A few days ago I moved my TheDent.net domain over from Micro.Blog to a newly setup Ghost based blog. I did so after I told everyone I was just going to stick with my HEY World blog and the unsurety has continued. Setting up the Ghost blog was free and fairly painless, so I thought it was worth a bit of an experiment. Ghost felt like the right thing to do, but the right thing for who?
My wife loves a list. If anything needs doing or deciding she cracks out the notepad (despite having plenty of digital devices around her) and pen and writes a list of pros and cons to both sides. To this end, and to aid my unsurety about a platform (which I already agreed in my last post doesn't even matter!) I wanted to jot down a few points about both alternative platforms, Ghost and HEY World, to rationalise a decision. As I was doing so I thought, 'why not just make this a post and share the thought process?' so here we are.
I'm going to break it down between a few separate areas of comparison.
Ghost is a relative new kid on the block when it comes to blogging platform, but it's popularity has grown a great deal over the last few years. With Wordpress dominating the space for both personal and professional blog / website owners the competition is few and far between, but Ghost is now a small, but important part of that competition.
Rolling with a Ghost blog, in my opinion at least, gives off an air of professionalism, competence, and dedication. Having a Ghost based blog takes a bit of time, money, and effort if you want a custom design. Ghost is a real blogging platform for a real blogger and I think most people either won't know it's Ghost based, and won't care. Those that do know what it is, however, will be willing to subscribe to the RSS and / or follow the site or even happily sign up to the newsletter without any qualms.
Let's just cut to the chase on this one. I started off the draft of this section going into a whole long spiel about who Basecamp are, who founded it etc. but chances are if you're reading this you're well aware of Basecamp, HEY World and it's outspoken, and now controversial owners. Due to yet more controversial decision making by owners Jason and DHH the Basecamp, and by association HEY, name was dragged through the mud, and has remained languishing in its own filth ever since. Once this news came out, 99% of my timeline, including me, dropped association with the company like a hot, rancid turd.
Long story short, the perception of HEY World has dropped even lower than it was before. While some people gave it a bit of attention, I no longer see anyone in my circles using it apart from Jason and DHH themselves. Unlike the subtleties of Ghost, you can very much see that the blog is a HEY World one, which I think will significantly impact the amount of people that sign-up to receive the emailed out posts, or those that will follow the RSS. Looks aside, which we'll get to later, HEY World is just not an appealing service for people to get involved with.
Winner: Ghost takes this one in a landslide. It's the real blogging service which doesn't have a ton of sad, and plain bad, baggage attached.
Flexibility and modification options
Ghost can be as flexible as you want it to be, providing you have the skills to wrestle it to your will. Not only can you easily (again, skills permitting) create any kind of site you want with Ghost, you can also include a sign up page and manage a newsletter from the service. You will need to find your own hosting, which we'll touch on later, but from a pure flexibility and modification stand point Ghost is almost on par with Wordpress. The aforementioned service is a bit too option rich for me. Ghost, and the dashboard you'll have available to you upon setup, is very nice and brings many options to the forefront. Anything outside of this interface will have to be managed by directly manipulating the CSS and Hugo files. This will be seen as either an advantage or a huge disadvantage to the service depending on your skill set and time.
This will be a short section. HEY World is not flexible at all. You can't edit the look and feel of the site You can't edit the domain, it just uses your HEY email name. You can't change the header image, which is again just taken from your HEY account. The only option you really have when posting is whether or not you want the post to be pushed to your subscribers, or if you want to just publish the post only, so it's accessible via a link or in the RSS feed.
Beyond that, if you want to get your hands dirty on design, you're bang out of luck. It's hard to deduct points for this fact, however, because that's exactly what is advertised and is indeed positioned as one of their USPs. It removes every complication from the blogging process and puts the words and your ability to share those words, at the forefront of its whole design.
Winner: Draw. I know what you're thinking, how can this possibly be a draw, HEY World has no flexibility. This is true, but as I say depending on your needs, knowledge, and ability to focus either option may just be perfect for you.
Ease of use for you
When visiting a Ghost based blog you're unlikely to notice any difference from any other blog. The site will have an RSS feed link available to you, though where you'd find a link to it will vary depending on how someone setup the site. Ghost sites will, fairly often, also include a sign up link to the corresponding newsletter which you can choose to sign up to.
When it comes to reading the site, the creator should / could have also included a light / dark mode to improve your experience, but this isn't guaranteed.
One thing you will often notice when visiting a Ghosy blog is the theme. Quality can vary, of course, as can your own tastes and preferences, but generally speaking Ghost blog themes are very nice. The default ones are strong, and flexible, but there are also a great deal of purchasable custom themes around also. Basically, no one has an excuse to have an ugly Ghost blog.
As with a Ghost based blog, a HEY World one is just as accessible and easy to use for anyone visiting the site. The main delivery method of a HEY World post is via email, so the service makes it a real focus of the page and easy to find and use. The main page has a sign up box at the top, under the blog name, before you even see the blog itself, along with a link to the RSS feed. While it's right there, it's not too in your face, and disappears when you drill into the site.
Winner: Draw. Mileage may vary on the Ghost blog, because it's dependent on the creator, but generally speaking you'll be able to find the RSS link or sign up to either site very easily.
Ease of use for me
This is where things start to splinter slightly. To setup a Ghost blog you need to jump through a few hoops. Ghost the company do offer their own hosting plans, but these come at some extortionate prices so you'll want to self host ideally. I chose a $5 a month 'droplet' from Digital Ocean, who have a specific setup and set of instructions for hosting a Ghost site with them. As you can see from reading it, it's not necessarily an overly complex process, but it's not instant either. It involes generating SSH keys, registering and configuring a domain, and other things. If I can do, I'm sure you can too, but it's far from idiot proof and can get a bit confusing if you're not familiar with this kind of thing.
That's the hosting out of the way, and this is thankfully a pretty 'one and done' process. Next up you will need to choose and configure your theme. Thankfully Ghost comes with a selection of very serviceable templates out of the box, with quite minimal configuration required. You can choose a theme, add a name, accent colours and some social links and you're really good to go. This isn't, however, really taking advantage of what Ghost has to offer so for many it wouldn't really be that simple. If the basic templates don't float your boat, you're into the realm of buying / downloading themes only, configuring them by editing the theme files and related CSS and really getting into the woods.
So, the blog is up and running, you now have a separate hosting account to manage, and you've managed to configure a theme you like. For me, and many, it now moves onto the actual posting part. This will vary a lot from person to person, so please bear that in mind when you read the following, but this is where things get a bit annoying / fiddly for me personally.
The Ghost admin interface is actually very nice, and it also includes an impressive post editor. It allows you to quickly add blocks to your post, which could be an image block, Markdown block or you can just type rich text. This all seems very easy, but my issue is that I generally write on an iPad or iPhone and for one reason or another the editor really does seem to play well with Safari. Sometimes the editor gets stuck and I can't open the side bar, or I can't add links among other issues. As I said before, some of these issues are specific to my way of working, but that's obviously important to me. Because of this, I generally have to write in Obsidian. This is, also, a very nice app which I enjoy using, but it makes posting rather fiddly. I have to write a post in Markdown, as I'm doing now, which I enjoy. I then have to break the post up into blocks so I can insert a Markdown block, paste a bit, add an image block to include an image and so on, and so forth. It gets to the point where this doesn't feel much better than the truly terrible interface for posting that Micro.Blog utilises, which is less than ideal.
Now the user experience when it comes to setup, and posting in HEY World is where it really starts to shine. The setup involves sending your first post / message to firstname.lastname@example.org and your blog is setup for you and ready to go. That's literally it. From there, when you want to post you again just type up an email. The subject line is your blog posts title and the content of the email is the body of the post. The editor itself in the HEY app, or on Hey.com work perfectly on the iPad and it's really a joy to use and post to. I've used a lot of blogging platforms in the past, but none have had such a smooth and fun way to submit posts.
This removal of all friction is the entire mission statement of HEY World and I've got to say it achieves it perfectly. This quick and efficient interface and posting method is the part of this entire process that has kept me coming back to the service and, despite how good Ghost is in many ways, is really giving me second thoughts about whether or not I should just stick with using this.
Try as I might, I really can't find fault in the setup and use of HEY World. If you want to write a post and get it out there, via an email newsletter, a blog post or a combination of both, it truly is hard to beat. The fact that it's both a blog, and a newsletter, or only one or the other depending on your needs, is nice also. While I enjoy writing in Markdown a great deal, the trade off you get here that allows me to easily post from my phone, web, or devices is worth the sacrifice to me. It really is compelling from that front.
Winner: For me HEY World takes this by a country mile. From a pure 'ease of use' perspective nothing comes close as a blogging platform as HEY World.
And the winner is ...
Well, for me ... I've no idea. If I'm honest, HEY World is probably the right service for me. I'm using HEY email already, so using the service I've already paid for as a blogging platform removes the need to pay for, and maintain, another subscription and hosting service. Not specifically paying for it also removes that slight concern that I should be posting more because I've paid for it. As a side project / hobby, the last thing you want to do is feel some kind of pressure to keep doing it even when you're not in the mood for it.
HEY World is also just plain fun to post with. The editor is light, and enjoyable to use. It's simple, yet generates (in my opinion) some nice looking post pag es.
Why, then, do I currently have a Ghost based site as well? HEY World just isn't a real blog, is it? I should have a real domain shouldn't I? I should pay for hosting, shouldn't I? I should fiddle around with CSS and theme files for days to just change a colour on my blog instead of posting ... right? Apparently, somewhere in my head I feel like I do need to spend time and effort on things like this instead of just posting when I want to. Does this Ghost site make me a real blogger? Or does it give me other items to use to feed my procrastination? I can excuse myself for not posting because I've been setting up the blog. I've been migrating to another service for the 100th time. That's a better use of time, right?
I started this post as a way to try and help me decide what platform I should be using and, surprisingly I think it may have actually helped. Even as I started to write up this conclusion I left unsure, but I think it's hard to justify using Ghost over HEY World. I'm willing to bet I'd get less followers or subscribers because of this platform. I would also bet, however, that what I lose in platform choice, I will likely gain by just taking the platform out of the equation entirely and just start bloody posting!