Whereas once Wordpress was the de facto go-to solution for a build-it-yourself website, a lot of people are now turning to Squarespace instead. This is generally because for 'normal people', it's arguably quicker to set up a Squarespace site than a Wordpress one; the templates are stunning; and the tools for managing and laying out content are very easy to use.
That's not to say of course that Squarespace is 'better' than Wordpress; both products have their strengths and weaknesses. In many ways I much prefer the latter, and one area where Wordpress undeniably still kicks Squarespace's ass is in the area of plugins. There are tens of thousands of them available, and they allow you to extend Wordpress' functionality significantly; with Squarespace however, you are dealing with a walled garden. You get a decent amount of functionality out of the box, but Squarespace like to keep things locked down and as such when it comes to the features on offer, it is generally Squarespace's way or the highway. Sure, you can use the developer version of Squarespace to code your own additional features, but that won't particularly appeal to most of Squarespace's userbase and sadly gaining a groovy new feature through addition of a simple plugin is not an option.
Or rather, it wasn't an option until now. A company called Square Plugins is now hoping to give Squarespace users more functionality by providing a wide range of paid-for plugins which enhance Squarespace's feature set dramatically - or, as Square Plugins describe it, to allow Squarespace users to enjoy 'Squarespace on steroids'. The kinds of things on offer include more sophisticated data capture forms; improved galleries; better blog summaries; video backgrounds; and animated buttons. These range in price from a few dollars for a button plugin to around $60 for a video background plugin. (There is also a custom coding service provided by Square Plugins, at $70 per hour.)
Of all the plugins on offer, the one that interested me the most was a plugin which promised to let me add a video background to a Squarespace site. I'd been wanting to do that for a while for a band site that I manage, Five Grand Stereo, and as such I thought I'd try using Square Plugins to do it. In my case, I was keen to try Square Plugins' 'Youtube background' plugin to feature some of the band's video footage as background on their video page. Here's how I got on.
What you get when you buy a Square plugin
Installing a Square plugin is a completely different kettle of fish to installing a Wordpress one -rather than simply clicking an 'install' button (as is generally the case in Wordpress), buying a Square plugin means getting access to
- some code which you need to manually add to your website
- a video which explains where you should add it.
Installing the code
The instructions video I received was well put together, but personally I would have liked to also have been sent a set of text instructions (to save me from having to pause / rewind / forward the video during the code addition process). That minor gripe aside, the video was very easy to follow and I had added my code in no time. With the case of the Youtube video background plugin, you have to 'personalise' your code by inserting some information from Youtube and tweaking a line to let the script know which template you're using. I added the code, made the relevant tweaks, refreshed the page, sat back and...it didn't work.
But I didn't panic, because when you buy a plugin from Square, you are promised comprehensive email support to get your plugin working as it should. So, naturally, I contacted them for help.
Getting support from Square Plugins
The first thing that has to be said is that the support provided by Square Plugins was great - Josh, who runs the company, was prompt and friendly in his replies to my emails and determined to get the plugin working for me quickly. The first thing Josh offered to do was log into the Five Grand Stereo website and examine / fix the issue himself; however, chiefly because I was reviewing the service, I wanted to see how a user who wasn't keen on providing their login details for this purpose would be treated by Square Plugins. Very well, it has to be said - Josh immediately came back with a revised version of the code which worked instantly. The reason that the first draft had not worked was, however, slightly annoying - a wrong line of code had been provided for the template I was using (Marquee) - in other words, I hadn't made an error, the code was wrong to begin with. This has subsequently been fixed in the code that is provided to users.
When I looked a bit more closely at the page with the video background, I noticed that there was a small but unwanted border around the video. This was to do with some custom CSS I'd added to the Five Grand Stereo site (in other words, this was a fault generated at my end) - a quick email exchange with Square Plugins later and I was supplied with some instructions on how to remove this. All going great I thought...until I looked at the page on my iPhone. Now, I wasn't expecting to see a moving video on the smartphone version of the page, as it's made clear on the Square Plugins site that mobile browsers don't generally support the video background plugin; however, I was expecting to see the two embedded Youtube videos that were featured on the page - but one of them wasn't showing. Another quick email exchange with Josh and this was sorted out.
Josh pointed out in our email exchange that had he had been given access to the site, he would have resolved these issues on my behalf in one go, and without the need for email support. Users who are comfortable with sharing their login details with the company would, it has to be said, get quicker results in situations like this by doing so.
One minute though - where's the script running?
I noticed that the code provided to show the video background referred to a script located on the Square Plugins site - I would prefer, if I'm honest, to have a script which I could upload to my own Squarespace site, because if the Square Plugins disappears...well, so does my video background. Admittedly this would make installing the plugins more difficult - but I think users should ideally be given a choice on this front.
This is the only Square plugin I've tested - I hope, time permitting, to try a few more out over the coming months - but overall I thought the results using the Youtube video background plugin were fantastic. Once everything had been tweaked correctly, the plugin did exactly what I wanted it to do and looked great - you can take a look at the video background in action here (remember to use a desktop computer though!). Based on my experience of chatting to Josh over email I'd have no hesitation on commissioning Square Plugins to do some custom coding for a client too.
Here's a summary of the positives and negatives of using this tool:
- Great results, once fully functioning - the Youtube video background allowed me to really enhance the visuals of a Squarespace site.
- The video instructions provided were easy to follow.
- The support received was friendly, prompt, and resolved all my issues.
- The code initially supplied was incorrect, although I believe this problem has now been resolved.
- It would be good to get text instructions as well as video ones - some users will prefer to look at text instructions and follow them sequentially rather than pause, play, rewind or forward a video...
- Calling it a 'plugin' is slightly misleading - really, you are paying to access code which you need to insert and configure manually.
- The code that you install on your site refers to a script hosted on the Square Plugins site...so if the latter goes down, so does your plugin.
Trying it out
You can buy this plugin over at the Square Plugins website, where you can also avail of some freebie plugins.