7 months as a Ghost

Back in October of last year, Ghost was released to the public. I read a lot about this “WordPress killer”, and decided to give it a try. It is Just a Blogging Platform, so that’s exactly what I need for this site. After 7 months, I’m back on WordPress and I’d like the share my experiences with you.

This blog is my playground: I started back in 2006 on Blogger, then switched to WordPress a few months later. In 2011, I tried Jekyll. In 2012, I moved to WordPress.com and then back to the self-hosted version of WordPress to play with Jetpack. And in December 2013, I decided to stop blogging here and start a brand new Ghost blog. Over the course of 7 months, I published 32 posts. Here is why I switched back to WordPress, and what I learned about both platforms in the past few months.

Ghost: it’s new, it’s shiny

Ghost Editor

The first step in creating your new blog is to install Ghost on your hosting plan. It can be quite difficult since most shared hosts don’t support node.js yet. Luckily there are quite a lot of node.js tutorials out there, and if you have shell access to your host you should be able to figure things out. Ghost also worked with a lot of hosts to create Ghost installation wizards, so things may get easier in the future.

Once you’ve managed to install Ghost, you land on the Ghost dashboard: it’s clean, it’s fast, and it’s to the point. There are very few options available, and you can start writing your first post right away. The editor is responsive, and since there is no advanced editor the mobile experience is really similar to the desktop.

Since there are no meta boxes or any other options, the editor stays simple and feels great. You’re writing in a full-screen editor with real-time preview, and I am going to miss this a lot when going back to WordPress.

The frontend is a lot faster too. When you only load a stylesheet and jQuery, things are obviously snappy.

Some things are missing, though

Dead Ghost

There are things we’re so used to with WordPress, we take them for granted. When playing with an alternative platform like Ghost or Jekyll, you quickly realize the things you rely on every day:

  • Archive Pages. Ghost added Tag Archive Pages in its latest release, but doesn’t include any date archives, or categories. I didn’t think I’d miss them, but they’re a nice way to quickly browse through content on a site.
  • Search. I use search forms a lot on my site, in the dashboard, and on other sites. I often search WordPress sites that do not even offer a search form by adding ?s= to the site URL. Search is difficult to implement correctly though, so I’m guessing Ghost will need a bit more time before to come up with something good.
  • oEmbed. Because it’s so much easier than having to copy and paste an iFrame embed code. It’s also more flexible, since videos will always adapt to your theme’s content width.
  • A real editor. Markdown is fancy, but let’s face it: there is a reason it’s still not a mainstream language 9 years after its release. Markdown is perfect for links and basic formatting. But as soon as you want to create something a bit more complicated you need to google for a solution. Do you know how to create a clickable image in Markdown? Do you know how to create a link that will open in a new window? How about a gallery, or custom colours?
  • Galleries. Need I say more?
  • A wide variety of template tags. WordPress offers dozens of template tags allowing you to display your content in a variety of ways, on specific pages. Ghost, however, is still limited. I built my own theme to discover the tools and options available to theme developers, and I quickly understood why most of the themes in the Ghost marketplace are so similar to each other. It was also a bit frustrating to have to restart Ghost after every change to one of the template files.
  • Ping-o-Matic and other Update Services. the title of this post is Being a Ghost. That’s how it felt to blog on Ghost. When you publish a post on WordPress, it often gets indexed by Google a few hours later. My posts on Ghost, on the other hand, didn’t appear in search engines for a couple of days, even when shared on Social Networks and when my blog was registered with Google Webmaster Tools. It obviously had an effect on the traffic I got on that blog, although I must admit it felt good to blog for myself, knowing the only people reading my posts were Twitter followers, or Google+ and Facebook friends.
  • Comments. Ghost is shipped without any comment system. Sure, you can always install Google+ Comments, Disqus, or IntenseDebate later on, but I chose to stay away from third-party services. I missed receiving comments and interacting with the few people who read my posts. Comments matter.
  • Plugins. When you create a blog, you need tools like Subscriptions, Stats, or Sitemaps. With WordPress, all these things are a couple of clicks away, in the Plugins menu. With Ghost, you have to sign up with a third-party service, get an embed / tracking code, edit your theme, save your changes, and restart Ghost. Hopefully plugins get implemented in Ghost sooner rather than later.
  • Mobile Apps. Ghost’s editor is responsive. But nothing replaces a native app when you want to publish pictures on the go. I assume that’s something the Ghost team will work on at some point.
  • Automatic updater. I had to update Ghost twice, and it was painful; back up, download a zip, unzip, remove the old files, copy the new files, re-install Ghost and its dependencies, restart Ghost. Compare that with WordPress’ automatic updates…
  • Export tools. Because it was a pain to copy and paste posts from Ghost back to WordPress.

Some of these features are on the roadmap, some of them aren’t yet. I’ll probably give Ghost another try when it will hit 1.0; it should be a more viable blogging tool by then. For now, I don’t think Ghost is a reasonable choice if you want to start blogging in public. It is really nice for personal diaries though.

If, like me, you’re interested in WordPress and want to keep track of where other projects are going, I would suggest keeping an eye on the Ghost project on GitHub. It’s nice to see how active the Ghost dev team is on there. They use “Epic” GitHub issues like this one to keep track of big projects, and maintain an extensive Wiki to help people who want to know what’s in store for Ghost.

And even if you’re not interested in Ghost, I would strongly suggest that you try a new tool / CMS / app every once in a while.

Get out of your comfort zone!

3 replies on “7 months as a Ghost”

James Huff says:

You’re writing in a full-screen editor with real-time preview, and I am going to miss this a lot when going back to WordPress.

I haven’t tried it myself, but Gust looks very promising in that it’s practically a port of the Ghost editor for WordPress: http://wordpress.org/plugins/gust/

Jeremy says:

I’ll give it a try, thanks!

hchouhan says:

This is a thorough post @Jeremy. Nice work. I maintain few Ghost blogs and 2 themes and have to agree with Markdown based on some support questions I get. For anything even basic as aligning images differently or adding a link that opens in new tab, HTML has to be used which defeats the purpose and Markdown + HTML together looks messy.