Ghosting WordPress

Image of cow grazing in Val di Rabbi

Picturesque Cow in Val di Rabbi

It’s been quiet on the bava for a bit after an awesome mountain getaway to Val di Rabbi in early August, followed by some digging-in on work and entertaining guests over the last week or so. What’s more, the blog silence will continue starting next week through the end of August given we’re heading to Sicilia for a proper beach vacation!

Bugs Bunny on vacation


Things have been intense this month, we’ve had good friends from the States visiting; Miles prepping for his semester abroad in Berlin (he leaves tomorrow!); as well as Reclaim Hosting starting to ramp up for Fall. In between life I have continued exploring Ghost, in particular Taylor Jadin‘s impressive work to make a seamless Ghost installer for Reclaim Cloud that does everything from updating versions to making Mailgun integration simple to automatically mapping a domain and issuing an SSL certificate. It’s some truly amazing work, and if you’re interested in learning more we did a stream about it last week that provides some insight into his process. And if you want to run Ghost on Reclaim Cloud, Taylor documented that brilliantly as well here.

This coincided with another stream last week wherein we had Anne McCarthy from Automattic joined us for our August Community Chat to talk about Full Site Editing in WordPress:

It was pretty cool to have Anne join us given her own experience with WordPress started at at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill supporting WordPress on campus. There is definitely a strong tradition of WordPress in higher ed that this blog was grounded in for years, so seeing folks move into the ranks of Automattic is exciting! Anne demonstrated the features of WordPress’s new Full Site Editing features adeptly, and there was quite a turn-out of interested folks. One of the things that struck me during the session was that I’m old in WordPress years.

I’m still using the classic editor with the TwentyTen theme, and I admit to a certain amount of resistance to Gutenberg and now the Full Site Editor. Granted part of that is stubbornness and intolerance,  but there is another part of me that strongly believes the reason for broad adoption of WordPress in higher ed had everything to do with a simple core that leveraged an active open source plugin and theme community. That simplicity made it possible to get an entire class and faculty up and running with a site on WordPress Multisite in minutes, spending a bit of time highlighting the simple WYSIWYG editor (links, images, embedding content), mentioning tags and categories, and then it was off to the races. I have to believe that’s why WordPress blew up not only in higher ed, but across the web more generally. Over the last 15 years it has become an immense ecosystem, and over the last 5-6 years the introduction of Gutenberg, block editing, and now Full Site Editing has certainly reflected the intention to compete with Squarespace, WIX, and other web builders. That said, in the transition things have gotten far more complex. I mean WordPress was never particularly good at on-ramping new users—hence the birth of the SPLOTs to avoid the dreaded empty page—but with the advent of Full Site Editing the vertiginous experience of entering the bifurcated editing world of WordPress is that much more labyrinthine. I really don’t think I would subject Full Site Editing to a group of non-developers who just wanted to post something online, and I’m not alone in this. Lauren Hanks just wrote a post documenting her first impressions with Full Site Editor as a person who has years of experience both using and designing for WordPress, and the experience is mixed at best, even for an expert user.

So after the Reclaim Community Chat on Full Site Editing and a deeper sense that I just wanted a simple publishing experience for my blog I started to seriously consider what it would mean to migrate all my content in bavatuesdays to Ghost. I think I could move the almost 3700 posts pretty cleanly, it’s the 16,000 comments I was concerned about. What’s more, one of the real issues with Ghost is that there is was no native commenting feature, it all depended on third-party tools like Disqus that I wanted no part of. So, I was mulling all of this for the last week or so when Ghost announced they are now supporting native comments as part of their membership feature, in addition to integrated search, which means two huge barriers to moving bavatuesdays to Ghost have now been removed. I have a feeling migrating to Ghost may be a bit painful, and there is a part of me that is WordPress 4life given I built my career on it for roughly 17 years. That said, after running the Reclaim Roundup in Ghost for the last six months I have to acknowledge the publishing experience is far superior. All the overhead around design and plugins and themes are removed and the blog can just be a blog again. Saying this, I fully acknowledge my endless posts and presentations about WordPress being more than a blog early on—funny how things work.

Yesterday I spent some time migrating and updating the Ghost instance I have been hosting since 2014 using Taylor’s installer, which enabled me to seamlessly update to the latest version. So bavaGhost now has both integrated search and comments. At this point I think I’m going to take the plunge and migrate all my content on bavatuesdays to Ghost to see how that works and if it is viable to make the switch after 17+ years of blogging with WordPress. I imagine it will take quite some time given I plan on combing through all my posts since 2005 and cleaning-up broken links, bad images, broken embeds, etc. before even attempting the move, so at minimum it will be several months before I’m ready, but at the same time it is a project I’m excited about. Even if I ultimately stay with WordPress, exploring what’s out there and learning through tinkering is what makes me happy with the work I do, so why stop now?

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9 Responses to Ghosting WordPress

  1. Tim Owens says:

    The way Ghost is doing comments is pretty lame to me. You have to be a “member” of a site in order to comment, presumably because filtering spam is a difficult issue to tackle so they went with putting comments behind a login. You know I love the Ghost editing experience and I’d have my blog no other way, but even with Ghost it feels a lot like most of the updates they push are for marketers with big bases of subscribers. Akin to competing with Substack and Medium maybe. I’m perfectly fine with Disqus which I’ve used across 3 different platforms without any export/import needed, although maybe I’m a hypocrite since Disqus takes a name and email even to post as a guest and pushes the login route pretty heavily on their own.

    • Reverend says:

      My issue with Disqus is they’re owned by an ad-targeting firm and they inject ads and track folks, plus having comments through a third-party service versus on my blog platform was kind of a deal breaker. That said, I don’t disagree with the Members being lame, but the only good thing is it is a temporary link and not a full login, and they can subscribe to posts via email, which more and more seems to be part of the logic of Ghost I like. Email and RSS for me is far more interesting, and might be the final piece for getting off Twitter.

      That said, Ghost’s marketing towards email newsletters for marketing and making money is kind of lame. Taylor pointed out the same thing about their new idea of selling to users, and I do think it is concerning.

      That said, I like writing in Ghost a lot, there is a minimalism to the whole platform I have grown to love.

    • Taylor Jadin says:

      I’d agree that I’m a bit disappointed with the requirement for a login as well. I feel like even having something that in the technical sense is similar to an account, but feels less like one, would be superior. Say it requires an email address, and you have to click a verification link the first time you leave a comment. That wouldn’t be too cumbersome for a commenter, but still provides most of the same benefits for ghost in essentially not having to have much of a spam system.

      I’m using Disqus on my hugo blog, but I’m not in love with it and might pursue an option I can host instead.

  2. Pingback: Learning from Reclaim Cloud’s Ghost Installer | bavatuesdays

  3. Alan Levine says:

    Who you gonna call? Comment busters!

    While I’ve given in and gotten over the block editor, I’m finding no interest in full site editor. I’ve barely looked and am optimistic that non FSE themes are not endangered. The thing is, it looks to me endless dickering with the blogs look rather than the writing or making use of the architecture of WordPress. I agree 10000.0% that the power is in less theme monkeying and let the templates do the work.

    But it’s more to me to give WP because all I leverage from my own customizations, and it’s 2 part taxonomy, and its rest API and the hooks and actions I tap into.

    I’m not quite ready or even any ready to jump ship. King of the world!!!

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