Riding the Ghost Train

Posted by Matt Farmer on June 16, 2016 · 6 mins read

I’ve officially made the switch to a self-hosted Ghost install on my blog.

It’s still something of a work in progress. The layout and design are far from final and I don’t currently have any kind of comment support. (I actually haven’t decided whether or not I’m going to support comments at all.) In spite of that, I wanted to give you all a view into my decision making process for this switch.

This blog post is part 1 of 2. I am going to walk through some of the things that I also evaluated and why I decided to settle on Ghost. This post will be largely the what and the why of this little migration. If you’re interested in the how, that will come in part 2.


The catalyst for this migration came first in the form of pricing. I realized that my Squarespace subscription was about to be renewed. The cost breaks down to roughly $8/month, which is a really good value. Yet, I still made the determination that there are more effective ways for me, being the highly technical user that I am, to spend that money.

I decided to rent server space from Delimiter. They give me a decently sized box for $6/mo, which is $2 cheaper than Squarespace. I just had to decide what to put on it.

Blogging Showdown

There were three front-runners in my mind:

  • WordPress - I may dislike it because I’ve had to write plugins for it before, but it’s kind of the “Old Faithful” of website platforms at this point.
  • Jekyll - I’ve used this for a number of low-maintenance sites in the past. I actually used it to build the wedding website for Katie and myself.
  • Ghost - The new-er kid on the block. It’s a very minimalistic blogging platform designed to be lightweight and portable.

In the end I made the call that there were three priorities:

  1. The ability to write my posts in Markdown.
  2. Something that was lightweight with a simple template system.
  3. The ability to use and interact with my blog from a mobile device.

I briefly evaluated the options that I had in front of me in light of those priorities.


Every option I evaluated except WordPress included native support for Markdown. Sure, sure, I’m sure that WordPress supports it by way of plugin. But I’d rather have first-class support for my preferred editing language. While first-class support itself isn’t really a guarantee that editing will be enjoyable, it still instills a decent amount of confidence in me.

Jekyll expects you to use whatever editor you use for editing normal text documents. So, I had a pretty good idea of what that experience would feel like. That left Ghost for evaluation.

After tinkering around with Ghost on a test setup I can say that I found the Markdown editing and preview in Ghost smooth and enjoyable. It secures a small edge because it doesn’t require me to deal with my editor. I love my editor, but I also feel like I’m working when I’m using it.


This ends up being a really short comparison because, once again, the winner here is pretty much everything except WordPress.

Jekyll and Ghost use Liquid and Handlebars, respectively. Both are very similar, slim template languages that are very bare-bones. Overall this means that customizing either publishing system is a pretty quick and easy process. Additionally, the plugin support in both platforms is well designed and minimal. There are relatively few variables to concern yourself with when customizing either.

WordPress, however, is the opposite of lightweight. Its templates are not well separated from the actual implementation of the backend, it’s designed to support everything from corporate sites to personal blogs, and I generally find managing all the moving parts to be unwieldy. When you write a template for WordPress you not only have to think about how your template will look and behave with your blog posts. You have to think about how your template will look and behave with every plugin you need to install to get all the functionality you need.

Of course, one man’s bloat is another’s value. I know a lot of smart people who will swear by WordPress. More power to them.


This is the one category where a clear winner emerged. Ghost is the only option out of the non-WordPress list that would enable me to compose from my iPad or iPhone. I suspect Jekyll can be made to support it, but it’s not quite as pleasant.


It seems part of this post went missing somehow. Let’s hope that’s not a trend. In the end the mobile experience pushed me over the edge. We’ll see if I end up stepping into a world of snafu’s of disappearing posts! ;)