or months redo everything that was built up over seven or eight years and put it together haphazardly and throw it out there and launch it.”

He does not strike us as one to be rushed.

Mr. Casalena described Squarespace 6 as designed to meet the needs of both developers and less code-savvy consumers: “We started creating this because we wanted to really be able to create any kind of site on the platform,” he said. “We’ve done a good job with blogs and portfolios here and also with small business websites, but we want to make sure that developers can use this to create great things,” he said.

The results are, in fact, pretty impressive. For one thing, the page builder is elegant and easy to use. Contrasting the new platform with others like WordPress, with their “little wizzywig editors,” Mr. Casalena showed off a new a grid-based editor, which allows you to drag elements around, only to see them always line up and resize properly. The results are also automatically responsive, meaning they’ll work on mobile devices. Here’s what that looks like, in practice:

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/45145639 w=400&h=300]

“No one had ever solve the fundamental platform CMS question for websites. There’s all these little options out there,” but none of them quite nails it, he said. “This is our stab at saying, all right, this is what we think will really send things forward.”

But if the product impressed us, we’re a little less certain about where Squarespace fits into the market. Despite its long history, the company has quite a bit of competition on the CMS front, with WordPress sucking up most of the air in the room. Best estimates suggest Squarespace has users in the tens of thousands, while WordPress has something like 54 million. Now, Squarespace is a paid product ($8 a month), which makes the metrics for success a little different. But that is a big gap.

Pressed on the issue, Mr. Casalena got a little fiesty: “If you really wanted to do a custom template on WordPress, you have to go to WordPress VIP, which puts ridiculous restrictions on what you can actually do.”

“Like, have you ever tried to place video?” When Betabeat admitted that yes, we had, and no, it hadn’t necessarily always worked quite right, he added, “It’s kind of unbelievable. I actually don’t understand how that sort of situation is going to be defensible for them, when there’s platforms like this, that give [users] total code control and also complete editorial control, without any of these problems.”

He proceeded to demonstrate the process of posting a video, which looked almost heartbreakingly easy.

The company’s intention is to push for artists and others who’d respond to the portfolio offering, as well as bloggers and simple websites. “That’s really what Squarespace version five targeted really well, so we’re just starting with that as a baseline,” he said. He also explained that, when they showed the demo to the CEO of Getty Images, who is one of their board members, he told them that his photographers pay $25,000 for equivalent sites.

And then there’s Tumblr, which hosts 64.6 million blogs and has made inroads among the artistic crowd most likely to respond to the portfolio templates of which Squarespace seems so proud. But Mr. Casalena didn’t sound too concerned.

“Well, Tumblr won’t let you make a portfolio,” he said, adding that “it’s an integrated system where you’ve got not only project management, but pages and blogs all within one site, and you own the content, and it’s a site you’re paying for, so you have complete control over it.”

“We consider Tumblr a channel,” he added confidently. Squarespace Takes a Swing at WordPress and Tumblr with a Heartbreakingly Easy New Interface