Review: Ghost Blogging Platform

Pro: Minimal. Simplistic. Easy - What a refreshingly good tool to use.
Con: Getting Ghost running locally isn't for the fainthearted.

Installation

Getting Ghost running locally using the website download isn't for the fainthearted web designer. It's a bit of a shame because the software will be great for bloggers of all genres, not just those in the tech field so the setup needs improvement to make it simpler for all. However, all is not lost - The Ghost team has announced that a hosted version will become available soon which will help the vast majority.

If you're a bit more savvy, installing isn't that hard. The documentation is pretty good and a web designer with limited serverside experience should be able to handle the CMD commands required to install and run Node. For the more seasoned web developer this will all be a breeze.

The default config file is bundled with settings for SQL Lite, however after a brief read of the docs you can customise the database type like so for MySQL:

database: {
client: 'mysql',
	connection: {
		host: 'localhost',
		user: 'dbuser',
		password: 'dbpass',
		database: 'dbname',
		charset: 'utf8'
	}
},
								

Features

Content Editor

Minimal. Simplistic. Easy - A refreshingly good tool to use. The editor is split up into two panes. The first is used for writing your content with markdown and the second provides a live preview so you can keep an eye on what's going on.

For those who haven't used markdown before it's easily picked up. It essentially allows you to write content using an easy-to-read, easy-to-write plain text format, which then converts to valid HTML. The first blog post acts as a tutorial to ease you into the basics of writing in this shorthand style and quickly answers your questions without boring you. If you know HTML you'll get along with markdown well. Something nice about the markdown editor is that you can write plain HTML if you prefer, or for times where you want to include elements on the page that markdown can't support.

Publishing Settings

Out of the box Ghost makes it very easy to save draft posts for when you're planning to publish at a later date.

There are only a handful of post settings that can be tinkered with so you can't really go wrong, though I don't think the controls for post URLs and published dates are particularly intuitive. Perhaps an icon or more obvious hover state for these options would make users spot these options.

Global Settings

A dedicated settings page is availble for you to cutomise your personal identity and describe what your blog is all about. I can't see at this time how one would setup multiple accounts or a group of content editors though.

Custom Themes

I've read that implementing customer themes is relatively straight forward and uses the Handlebars templating platform which is a popular choice for many.

Considering how long Ghost has been in the wild there are quite a few freely availble templates out there if you fancy a super quick setup.

Overall Experience

The core principle behind Ghost according to their website is that the software will focus specifically on blogging. The introduction video features John O'Nolan explaining that not much has changed in the world of blogging over the last 10 years - and that he and his team are pushing for change.

The 'back to blogging' ethos I think has been achieved with Ghost. Once you're up and running there's no distractions. You dive straight into writing posts and forget about typical features of an evolved blog like WordPress getting in your way - forget fiddling with widgets, page layouts and at times an overly complicated WYSIWYG!

Good news! Ghost is fast! Saving, publishing and updating a post is a snap. I've noticed that the software is very light on it's feet.

I haven't investigated it yet, but because the software is open source you could in theory develop or install your own plugins to replace some of the features you can't live without. I think it's potentilly better this way - to include what you need rather than download and install a bloated piece of spaghetti software.

As mentioned, the only thing I've found a little annoying so far is that you can't currently set a date for a post to be published in the future but I suspect that support for this will be added soon.

I feel my arrival at www.ghost.org via a Google search for 'Ghost CMS' is a bit wrong. It is absolutely not a CMS and I'd hope it stays that way.