Why WordPress Doesn’t Need to Fear Ghost, Yet

No Need To Fear Ghost Just Yet Featured Image
photo credit: black.zack00cc

Mark Gibbs, who writes for NetworkWorld, published an article on how Ghost may one day scare WordPress off as the top publishing platform. Gibbs has some valid complaints with WordPress such as, plugins that don’t integrate with the menu system in a consistent way, incompatible themes, and the post editor.

Although Ghost doesn’t have many of the same issues, I think it would if it was around for more than 10 years and its userbase was the size of WordPress. No software is perfect and in an open source environment, users are at the mercy of developers to provide updates to themes and plugins, an action that is not guaranteed.

The Post Editor Comparison

One of the most liked features of Ghost is the content editor. On the left, is the equivalent of the WordPress Text editor where you write content and can apply code via HTML or Markdown. On the right is a live preview that shows how content will look when it’s published. This single editor is like the WordPress Visual and Text editors combined.

It's Like a Visual and Text Editor in One!
It’s Like a WordPress Visual and Text Editor in One!

The editor is so well liked, several plugins exist that bring it to WordPress. Gust, MarkPress, and PrettyPress add a live preview pane to the WordPress post editor. Gibbs notes how the WordPress editor differs from Ghost, “In contrast to WordPress the ‘Visual’ view in the editor is a simple interpretation of the HTML so you have to save and preview content to see how it’s really rendered by the currently selected theme.” While true, there is a simple way around this pitfall.

WordPress supports the ability for theme developers to link a custom stylesheet to the TinyMCE visual editor. It’s called editor-style.css and unfortunately, not many theme developers take advantage of this nifty feature. The stylesheet enables the visual editor to take on the look and feel of the frontend of the site, delivering a what you see is what you get experience. Stargazer by Justin Tadlock is an excellent example of how to use editor-style.css.

The Visual Editor in Stargazer by Justin Tadlock
The Visual Editor in Stargazer by Justin Tadlock

Though the addition of editor-style.css doesn’t make the editor perfect, it vastly improves the writing experience. Having the content in the editor look the same as the final result is a huge convenience. Thanks to improved oEmbed previews in WordPress 4.0, the Visual editor is the default view when I write content.

The Text editor still has its use, especially when a snafu occurs in the Visual editor but I think in the future, the Visual editor will improve to the point that the choice between Text and Visual will disappear. In the decisions not options approach, there will be one editor to rule them all. Between the custom stylesheet and improvements to the visual editor, I believe the writing experience in WordPress is superior to Ghost.

The Ghost Dashboard

One of the other highly touted features of Ghost is its beautiful, non-existent dashboard. Gibbs notes that themes and the backend of Ghost are fully responsive. A note to Gibbs that the backend of WordPress is also fully responsive. The following image from the project’s Kickstarter page was enough to convince some people to back the project.

To this day, Ghost doesn’t have a dashboard but it’s coming. I admit, the concept images of the dashboard are pretty, colorful, and display information in squares instead of big rectangles. The question I have is whether the actual implementation will look anything like the screenshot.

The Ghost Dashboard as Seen on its Kickstarter Page
The Ghost Dashboard as Seen on its Kickstarter Page

The WordPress Dashboard in comparison looks old but gives you the ability to arrange items the way you see fit. I’m not sure what can be done to make the dashboard pretty. With the eventual inclusion of the REST API to WordPress, we’ll likely see hundreds of different interpretations of not only the backend of WordPress, but the dashboard as well.

The WordPress 4.0 Dashboard
The WordPress 4.0 Dashboard

The Third Party

Gibbs highlights the fact that the number of third-party themes for Ghost continues to increase. Meanwhile, there are those in the WordPress community who think themes have become a commodity. With WordPress now over 10 years old, there are plenty of free and commercial themes to choose from.

Ghost has a marketplace available which lists free and commercial themes. The biggest difference between it and the WordPress Theme Directory is the inconsistent way of displaying and locating a theme. Ghost doesn’t have an official directory to host themes. Listing themes created by the community instead of hosting them takes away the ability to create a consistent user experience.

The Ghost Theme Marketplace
The Ghost Theme Marketplace

When browsing themes on the marketplace, each listing takes you to a theme’s Github page, a site using the theme, a 404 page, or somewhere else on the web. While most of the Github pages for Ghost themes display information in a consistent manner, I prefer the browsing experience on the WordPress Theme Directory.

With the WordPress Theme Directory, I trust what I’m downloading as the code has been vetted, especially if it’s a recent addition. Information containing the version number and the average rating is consistently in the same location. The preview link is an added bonus but previews need work as they don’t always accurately render a theme.

The WordPress Theme Directory
The WordPress Theme Directory

Ghost is a Long Way From Scaring WordPress

Gibbs ends his article by saying, Ghost “has to be one of the most powerful and best engineered blogging platforms ever.” While I think the jury is still out on whether it’s the best engineered platform available, there is so much that goes into the success of an open source publishing system that it alone won’t propel the platform past WordPress. Ghost has the luxury of a fresh start and the opportunity to build a rock solid foundation for the platform’s future. However, it’s going to take more than that to knock WordPress off its pedestal.

In its current form, Ghost satisfies an audience that wants a simple, frictionless, publishing experience. Ghost delivers but without a robust third-party ecosystem, I don’t see how it will ever reach the same plateau of WordPress. That’s not to say Ghost can’t or won’t be a successful project, it’s just that I don’t see it being used on 20% of the web.

It’s early and Ghost has a long way to go before it hits the pivotal 1.0 milestone. The items listed on the project’s roadmap indicate a lot of cool features are on the way. But for now, Ghost doesn’t have or do anything that WordPress should be afraid of.

17 Comments


  1. Thanks for the update on Ghost Jeff.
    I remember hearing about it and then nothing… obviously it’s still out there but with 10 years catching up to do.

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  2. I’m a really big fan of the Ghost but… WordPress is way too much better than Ghost.

    First of all, “plugins that don’t integrate with the menu system in a consistent way” – it’s not a complain against WordPress. If you’re using a free plugin, or even a premium one, then you’re not talking about WordPress.

    While Ghost’s (soon to be) dashboard looks beautiful, I can’t take it for more than few days. I’d prefer WordPress’ dashboard.

    I was a fan of Ghost’s post editor & then I installed Gust plugin for that…but I soon got sick of it, and turned back to the TinyMCE.

    In Casper is scarier than Ghost at this point :)

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  3. “I think in the future, the Visual editor will improve to the point that the choice between Text and Visual will disappear. In the decisions not options approach, there will be one editor to rule them all.”

    Please don’t ever do that. Same for that “decisions not options approach”. It’s getting increasingly harder to find programs that make a point of not going that route, but damn it if I won’t keep trying!

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    1. I must admit that every time I hear about the “decisions not options approach,” I laugh. I really laugh.

      After all, they don’t mean it. What they really mean is: “When it suits us, we’ll justify a decision we’ve taken by repeating ‘it’s the decisions not options approach.’ But when it suits us to keep options, we’ll just keep quiet.”

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      1. I don’t laugh at all. I get very scared, because it’s what I see everywhere more and more, so I went from early adopter of pretty much everything until some years ago to pretty much holding on to something I could get working in a way that doesn’t bother me all too much until using a new version is absolutely necessary for serious security or compatibility reasons, at which point I wig out and a few times had serious breakdowns when I saw all that was taken away and no options to get it back, followed by quite desperate efforts to see if I can find something else to do the same tasks the way I want them done and all the time wasted to try and adapt to the specific niggles of the new stuff if I found something.

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    2. I am not a fan of the visual editor and regularly make edits that cannot be accomplished there (because I’m providing HTML, not just text), so I would not use WordPress if it dropped the text editor.

      Similarly, I believe that decisions are for the user to make. Taking away options only drives me away. “Decisions not options” is a philosophy that will eventually drive me to a competitor. It’s the primary reason I don’t use Windows outside my job anymore. My computer. My website. MY decisions.

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      1. I agree with this completely. My point was that this mantra “decisons, not options” only gets trotted out when it suits the developers. So it’s there just to justify bad decisions.

        But if they keep making bad decisions, as I’ve said before, I would not be surprised to see someone fork WordPress. This seems to me to be a more likely way of creating a true competitor than trying to start again from scratch.

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  4. Interesting. I assumed Ghost was a dead project now as I hadn’t heard about it in a while.

    I don’t doubt that Ghost is architecturally better than WordPress, but competing on features (or lack thereof) is a road to failure IMO. It is too easy to replicate the experience of using Ghost within WordPress. If Ghost’s interface did turn out to be super popular, then a plugin would simply provide all of that functionality without users losing all of the benefits of being within the WordPress ecosystem.

    I could easily see another project steam rolling WordPress via a superior architecture, but I have no idea if that could be Ghost.

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  5. I really like Ghost – I got all involved-ish at the beginning (sponsored it on KickStarter and even met the Ghost team in London before the launch)… I think it’s a great project – mainly because if it does become a major competitor to WordPress, it will inevitably inspire those who make WordPress make it even better (in fact, I think it probably already has)! …everything great in life needs a little competition!

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  6. Also preventing further Ghost adoption is the fact that many (most?) shared hosts do not support node.js.

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  7. I really don’t mind the theme directory part. In fact I see Ghost’s implementation as a huuuuuge improvement over the WordPress theme directory. The WordPress team has a really annoying set of requirements for inclusion which means I will basically never be able to find a theme I want in there.

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  8. Well, the bottom line is that no CMS is perfect for everything. I haven’t tried Ghost yet but I’m sure it has a place. The web is obviously a huge place and there is room for everybody.

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  9. The simple fact is that WordPress has evolved in to CMS platform. Ghost is aimed at normal bloggers, who just wants to write. Yes, Ghost will bleed some of the users of WordPress over to them, but it will balance out. Remember how Blogger and WordPress used to be really competitive, some years back? I have tried Ghost, it is good for normal blogging, but when it comes to power users and complex community platforms WordPress takes it all the way. The only drawback which i an see is an impact on WordPress.com, because “.com” WordPress is aimed at bloggers, so with Ghost gaining popularity WP.com will have to up their game play to attract normal bloggers. But when it comes to WP.org, it will continue to grow stronger and evolve in the years to come.
    Ya, one more thing, who know, ghostavern might also come soon :P

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  10. Jeff, that’s a great response to the article written on NetworkWorld, by Mark. By merely looking at the blog post title itself, I concluded that this blog post is the reply for the Mark’s article. I read that Mark’s article Yesterday.!

    I was shocked once after reading that article by Mark.

    However after reading your article. I was convinced that Ghost can never fear WordPress.

    I surely agree that Ghost has lot to do, At least to come up with competition. “Backend of WordPress is also fully responsive”. This is damn true!

    Great article. Thanks for sharing it Manasseh

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  11. I haven’t tried Ghost, however, the fact of the matter remains is that just like Facebook, WordPress is basically an industry standard. Sure there are other social networks and CMS available, but for whatever reason, people just do not like change!

    There will be the early adopters, the “cool kids” who want to be seen to be one of the first to use it sure. But then there’s going to be those who have been using WordPress for years, have gotten used to their way of working and see switching to another CMS as a huge headache, not least with having to recreate their whole website on a new platform.

    It’s when you consider that your existing site relies on various plugins to function the way it does, especially for those using ecommerce plugins for example. That you begin to realise that Ghost is going to be fighting an uphill battle to persuade users to make the switch.

    For new sites and hobby blogs, sure people will install it and give it a go and have a play around. I might even setup a test site myself. But as for long term usage and adoption of the platform, they really need to ensure that there are a ready supply of free themes and plugins available to give people options. Not everyone trying it out will be a CSS or PHP master capable of shaping and developing the site to fit how they want it to work. So they will be holey reliant on others to create and keep updated a ready supply of themes and plugins to ensure that Ghost does what they currently get from WordPress.

    For me, it wont be a case of seeing where they can take the CMS, but who they can convince to adopt their CMS and port over their themes and plugins to work on Ghost. If they could get a Woothemes, Studio Press or Elegant Themes, etc to begin making themes for them, even if they only released premium themes. This would help the CMS to grown and increase adoption. Better still is if the likes of Jigoshop and WooCommerce were ported over for instance.

    As I said, I’ve never used it so I’m not against it succeeding. WordPress and B2evolution were spawned from the b2 blogging platform originally. So who knows where Ghosts future lies…

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  12. Decisions not options: me too. Its like the option to edit an image to place a border around it. Why in h%$L did WP remove that editing option? Tons of complaints and still it is no longer part of WP. Bad bad decision-making process that will have lots of people looking at “options” as other platforms mature.

    Quality (performance, interface, user experience) will keep WP on top. Let’s face it, the frontiers are not what they used to be. Text, audio, video and images will be the core of all blogging platforms for a long time.

    When computing technology evolves to fiber-in-the-box and maybe cloud-based quantum computing whereby we develop holographic interfaces, then the game changes. Holography in a box, ie: in a monitor that projects holographically within itself will probably be the next exciting stage.

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  13. I’m a bit tired of the “decisions not options” slogan, too. Probably, the new Focus feature will be on by default in 4.1. I can’t recall anyone asking for a feature like this on forums or blogs. I just hope we can disable it.

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