STEAM/STEM Night

Zachary's school recently hosted STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) night which brought out a ton of families and a lot of great projects. Minecraft was clearly a theme this year as we saw a lot of projects that leveraged it in some fashion but we also saw multiple confetti canons, a really neat volcano, a physics project with a focus on athletics, some coding projects, and even a series of experiments of the effects of different liquids on teeth.

Naturally being the geeks that we are, Zachary and I went the 'Technology' route and built a website using Squarespace. Our family is a huge fan of the Timberwolves so we set off to build a Timberwolves themed website with photos, charts, historical facts, and more. It gave me the opportunity to share some web design/development concepts with Zachary while also providing him with a great opportunity to use the internet to do some research. He used a variety of sources for the historical facts, the chart/graph data, and other content. It served as a good preview of what research papers will be like in middle school next year.

Zachary presenting his project to a group of students. 

All-in-all, the school did a great job of providing equal parts education and entertainment all while promoting the STEM/STEAM initiative.

Shopify Vs. Squarespace for eCommerce

I had the recent opportunity give both Shopify and Squarespace a thorough test drive and learned a great deal about the two. I wanted to give them an equal chance to wow me so I built the same exact site and product catalog using both platforms. Throughout development I kept thorough whiteboard notes on features that I liked and disliked about each. In this post I will share my story of what it was like to build the same site using two different platforms.

The site is an online retail store for a clothing brand called LOM Clothing which was started by world renown battle rapper and hip-hop star, Hollow Da Don. LOM Clothing has a growing catalog that changes frequently so product/inventory management was definitely a priority. Other priorities included quality of design, ease of checkout process, security features, ability to customize at every layer, and native integration with Stripe, the popular credit card handler. After some quick googling it quickly became clear that both Shopify and Squarespace met all this criteria so here comes the good, the bad, and the ugly of both platforms.

Shopify Highlights

  • Product Entry / Management
    • This is one area where Shopify really shines. Creating new products, categories, collections, features, etc really couldn't be easier and managing inventory is a breeze. As a side note, their "bulk editor" function is absolutely and completely epic.
    • Going deeper into the collections topic, the ability to create "regex style" rules to define product collections is extremely cool and allows you to keep things quite dynamic.
  • Editable Liquid Templates 
    • Liquid is a templating engine, similar to Smarty, Jade, and others but the ability that Shopify gives you to customize and add to these templates is really outstanding. I didn't feel like I was trying to code my way out of a box, I could add and change functionality to my heart's content without feeling frustrated.
    • The build-in CSS/HTML editor is actually quite functional. I was expecting to have to copy/paste things out to Sublime and back in but I didn't do that, even once.
  • General Administration
    • Navigating Shopify's admin section is really a pleasure. It doesn't matter if you are managing products, orders, website settings, or accounts, the entire experience is very well done.
  • App Store
    • Shopify has its own app store which includes a variety of different data manipulation tools, additional analytics, sales channels, and more. It's a great feeling to have an active community of other developers publishing useful apps for a platform you are developing on.

Shopify Negatives

  • The only negative I can call out is that there isn't a "Create New" button from a product detail page unless you have just created that product. When you save a product for the first time it has a link at the top to create a new one. If you update an existing product you have to go back to the overview page to find a way to create a new product. While that's a little nit-picky, I found it to be annoying on a few occasions.
  • I know this sounds a bit crazy being the only "negative" but after a fairly frustrating experience with Squarespace (which I used first) I found Shopify to be a great experience.

Squarespace Highlights

  • Extremely WYSIWYG
    • There are a lot of ways this can be a negative but Squarespace does an outstanding job of proving "blocks" which you just plop into containers, define some properties for, and boom, you have content. While these aren't extremely easy to customize, they provide an outstanding way to get rich and dynamic content on your pages. 
  • High Quality Themes
    • The "quality" of templates in the Squarespace ecosystem surpasses what is currently available with Shopify.  By "quality" I mean the attention to detail, the responsiveness, and the UX of a given theme or template. Squarespace seems to take a lot of care with what they publish to the marketplace.
  • Import Tools
    • Squarespace makes it incredibly easy to import products and content from existing platforms such as Big Cartel, Etsy, and ironically, Shopify.  Using the Squarespace admin UI you simply select your platform, enter your credentials, and boom, it takes care of the rest. In my limited testing I found their import tools to be very impressive and robust.

Squarespace Negatives

  • Product Management
    • With any eCommerce site, product management is crucial for scalability, maintainability, and sanity. Managing products in Squarespace feels very clunky and at times was incredibly flaky. It took far too many clicks to create/update products which ultimately leads to frustration and wasted time.
  • Product Relationships
    • Squarespace does something very strange with products in that it creates a relationship between a product and a page. This means that when I was doing testing and creating/blowing pages away I would suddenly lose products. I finally realized that there is a strange and seemingly arbitrary relationship between a product and a page which leads to a lot of extra work. Something as simple as getting the same product to show up on multiple pages is a common ask in the Squarespace support forums. Clearly that is a problem.
  • Customization
    • As I mentioned in the "Shopify Highlights" section, the ability to customize templates and their associated assets is incredibly useful. Squarespace doesn't offer any options to make direct edits to template files without using their "developer platform" which I heard very negative things about from Squarespace users and developers. The fact that there is no support for anything other than injecting code into the header is quite limiting and something that definitely got in the way of things I needed to accomplish.

Summary

I am sure it's fairly clear which direction I would go but for the sake of clarity, Shopify won this contest hands down. Whether you are handling product/inventory management, web site development, or both, Shopify provides a much better all around experience. I would highly recommend it for developers and non-developers alike because even though it gives you all the tools to customize it doesn't require that you do in order to get up and running. 

Side Note

Ironically and a result of all this, I did end up migrating 5 years worth of blog posts from WordPress over to Squarespace. This blog (as of the time of this post being published) is running on their personal platform and I am extremely happy. It's a breeze to maintain, the "block" approach to laying out content is fantastic for blogging, and now I don't have to think about keeping my WordPress server/plugins up to date any more. I will be doing a separate post on the import process and how Squarespace really shines as a blogging platform sometime in the near future.

Updates to 'What I Use'


I realized it had been far too long (over a year and a half, yikes!) since I updated my 'What I Use' page so there were a number of things listed that I don't use any more, devices that have been retired, services that don't exist, etc.  I thought about striking things out as opposed to removing them but that would get messy over time so they have been banished to the nether.

That said, many new things added and only a few removed so it's good to see that most things are standing the test of time. I plan to do a post on the 5 year anniversary of the original publishing to show the first version side by side with the current and to discuss why apps/services were replaced by others.

Anyhow, thanks for sticking around this long and I hope you have found a few golden nuggets in that post over the last few years!

View updated post here.