A review of the Ghost 0.3 blogging platform

Ghost is an Open Source application which allows you to write and publish your own blog, giving you the tools to make it easy and even fun to do. It’s simple, elegant, and designed so that you can spend less time making your blog work and more time blogging.

As one of the 6000 people who pledged to back the Ghost platform, I got my 0.3.0 release yesterday. Usually I would not express an opinion about a project only after a few hours of testing, but for Ghost there is simply not that many features to assess.

Installation

You need a server running Node.js with npm and SQLite as your preferred backend.
Ghost itself comes with a sample configuration file, which you use to configure the installation to suit your environment. Not unlike WordPress, the installation is quick and effortless.

First impressions

Ghost admin panel
The Ghost content view.

Next up is the admin control panel and the initial feeling that some key features are missing. After suspecting a borked install, it turns out the much awaited and innovative Dashboard is not included with this release. The only reference I could find of it was a line in the changelog stating is had been removed. I’ll admit I haven’t been following the updates from the developers, or tracking the project at Kickstarter, so I had no idea the most exciting part of Ghost was left out of this release. Anyhow, I’m a believer in “release it when it’s done” so no more complaints here.

Usage

You write in Markdown on the left, and you see an immediate preview of the rendered HTML on the right. It might not sound very impressive but it works smooth and best of all, it saves a lot of time. I certainly see the WordPress “preview” button in another light after this experience.

I was also surprised to learn that Markdown is a lightweight markup language, originally created by John Gruber with substantial contributions from Aaron Swartz. I’ve never even heard of it Markdown before Ghost came along, despite reading up on the late Aaron Swartz.

The Ghost markdown/preview editor.
The Ghost markdown/preview editor. Don’t add the JavaScript code!

If you need to enhance your layout by adding some css to the markup, you can actually type the code directly into the editor. Since there is no separation between code and content (no source view) it soon looks like a mess when adding html and inline css. You might even add JavaScript code, but be aware that this might crash your admin panel, especially if you do something stupid like illustrated in the screenshot to the right.

To write it up, I would say that if you just need to add some simple text and illustrate with a few images, then this approach is way ahead of the competition. This probably goes closely with how the Ghost developers perceive blogging.

Mobile / responsive design

The default theme (casper) is responsive and works great on smartphones and tablets, as should be in 2013.

Performance

Since Ghost is running on a localhost install, it makes it difficult to estimate performance but from what I can tell, the developers are following best practices for optimizing load times. At least my YSlow plugin didn’t find much to complain about.

Conclusion

I’m still excited about Ghost, but I wasn’t blown out of the water by this initial release due to the lack of features. Ghost is off to an impressive start, but I’ll await the dashboard, plugins, themes and other key functionality to decide if Ghost will be my new preferred blogging platform. As a side note, by getting up to date on Ghost I was also made aware that Microsoft now is backing Ghost. In other words: ready your “This page is best viewed in Internet Explorer” banners!

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