Ghost needs comments

I have been seriously considering switching this blog from the blogging platform WordPress to the Ghost platform. Ghost has a number of advantages over WordPress: it’s faster, more modern, more customizable, and less dependent on third-party plugins (which can break or stop being updated.) Plus, learning to customize it would involve learning more Javascript—something I want to do anyway—instead of learning more PHP—something I have no desire to do.

However, Ghost has a very serious flaw, a flaw so big that it’s put me off the platform entirely (at least for now): Ghost doesn’t support comments.

This is not an oversight, or a feature that they haven’t gotten around to. It’s a conscious decision. Ghost has a “wishlist” page where users can request new features be added, and other users can vote. As of this writing, the top thirty-two ideas are all either “started”, “planned”, or “under review”—all thirty-two ideas except comments, that is. Even though support for comments is the fifth most requested feature, it is not a feature that the Ghost team plans to implement any time soon.

John O’Nolan, the founder of Ghost has this to say:

At present we have no plans to add native commenting to Ghost. There are tons of options out there from Disqus, Livefyre, Facebook, Google Plus and IntenseDebate to name just a few. All of them have already built very comprehensive products which are used by most of the biggest sites in the world.

Definitely still interested in hearing comments about any other use-cases, though!

That is, he thinks that users should just use Disqus, Facebook comments, or one of the other third-party services that host comments. I have no intention of doing so, but don’t have any illusions that the decision of a single blogger is likely to change their mind about supporting comments. Instead, I’m going to focus on the last sentence: he’s “interested in hearing comments about any other use cases.”

I’m going to take John up on this offer. But I’m going to argue that not only is there a use case for Ghost that would benefit from comments, actually all three of the most common use cases for Ghost would benefit from comment support. In fact, I believe that the lack of comment support is the single largest factor holding Ghost back.

I’m going to walk through the three types of users that I view as most typical of the Ghost user base (or potential user base) and explain why all three of them would be more likely to use Ghost if it supported comments.

Lets meet contestant number 1:

The Ex-Wordpress Blogger

  • Tired of pluggins
  • Wants something that “just works”
  • Uses comments on old blog
  • Doesn’t want to configure a third-party app

Ghost is clearly targeting dissatisfied WordPress users who are tired of fooling with the dozens of WordPress plugins that it takes to run a modern website and want a blogging platform that “just works” right out of the box. Here’s some copy from the Ghost vs. WordPress page on Ghost’s site:

>Ghost is much more simple [than WordPress]… You don’t need any extra plugins or extensions, and you don’t need to write any extra code. It just works…. All of this is done for you automatically, with no plugins needed. Getting up and running with WordPress, for the uninitiated, can be a long process. … [With Ghost] you can have a new blog up and running in the space of about 3 clicks – with exactly the same level of control as if it were hosted anywhere else.”

But here’s the thing: if a user is coming from WordPress, then their old blog had comments. That means that, even if they’re willing to use Disqus comments, they can no longer switch to Ghost and have their old blog “just work”. Instead, they have to go through a fairly lengthy six-step setup process.

Of course, I wouldn’t say that this setup process is hard—but then neither is installing and maintaining WordPress plugins. Further, if part of the annoyance of using plugins is being dependant on a third party, then starting off your relationship with Ghost by being told to set up a Disqus account is going to count as a real strike against Ghost.

Now, maybe Ghost is happy targeting just those WordPress users who have already turned off comments or who already use Disqus/another third-party service. For those users, Ghost can genuinely offer a “it just works” experience. But that’s a small slice of WordPress users. I have to believe that more bloggers would switch from WordPress to Ghost if it really lived up to its “just works” promise—and the biggest part of that would be native support for comments.

But I’m not going to stop after one use case—even though just going after WordPress users would give Ghost a big leg up. No, let’s meet contestant number 2:

The Power User

  • Wants the absolute best blogging product possible
  • Even if that requires front-end coding
  • Part of the best blogging product is the option to respect user’s privacy
  • Especially true for tech-savvy users like these

The great thing about Ghost is that it can not only provide a simple “just works” experience, it can also provide an extremely powerful, fast, and customizable software environment. Because it’s written in javascript, it can be easily customized and extended, and its templating language is powerful enough to support some really great features. Their website even has a whole section targeted at developers.

But developers are precisely the sort of people who are most likely to care about user privacy and otherwise get hung up on the downsides of third-party commenting services (including the fact that the third party owns the comments, and could take them down if they decide, get bought, or go out of business).

How do I know that power users care about hosting their own comments? Well, aside from the fact that I care, I also know because they keep blogging about it.

Again, there’s clearly demand here, and Ghost could meet it if it developed its own self-hosted commenting system.

And, finally, let’s turn to contestant number 3:

The Static-Site Fence-Sitter

  • Has enough technical knowledge to build a static site
  • Deciding between a static site generator and Ghost
  • Advantages of static sites: Cheaper (read: free)
  • Advantage of Ghost: database to enable dynamic content
  • But what’s the most notable dynamic content on a blog? Comments!
  • Adding Disqus to a static site is very easy

One of the big advantages of Ghost is its speed—since it’s built on Node.js and, as a targeted blogging platform, doesn’t have the bloat that comes from trying to be all things to all people. Thus, it can be really, really fast—for a dynamically generated website.

But the one thing that’s even faster than Ghost is a static site generator, like Hugo, Hexo, or Jeckyl. (If you’re not familiar with static site generators, the short version is that they build your website as collection of static pages and then serve them as single html pages to the user. This can be blazingly fast, at the cost of not letting your users do anything that requires them to access a database, like log in or change online data values.)

Static site generators are much faster and much cheaper—many are free, in fact. And, as a result, Ghost is losing blogger after blogger to static sites. (By the way, all those links were examples of bloggers moving from Ghost to Hexo just from the first page of Google results for “Ghost vs. Hexo”. That page didn’t have anyone saying they moved from Hexo to Ghost.)

Static sites only have two disadvantages: they require technical knowledge to set up, and they (obviously) don’t support dynamic content. But if you’re running a blog, the biggest type of dynamic content you’d want is comments.[FN: Disqus works through pure javascript and stores the comments on their servers, which means that it works just as well on a static site as on Ghost.]

So, if Ghost had comments, it would have a reason for technologically savvy people who are capable of setting up a static site to still choose it over a static site generator. And, judging from the user flow, that’s a reason it currently lacks.

* * *

Ok, there we go: three use cases for Ghost where having comments would be extremely helpful. Attracting more conversions from WordPress users would help Ghost.org make more money. And attracting more power users and users who are on the fence between Ghost and a static site generator would help draw more developer interest in Ghost’s GitHub page—developer interest that is key for the long-term success of a project like Ghost.

So here’s my message to John O’Nolan and the team at Ghost: you should implement a hosted comment section. I’m willing to bet that, if you do, you’ll get many, many more users. And I can guarantee you’ll get at least one.

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2 thoughts on “Ghost needs comments”

  1. I’m one of those technical people that’s been squarely in the static blog camp (Jekyll) for over 6 years now, and it’s what I always personally recommend. In 2011 I switched over from blosxom (Perl) and couldn’t have been happier. As you said, it’s both cheaper and faster. I also prefer to do all my writing in a real text editor (single spaced! ha!), all properly committed to source control. I wouldn’t touch a blogging platform that accepts posts through a web interface.

    I went the Disqus route for comments. Essentially the only choices at the time were Disqus, IntenseDebate, or self-hosted. For the free options Disqus was the obvious winner, but the platform has actually gotten worse over the years, particularly the admin interface. Disqus has annoyingly tried to turn it into a social network. It’s not bad enough for me to consider switching, and their hook into my site has worked well all these years with little maintenance (the most important feature).

    As for the privacy issue, I have it set up to only load comments (and therefore only call out to Disqus) when the user explicitly clicks a button to do so. Otherwise Disqus never gets involved, not even to list a comment count. The primary reason for this wasn’t actually privacy but to speed up the blog’s loading time. As a static blog, Disqus is by far the slowest and heaviest part, and I want my blog to be fast and light. Privacy is only the second factor.

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