You're now looking at a Koken powered website hosted on A Small Orange. I've left Squarespace for this site, for reasons I'll talk about below. Koken is a new, self-hosted CMS created for photographers and designers early in it's development (currently version 0.10). I've started customizing my own template (named V One), so some pages might not look like they fit in (yet!). It's all Helvetica Neue (falling back to Helvetica, Arial) for body text and Roboto Slab for headings, delivered via Google Fonts.
I've taken Apple's lead in regards to typography a bit, the larger the heading, the thinner weight the font is. So far, I like how it works and it feels easy to read at all sizes and looks great on all screens - especially Retina.
I was a happy Squarespace user, personally, for a year. I continue to operate other websites there for friends and will continue to do so. Squarespace treated me great, my site looked amazing, it never went down (even during a Hurricane in NY!). Even the backend configuration and administration was beautiful, powerful and easy to use. I've recommended Squarespace time and time again and every time I've received rave reviews.
So Why Did I Leave Squarespace?
Honestly, it's a tale as old as time - it was about the money.
I have been paying for hosting at A Small Orange, ASO from here on out, for a couple of years now. I use ASO shared hosting for a few Django projects and family websites. This is very low traffic/load, for the most part I've been paying ASO for servers that I'm just not using. However, I can't just move this stuff to Squarespace. So, instead of paying for 2 web hosts, I decided to move my blog/portfolio to A Small Orange. ASO has been fast and rock solid with great customer support in my years there, so I’m more than happy to give them continued business.
But What Software Would I Use?
I explored many options when it came to running the site on ASO. I was sure that I didn’t want WordPress, and I didn’t want a CMS designed solely for blogging. I thought about ressurecting my old Django codebase I used before, but it needed too much attention. I finally settled on following the latest trend and creating a static site.
I tried, what felt like, EVERY static site generator out there. I really, really liked the idea of a static site that I could update via Dropbox and markdown. I tried Pelican, nikola, blatter, hyde, mynt, obraz, nanoc, jekyll, and even created 2 of my own! I didn't like the enforced directory structure they used, or the poor asset handling/organization. I hacked a few of them to do what I wanted, but it never felt right and I was constantly navigating edge-case bugs and crashers. My own site generators never got past the directory scanning/compilation phases because I couldn't decide on how I wanted to implement plugins and because I stumbled across Koken.
I was unsure about Koken at first, it was obviously beautiful, was self-hosted and it was free - all great features that fit my needs. In addition to all of that, it had a Lightroom plugin to upload/manage your photos published to your Koken site! I setup a test site and starting publishing photos and dummy posts to it while hacking around with creating my own template. I was sold.
What I Like
It has an extensive templating language (called Lens) for creating your own themes and functionality is easily expanded via plugins.
+ Easy to Host
It's written in PHP, which makes it easy to host nearly anywhere.
Koken has built in template caching, so your pages load quickly. It seems to cache them all for you automatically, not on first request, so it's always responsive.
+ Admin & Management
Top notch, fast, and powerful. See all of your photos, drag & drop around the interface, and great page/post creation tools. Nearly as phenomenal as Squarespace’s and Koken is still very early in (public) development.
+ Built in Responsive Designs
Koken, like Squarespace, provides beautiful templates with built in responsiveness for scaling to phones, tablets, and widescreen desktops. Koken is also HiDPI ready so your images always look their best.
+ Asset/Photo Management
Built in photo/asset management, just like Lightroom, Aperture, Capture One. Tag, categorize, group and view EXIF information right in the browser for all of your uploaded images. You can even assign relationships between posts/pages, this is great to give blog posts context.
Say, you’ve written a blog post about your trip to Disney and you’ve got an uploaded album with the pictures you took. In the blog post, you can insert one or two of your favorite photos inline with commentary koken inserts a link to the album(s) that you’re talking about in the post automatically.
+ Lightroom Plugin
Uploading albums and photos, along with all of the metadata you’ve already spent time assigning to Koken is as easy as publishing to any other online service you use with Lightroom. It’s great.
What I Don’t Like
– The Lens Templating System, at times
While I love that there’s a documented, extensive templating system, it’s a bit limiting in certain aspects and I wish it were based on template inheritance instead of injection.
What I’ll Miss
• Built-In Statistics
Squarespace had amazing, detailed statistics for visitors built right in. I’ll be going back to Mint for my site, which has never let me down but is getting long in the tooth.
• Built-In Commerce
Squarespace added the ability to sell digital and physical goods recently, and I can tell you - it’s incredible. If you are on Squarespace, selling anything and not using their commerce offering, you’re missing out big time. If I’m ever in need of an ecommerce solution, I'll be looking squarely in Shopify's direction.
• Worry Free Hosting
With Squarespace, I never had to think about whether something was working or if my site was down. ASO hasn’t let me down for a second, but I’ll have to keep an eye on things myself now.
Would I Recommend Koken to Others?
That’s not quite a straight forward question. Do you want brain dead, worry free, beautiful website hosting?
Then, no - go to Squarespace immediately and enjoy every second of it, they have a truly great product.
Do you already have a server or hosting and want a beautiful, easy to manage portfolio and blog CMS?
Without question, go download Koken today.
Next up, the epic saga of moving away from Gmail to my @camronflanders.com email full-time.