Introducing Sparkle 5

by Duncan Wilcox, May 22, 2023

Today is a very exciting day, we’ve been working on this release for over a year, and some parts go back even further.

Sparkle has 40 new features or significant improvements, and countless tweaks to make both Sparkle and your published website perform better and offer more functionality.

Here are the big ones.

Artificial Intelligence

Humans are naturally inclined to change and iterate on things to fix, rather than stare at a blank slate waiting for inspiration to hit. Small goals that feel in reach rather than organizing for one huge far away goal with no clear plan.

We wanted to add a very practical tool to help starting out with a website, not knowing exactly what you want until you see it. When the direction is unclear, the indecision is pretty much on the same whether you have a user interface or a text box where you type out a request.

Speaking of AI most people think of ChatGPT, but when it comes to generated text it’s unclear whether it will be SEO friendly in the long term, and there are several tools to inject generated text in any application, like for example MacGPT.

So we went a step beyond plain text generation and built a tool that creates a website outline and the page layout, starting simply from a description of the business/activity type, and a name. The screenshots here illustrate how it works, and we’d love to hear how it works out for you.

We currently use OpenAI technology for this. Building it was a learning experience and we already have many ideas for improvements and a version 2 of this feature, but it’s showing a lot of promise already.

Finally, this feature won’t steal anybody’s job, Sparkle’s AI generator can’t generate a website as elaborate as our own, or any the ones created by the many designers that have experience with Sparkle. Nonetheless it’s tool, and just like any tool you don’t have to use it if it doesn’t help you. Sometimes it might, and that’s a victory.

While AI and the use of AI is in the spotlight and is naturally controversial, we think we have found a good combination of benefit vs non-intrusiveness.

Image/Video grid

One of the most commonly requested features for years probably has been the ability to show a grid of pictures, zoom the picture in a lightbox when clicking, and then sliding through the zoomed images.

We have added this in Sparkle 5, and it’s great! It supports both images and video, and handles multiple devices natively. It’s super simple to start using, by dragging images into the canvas or adding a blank one from the Add popup:

Naturally, as for all newly introduced features, we look forward to how you will be using it and which needs arise. This is a new generation gallery that we will be growing to cover more needs and will improve in canvas editing and add features.

New interactivity

We overhauled the “On click” action menu for links, with all new link actions available from any link source (text, image, menu, etc). You can not only add “Share this page” style links, inviting visitors to share the current page address on social media, but also directly control media playback and audio, and expand/collapse layout blocks in the page. Additionally it’s now possible to trigger text message sending (including Whatsapp).

The new media playback controls are particularly useful to work with browsers blocking auto-playing media that contains audio. You can have a video, including a page background video, start out muted, and add a button that lets the site visitor unmute it. And on this topic, we have further integrated popups with video, so that you can have a button open a popup an simultaneously start a video with audio. Additionally the popup can auto-close when the video ends.

Finally the layout block visibility features let you create the common FAQ-like sections of a page, or simply unfold something that needs to be initially tucked out of sight.

Website Performance

Sparkle’s stellar pagespeed scores are further improved in Sparkle 5. How can you improve a score that’s already at the top of the scale? Beyond getting a score of 100, Sparkle now improves page load time significantly, so a typical landing page with several complex elements in it will often display the first pixels on screen in about half the time. Clearly a desktop computer on a fiber link won’t have that problem, but on a spotty mobile connection waiting 3 seconds or 1.5 is can make a huge difference.

This is due to the combination of smaller AVIF-compressed images, fewer resources to download when using variable-width fonts (where a single font file produces multiple weights), and more efficient page coding that activate page components just as they are downloaded, showing them earlier in the page download process. While on broadband you might not feel the pain of a large page downloading, everything happens instantly, on mobile this brings significant benefits.

Combined with the latest browser-native support for loading images when idle (a lazy loading image attribute), Sparkle websites are now more lean and performing than ever.

For example a typical landing page that in Sparkle 4.5 had a pagespeed score of 97/100, and a “speed index” of 1490ms, meaning the page is usable after roughly 1.5 seconds, with Sparkle 5 climbs to a score of 100/100, but the speed index is 45% faster at 820ms.

Sparkle Performance

We worked a lot on improving the performance of Sparkle in loading and saving large project files. While we do care about all our customer needs, the ones with very large files would in theory be a strict minority. We’re talking multi-gigabyte files here. The matter is not that of improving performance for a handful of customers, it’s rather about the long term viability of a Sparkle project and the file it lives in.

With that in mind, we used two benchmark project files, actual real world Sparkle projects from customers:

  • a medium file: 400MB, 60 pages, 35k words, 600 images, 20 videos
  • a large file: 35GB, 300 pages, 100k words, 800 images, 230 videos, 400 files

If you have had a Sparkle project for some time, it’s probably somewhere in the middle there.

While the medium file open/save performance jumped 3.7x (marketing people would say 370%), what’s really stunning is the huge file change. In Sparkle 4.5 it took 50 seconds to load, and an excruciating 3 minutes and 39 seconds to save. It is 35 gigabytes after all. In Sparkle 5, where we leverage modern filesystem trickeries and a talk-worthy combination of technologies, the project file is opened in 4 seconds, and saved in 7 seconds, or about a 30x (3000%!) improvement.

This raises the ceiling a lot, and makes us confident in building even more on this foundation.

Tons of new features

The “What’s new page” lists all new features, there’s too many to mention, from text effects to click hover actions, from the Figma plugin to the calculator smart field. We are in the process of refreshing the documentation and will get there over the coming weeks.

Pricing and availability

Sparkle 5 is available today, and requires macOS 10.14 or later.

If you purchased Sparkle Pro 4 or an upgrade after November 1st, 2022, you can upgrade to the new Sparkle Pro 5 features for free. For all other customers the upgrade is 50% off the Sparkle Pro 5 license prices, or $59.99/€69.99.

We have been unhappy with the limitations of Sparkle Basic and Sparkle One for some time, so have decided to remove the limitations by creating a new Sparkle Personal license, which allows for unlimited websites and most of the features of Sparkle Pro, with a non-commercial license. We are really happy with this package, and the incredible $79.99/€89.99 price point. We also have generous upgrade pricing for Sparkle One customers, but do get in touch if you have questions.

We recommend upgrading to Sparkle 5 for all the baseline improvements that are free and included for everybody (like faster handling of large project files, and faster website performance). And if you want to test all the new features, the 14 day free trial is reset.

Head over our new great Sparkle 5 page to see more details and upgrade information.

Naturally we will not have addressed everybody’s wishes, and we are still building out all the tools that are needed, but we hope you will agree that this is a great step forward and you can see how the new features make Sparkle the ultimate visual website editing tool.

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