Intro

I had a semi-dormant blog at dingran.github.io. Things are pretty simple there, you basically write some Markdowns, and push to the repo, and things get compiled into a static site (Jekyll based).

In the spirit of motivating myself to write more regularly in 2021. I want to see what else is available on the market that offers a better writing and publishing experience, and looks nicer. Thus the search began...

WordPress, Medium, Substack 🤔

There are some traditional options like WordPress or Medium. The former seems to be bloated - i.e. not really working well or looking good without adding a ton of plugins and spending $$$. The latter is kind of annoying - Medium seems to always recommend me articles that's behind their paywall (which creates a frustrating reader experience), and I have stopped my subscription a long time ago due to generally low content quality.

It seems like all the blogs are becoming newsletters in 2020, where people are building email lists and turning posts into emails, and sometimes also monetize them with the support of great platforms like Ghost and Substack.

I quickly tested out Substack first. The setup was super simple - I guess because there isn't a lot to it. But it is definitely very functional. One small nit, I somehow kept having trouble finding the settings page (it is a little unintuitive). But overall things are pretty smooth. However, I quickly give up on it, due to its lack of personality - everyone gets the same minimalistic look, probably works for most people though.

Ghost

Next, I turned to Ghost!

BTW, Ghost has a lot of 1:1 comparisons here, which I should probably have read before I started. https://ghost.org/alternatives/

Ghost's pricing definitely seemed not very beginner friendly (i.e. fixed $36/mo monthly), while Substack seems to be a bit unfair to larger accounts (i.e. taking a revenue share).

Although to be fair to Ghost, since it's open sourced you do have the option to just self host. I'll just skip the hassle there and splurge on Ghost Pro. (everything I do for keeping the New Year resolutions on writing more :) )

Other than the pricing, I like Ghost a lot:

  • the design / available themes
  • a lot of things works out of the box, e.g. custom domain, SSL, membership and connection to Stripe for subscription
  • decent editing tool (more on this later)
  • ability to customize

Editing Tips

I did run into some trouble mainly because in my writing, sometimes I need to cite some code blocks, write math formula in $\LaTeX$ or create some tables. The toolchain jekyll/github uses to parse Markdown and MathJax involved kramdown which had some unique settings in the theme I used, so I need to do some manual reformatting before all the formulas work. And there is some hiccup due to Ghost eagerly tries to parse things typed in the text area as Markdown first

I documented some editing tips regarding $\LaTeX$, MathJax and tables here

Editing Tips for Ghost
I recently switched to Ghost to host my blog, Here are some editing tips as I learn to use this platform.

Wishlist

Here are some wishlist items for Ghost:

  • I do wish there is an easier way to create tables rather typing raw Markdown.
  • Tagging posts is pretty painful, it seems like I need to open the post one by one, instead of having some thing in the admin UI to do it
  • I'm using the default theme (Casper), it'd be nice to be able to rearrange the order of post, e.g. feature a post instead of always feature the latest.
Update: this turned out to be easy to do, see here
Featured-First Post Order in Ghost
Making featured posts show up first in Ghost Casper theme (instead of the default reverse chronological order).
  • A floating Table of Content on the side would be nice
Update: see how-to here
Conditional Table of Contents in Ghost
Automatically generated table of contents in Ghost, conditionally shown when it is not empty.

See here for more Ghost editing tips: 👇
Using Ghost - Ran Ding
Notes on using Ghost platform.