Squarespace CEO Anthony Casalena is not afraid of Facebook.
The social networking goliath may be dominating the web with a growing array of services, but Casalena is betting that people and businesses still want their own websites, with their own domain names.
On Friday, Squarespace — a nearly 13-year-old web hosting and design firm based in Manhattan’s West Village — announced the launch of a new domain name service meant to rival GoDaddy, the longstanding titan in that space.
Squarespace previously sold domain names to customers who used its sleek, simply designed service to build personal websites or online stores. Now, it offers web address that people can buy and direct to another site, such as a Tumblr or Wordpress blog, or even a Facebook page.
Social media sites make it easier than ever for people to manage their web presence, but Casalena thinks “there will always be a place for people to carve out their home on the web that they uniquely own, with no advertising there,” he told The Huffington Post on Friday.
Casalena said that owning your own domain name gives you more control and makes your website, whether it’s your name or brand, look more professional. For instance, my personal website used to live on Tumblr (alexanderckaufman.tumblr.com), until I purchased a URL via Squarespace (alexanderckaufman.com) and built my new site there.
Squarespace’s new domain business means that people don’t necessarily have to build their own website on Squarespace. But Casalena doesn’t think this means that people will stop making their own sites and instead rely on, say, Facebook to host them.
If Facebook profiles and pages were to become the primary hub for every person or business’s online presence, this shift would dramatically upend the way the Internet currently works, he said. For example, Google, the Internet behemoth built on a search engine that cataloged the web’s disparate sites, would see its $66 billion advertising business dwindle. Facebook uses its own advertising platform, which is centered around delivering ads to mobile users.
“If every website was then on Facebook, what, no more AdWords?” Casalena said, referring to Google’s product that advertises via hyperlinks in text. “It’s an interesting intellectual exercise, and Google might change over time, of course, but that’d be a seismic shift.”
But as Facebook rolls out more features meant to keep web surfers within its ecosystem — it already hosts news articles, payment services, phone calls and even chatbots to replace businesses’ customer service reps — many have begun to fear the social network may be killing the open web.
Facebook has become such a powerful arbiter of what people see online that its employees reportedly asked CEO Mark Zuckerberg last week whether they should take a more active role in the presidential election. A comScore report released last month showed that Facebook dominates other social networks among people of all ages, included the 18- to 34-year-old demographic coveted by advertisers. Software giant Mozilla, which makes the web browser Firefox, has warned that Facebook’s strategies could undermine the neutral Internet, where all legal website have a fair shot at being discovered.
Such fears are overblown, Casalena said.
“It’s dangerous to put all your eggs in one basket, especially when that service is free and they need to monetize you in some way,” said Casalena, whose company charges up to $12 a month to host a website. “You’re getting into a much more straightforward relationship with Squarespace. You know whose brand is going to be there — yours, not ours.”
Search engines such as Google or Microsoft’s Bing tend to create a more open Internet because they point to many domains, whereas Facebook’s strategy appears to be keeping everything hosted on its own servers — from news publishers’ stories to chat logs or financial transactions. But Google is by far the most popular search engine, with as much as 80 percent of the search market. Concerns about how its own algorithms impact the information people access have boiled over into repeated antitrust fights in the European Union.
“I don’t worry that the open web is going away because there are certain walled gardens that provide some level of distribution,” he added.
He said maintaining a presence on popular social networks is critical to finding customers or building an audience online. But as more people flock to the biggest players in the space — Facebook now has 1.5 billion users — it becomes harder to surface the content you post, short of paying Facebook to advertise your page or post.
“I don’t know that just because you have a Facebook page all of a sudden your content among 1 billion other Facebook users is as findable as if you carve out a unique space on the web, control the message and put your stuff out there on Facebook, Medium, Instagram, Twitter and other means of distribution,” Casalena said.
“You have to continue to play everywhere and have your own home base, which you can control, and weather the storm in case — and I’m not suggesting this [is happening] — one of these services becomes the next Myspace and you went all in on it,” he added.
Casalena should know a thing or two about getting your message out there.
Squarespace has been a prolific advertiser in the burgeoning podcasting world for the last five years. Podcasts, a form of audio-blogging that first became popular in the early 2000s after the release of Apple’s iPod, capitalize on the intimate relationship between hosts and listeners by featuring ads that seem to blur the line between storytelling and sponsorship.
Since podcasts went mainstream in late 2014 with the first season of This American Life’s serialized nonfiction crime hit, “Serial,” Squarespace “doubled and tripled down” on buying airtime on podcasts.
“What drew us there is there’s a lot of ... original voices there and original content,” he said. “You have these show hosts who, frankly, their audiences love them.”
Now Squarespace wants to take what it has learned about marketing itself and develop a service to help customers get their names out there.
“We’re already helping people who have an idea get a piece of the Internet, own that and put something simple or complex there to express ideas or run a business,” he said. “Now you’ve got a website. How do you get found? How do you stay in touch with people who are interested in you and care about you? We’re going to innovate on those products.”