The Ghost blogging platform describes itself as a "publishing platform for professional bloggers". It is based on the Node.js technology, and as such is only available with a few select web hosting providers. Fortunately, Ghost themselves offer web hosting starting from just $19 per month.
Having waited for what has seemed months for the Ghost hosted blogging platform to be launched at Ghost.org it is finally here. Well, almost ... Ghost are currently in the process of rolling out the hosted platform, and we are lucky enough to be one of the first to get access.
Our Ghost blogging platform review
Hold your hats are we are about to take you on an exciting journey as we set up a new blog from scratch and do a Ghost blogging platform review. Prices start from just $5 per month, but when it is made available to all, you will be able to grab a 30-day free trial and give it a spin yourself.
Signing up to Ghost
After signing up for an account, you just click the "Start a New Blog Button". You will be taken to a page showing all the different plans which start from just $5 for one website, or you can start immediately by selecting the free trial. If you do this, no payment information is taken, and you will arrive at the following screen:
The next step is to click "+ NEW BLOG", and you will then have the option to enter a blog title, and choose your URL. To start with you will get a ".ghost.io" extension, but you can change it at any time to a different URL, or a custom domain.
Holy smoke ... within a second or so, your blog will be setup, and you will be able to see it by clicking on the domain, or you can log into your ghost blog by selecting that option.
The new blog
Now that we have setup our new blog let us take it for a spin. The basic setup is rather simplistic, so it will be interesting to see how easy it will be to adapt into a good looking blog as we progress.
The next thing we need to do is click the blue login button (2nd image above), and specify our login details for the new Ghost Blog. All you need to do is enter your name, email and a chosen password:
Once you click the blue "Sign Up" button you are then taken to the Ghost blog administration area. You have a few options here. At the top you will see the following options:
- Content — This will give you a list of all the posts on your website. As a default, you have an introductory post, and we will discuss that in a bit more detail shortly.
- New Post — This creates a new post for you to edit.
- Settings — This has a few simple settings such as the Blog Title, Description, Logo, Blog Cover (big image on the front), Email, and the number of posts per page. On the left-hand menu, you also have settings for each user which allows you to fill out the usual profile information, such as Bio, location, email and the user's website.
The most important thing to note is the Introductory "Getting Started" post. This takes you through how to use the Ghost Markdown, although you need to select "edit" to see how they have done it (top right-hand corner of the post is the edit option). Once you have clicked it you will see something like:
One of the things that we particularly like is the ability to add placeholders for images, so you don't have to interrupt your writing to add the image then and there.
Also, we think the side by side edit preview screen makes it very easy to create new posts and is a much smarter interface for simple blogs than WordPress.
Let's add a new Theme
One thing we didn't like about the A Small Orange hosting for Ghost is that while the actual installation was easy, there was still some requirement to use the command line to change themes and other administration functions. What is great about the Ghost hosted service is that you can change theme with a few simple clicks of a button via the Ghost administration area. There are many free themes to choose from if you check out Google search, but if you want something a little more special, for $15-$20 you can pick up some stunning themes via Theme Forest. For our testing purposes those, we will be using the standard theme, but you can see below how to add a custom theme should you wish.
To upload this theme all we need to do is click "edit" in the Ghost administration area:
And then click "Browse" next to "Custom Theme" to upload the theme's zip file.
Customizing the Theme
As we mentioned above, we have decided to stick with the default theme. There are many premium themes on Theme Forest that we would use, but for review purposes, we want to make the walk-through as simple as possible.
The first thing we need to do is click "Settings" on the top bar of the dashboard, so we can edit details about our blog, and upload the logo and blog cover. This can be done within a minute or two. See below the results:
You have to bear in mind this is something we created in minutes. You can choose a better background image to give a contrast to the text, and a better logo image. Alternatively, if you want something stunning, grab a theme of Theme Forest as we have mentioned above.
One thing that we do not like at present is that there is no way to add custom CSS (we are querying with Ghost at present) via the Ghost administration area. As you can see with the image above, it would have been very useful to alter the text color and make some minor tweaks. This is very limiting if this is the case, and only hope that some custom CSS feature is added in the future.
Ghost website Speed
With many people raving about how fast Ghost is, and how the technology it is based upon (Node.js) is far superior to anything else, we thought we would do a little testing. We tested the speed of a basic install of Ghost on both the Ghost.org hosted version, and self-hosted at A Small Orange. For comparison, we tested against a basic WordPress install (we used GoDaddy as it just happened we had a basic install already setup). One thing we would say is that the speeds shown are the best speeds we could get over multiple tests. In reality, the times varied, and in all cases, some of the load times were up to one second. We don't know what to make of such massive variation at this stage.
Also, and this could be to there being differing versions (Our A Small Orange install was done some weeks ago), but the page size differs by a fair amount.
Ghost.org speed test
A Small Orange Ghost Speed Test
GoDaddy WordPress Speed Test (cPanel)
As you can see the Ghost Hosted version produced some decent speeds. Obviously, when you have more content, and different themes, the load time may be a little slower, but the potential performance is there.
Currently, the only method of support is by email. This is very limiting for a hosted service, compared to normal hosting providers. Having said that, they are in their infancy, and only allowed a few people to sign up at the time of this review.
We tested out their support when asking about the ability to alter CSS on the website. It took them just 8 minutes to respond which is excellent. Unfortunately, to alter the CSS you need to upload a custom theme.
For what was promoted initially as a fast, simple blogging platform, all our experiences with it mirror this, but it is just too simplistic. Sure, you can get a simple blog with a default or custom paid theme and install it. You can then find it very easy to add your own content. But that is about it. It is extremely basic, and we just think you will get frustrated by all the limitations.
Of course, there is a small army of dedicated developers (both professional and amateur) that loves nothing more than digging around in theme files, and running a self-hosted version via the command line. These people can customize Ghost to their hearts content, and develop new plugins, etc. We think Ghost will continue to garner a small dedicated following, but we have already seen many developers give up and turn back to WordPress.
Would we use Ghost? Hell no. While we went into this review with a lot of excitement and promise about the new platform, it didn't take long for the frustration of not being able to make simple adjustments to the theme take hold. We just think this whole blogging platform is just not ready yet for the non-developer types. Maybe in a year or two we will think differently as more functionality and features are added, but for now, we will happily stick with WordPress.
Ghost Aton — Blogging Platform Update — Jan 2014
If you have read our Ghost blogging platform review above, you will have noticed how enthusiastic we were at the start of the review, but how disappointed we were with the lack of features and functionality by the time we had completed it. Don't get us wrong; we think there is something in Ghost, and it could potentially be very very good.
Well, on a step toward appeasing our complaints, Ghost Aton has just been launched as a major update which addressed 178 issues, and launched some exciting new features:
- Static pages — You can now toggle any post to be a "page" from within your post settings menu on the editor or content screen. This will remove it from your post feed. This enables the easier creation of about pages etc.
- Unsaved changes notification — Always a useful feature to prevent accidental loss of changes when navigating away from a page.
- Featured posts — Clicking the star on the content screen will mark a post as featured. Featured posts get an extra class so they can be styled differently.
- Sexy new loading bar — A little blue bar crawls across the screen when Ghost is doing something.
- Quick edit post URL — You can now add /edit/ on the end of any posted URL to edit the page.
- Date based permalink support.
- Subdirectory support — You can now configure your URL in
config.jsto contain a subdirectory.
- Gravatar for user images
- SSL support
- Welcome email on blog creation
- Available update notifications
- Tag helper has suffix and prefixes property
- New encode helper
You can read the full release notes here.
In addition to the bug fixes and other changes in Ghost Aton, the code-base has been significantly improved by updating the config loading and management, storage and retrieval of paths and URLs, the removal of the ghost.js file, cleanup work around the API and a complete rewrite of the database migrations system.
Of course, this hasn't addressed our main annoyance with the Ghost Platform, namely the inaccessibility for novice users to make minor amendments to the theme and the difficulty in managing the installation (although this is pretty much resolved with the ghost.org managed web hosting). At this rate of progress we can see Ghost going from strength to strength, and eventually being something we think non-developer type users can really use. In fact, arguably, with a decent theme that requires no tweaks (the ones we tried needed the odd font color change copyright in footers removing etc.), this is already a great platform.