2021 update: I no longer use Ghost to power this blog! But I still think it’s an outstanding project and that the company are pioneering many practices that should be more widespread. I still frequently recommend it to others. Alas, the nerd in me got hooked on blogging via writing offline and committing changes through git. This blog is now powered by Hugo.
Up until now, every time I wanted to start writing I’d expend 97% of my energy thinking about how I could build a blog, which features I want, testing fonts, browsing themes and saving colour schemes. The remaining 3% went towards some writing. It’s the curse of being a developer.
This time I wanted it to be different. I wanted to get writing fast and to be sharing content without giving myself a never-ending list of development work.
After some research, I chose Ghost. In no time at all, I had a great looking blog, ready to go.
What is Ghost?
The Ghost team are building a top-notch publishing platform without any unicorn-hype or startup-mania. They do things differently:
- The Ghost codebase is open source.
- The project is maintained by a non-profit organisation, which means it has no shares, no one “owns” it, and no one can acquire it.
- All of their company metrics are public, from revenue to registered users.
This kind of business model doesn’t work for every company, but I do think it’s an approach that more projects should try, especially if they are offering a service that they want to stick around, rather than a flash-in-the-pan app.
We started working on Ghost because we wanted to build a great open source publishing platform which would empower independent creators, but we also started this company as a social experiment. We wanted to know: What would it look like if you built a technology startup which could not make anyone rich. If you eliminated all the promises of wealth from the roadmap up front, and tried to build a good company, how would that affect the product, business, customers, and every little decision in between?
In contrast to the usual venture capital addiction of startups, Ghost has been profitable since year one. They are now at year five with over $3 million in revenue, and over half-a-million sites using Ghost.
Several things drew me to Ghost:
Frictionless writing. I can write drafts from the Mac desktop app, and publish them in a click. The desktop app is clean, simple, and offers real-time previews as you write:
I used to draft in other apps: Evernote and Ulysses. Now I only use Ulysses, but as soon as I’m convinced the idea is publishable, it gets migrated (copy and pasted!) into Ghost as a draft.
Beautiful design. Ghost looks great, right out of the box. So good that I didn’t even fiddle with themes. Not a single tweak. This is unheard of.
Drag and drop image uploads. If you’ve ever tried to write image-heavy blog posts, you’ll know how much of a timesink image uploads can be. Ghost allows you to drag images into your draft, and have them automatically uploaded to your server.
Markdown. I love Markdown. So much. If you’re writing a lot of content for the web, you should seriously consider using Markdown. It’s simple, easy to learn, and very portable. With the amount of app churn, there is the constant risk of becoming locked into an app and then struggling to export content as it shuts down. Markdown protects against this and defines a basic structure and formatting that will easily outlast any particular app. When I publish, I can then run it through any number of generators, to produce HTML pages, PDFs etc. All I need is a Markdown editor, and there are hundreds. If Ghost exploded tomorrow, I could easily move my writings into another platform that supported Markdown, and this lets me sleep easy.
Mobile apps. There are now iOS and Android apps for Ghost, meaning you can write and edit on the go. I don’t use them much, but they have been useful in fixing blog mistakes when I’m out and about.
In short, Ghost does the basics really well. You also get other nice bonuses, such as a sleek progress bar as you read, estimated read times, a solid SEO setup and social media sharing built-in.
Yes, Ghost is still lagging behind in providing third-party plugins. I look forward to them arriving, but the stripped-down, well-designed basics have actually served to keep me focused on just writing.
How do I install Ghost?
There are several ways to setup Ghost.
As it’s open source, you can manually install it on a VPS, for free.
Or you can let Ghost setup and host the blog for you. This is a great way of supporting the Ghost Foundation, whilst getting a pretty blog to boot. It requires the least technical knowledge so if you want to steer clear of the command line, this is for you.
Finally, you can use one of the one-click installs from various other hosting providers.
Well, in theory. I tried the DigitalOcean “one-click” install and nose-dived into a world of pain. After some back and forth with support I was told:
There is currently an issue with the Ghost 1 click that causes it to fail installation… You may want to try manually installing Ghost instead.
Hopefully, it’s fixed now. I would really have appreciated a note on the one-click guide stating not to bother while the image is literally broken…
Either way, I ended up following the manual DigitalOcean Ghost installation guide, which involves some preliminary setup of
MySQL, before installing Ghost itself. Personally, I quite enjoyed the process and didn’t hit any issues, but this approach is definitely not suitable for non-techies or anyone looking to create a blog in 5 minutes.
Long Live Ghost 👻❤️
6 months on, I still love my Ghost blog. It’s played a big part in my 2018 publishing goals, allowing me to focus on writing without obsessing about technology, or endlessly tweaking themes.
If you’re considering writing or migrating to a different blogging platform, I highly recommend you check out Ghost. They have a great product, solid ethos, and are here to stay. Even if the Foundation fell to pieces, the code will always be open-source.
If you decide to run Ghost on DigitalOcean, please use my referral link so that I get some extra hosting credit! It’s an easy way of supporting this blog. Thanks!