Comparing Ghost to the Big Three

David Blane
David Blane

Ghost is the latest blogging system to hit the web – as early as August 2013. Its aim is to reduce the complexity of blogging and focus on one thing: publishing.

WordPress has been the closest platform to this ideal for a long time, but the developer of Ghost, John O’Nolan, decided it was time to go to the next level. John worked as Deputy Head of the WordPress UI Group, so he has first had experience in building these types of platforms.

Matt Mullenweg, Co-Founder of WordPress, is quoted as saying on O’Nolan’s blog, “66% of [Users] said they use WordPress as a CMS and not as a blog.” Does that make WordPress less useful for “pure” blogging these days? And what about the other CMS (content management systems) like Joomla and Drupal?

Over time, each of these has grown to have their own core strengths and weaknesses. Let’s review these and then see how Ghost compares.


Statistically, WordPress is the most successful CMS/blogging platform available. According to WordPress consumes about 56% of the CMS market. That means over half of the websites that use a CMS are using WordPress. What’s even more crazy, is that WordPress at its core is a blogging platform. Since it’s so widely used with such a large community, pretty much anything has become feasible with WordPress. And, it’s easy to do.


  • Publishing made easy – WordPress puts content ahead of pretty much everything else. Organizing posts and pages is more limited than Joomla or Drupal, and can sometimes be a pain, but when you’ve worked with WordPress for a while the workflow makes sense.
  • Lightweight code – It’s fast because the code is written to keep the core small. This makes it easier for servers to deliver it to your browser.
  • Commenting system – A unique characteristic of blogs is the ability to comment on posts. Not as surprising anymore, but when WordPress came out, commenting was one of the phenomena that pushed WordPress into overdrive.
  • Tons of uploadable themes & plugins
  • Simple to use and flexible to change – It’s extremely easy to develop for WordPress. There is so much documentation, user feedback, and coding experts, that you can always get what you need.

Comparison Notes

  • Built for: Bloggers, small-medium websites. Large websites used to steer clear of it but, over time, websites like MSNBC TV, Variety, and Getty Images have adapted to using it.
  • Usability: Easy
  • Scalability: Pretty good. It’s possible to take a small website and make it large with WordPress. You just may need some extra plugins to do it. It also helps to plan well in advance for that.
  • Extensions: Astounding selection. There are 24,897 plugins for WordPress at the time of this post. Many have become standard downloads for avid WordPress site developers.
  • Support: Excellent. You can get the answers to most of your questions in a matter of minutes or hours depending on complexity. In my experience, there’s always an answer.
  • Core coding: Lightweight and strong. The core coding is built for simplicity and quick delivery. WordPress has one of the shortest update frequencies of all the major platforms.
  • Design: Elegant. WordPress is a designer’s dream. It’s very flexible and easy to develop around. There are thousands of WordPress design professionals.
  • User administration: Decent. Managing users is okay. You will likely need a plugin or a different platform like Joomla if you have tons of different users for a Social Network for example.
  • Community: Excellent. You won’t find a more available community. Lots of people love WordPress, develop plugins and themes for it and contribute ideas to it.
  • Performance: Great. It’s not perfect, but it’s damned close. Set it up properly and you will have great page load speeds and responsiveness.

WordPress Conclusion

When anyone I know wants to make a website, I assume it will probably be WordPress. I get it. WordPress is easy to use and to get started using. Websites that have 100 visitors a month or 100,000 visitors a month can both use WordPress effectively. It’s well supported, it has become very flexible, it’s easy to publish content, heck, with some frameworks – like Pagelines – it can do just about anything you want.


Joomla means “all together” or “as a whole” and it lives up to its name. Need a site with lots of functionality and control? Use Joomla. The technically inclined love Joomla because it gives them the tools and features they need to create sites with lots of depth. It’s the second most used CMS on in the CMS market according to the same CMS survey mentioned above.


  • User Management – permissions and controls for each user is easily customizable. You can make user groups to give sections of users different permissions.
  • Menu Manager – Create a menu for anything and put it anywhere. You can display menus in categories or subcategories, for example. Joomla give its users lots of control over when and where menus are displayed.
  • Responsive design – In Joomla 3, the UX team at Joomla gave it a massive design overhaul. On top of the responsive built in frontend and backend template, the Joomla package includes Twitter’s bootstrap, Icomoon and LESS CSS.
  • Module Management – Modules can display content in any predefined area you want them to. Joomla gives you extensive control over modules and where they can be displayed (WordPress and Ghost don’t have this depth of functionality).

Comparison Notes:

  • Built for: Small-medium-large websites and some blogging. Extensions like K2 make blogging on Joomla great.
  • Usability: Medium. Making changes and updates in Joomla can be straightforward sometimes and mysterious at others.
  • Scalability: Excellent. Managing sites that grow while using Joomla is very easy. Of course, managing any large site is hard, but Joomla manages it quite well. Sorting through dozens or articles, categories, and menus is very simple.
  • Extensions: Pretty good selection. There are 6,526 extensions in the Joomla extensions library. There are a couple high profile extensions that many people use like Virtuemart for ecommerce and Jomsocial for social networking.
  • Support: Very Good. The support is not as vast or expansive as WordPress, but there has not been a time when I needed help with something that I couldn’t find the answer to.
  • Core coding: Flexible and refined. New code like Twitter’s bootstrap has been added while unused code has been stripped out. This gives Joomla more power while trimming the fat.
  • Design: Very Good. Joomla by default now supports many design standards like LESS CSS and HTML 5. You can find a  Joomla designer fairly easily although there aren’t as many as there are for WordPress.
  • User Administration: Excellent. This is one of Joomla’s shining achievements. User management within Joomla has always been great because of the tools and permissions.
  • Community: Excellent. In some ways the Joomla community is more tight-knit than WordPress, it’s just not as widely used.
  • Performance: Very Good. Loading all of the elements can take a while with Joomla if you don’t set it up right. Take the time to get your performance extensions setup and you are good to go.

Joomla Conclusion

I manage Joomla sites all day long for work. I can say first hand that Joomla is a great platform. Version 3 has seen a great improvement in usability. I wouldn’t discourage website users from starting a website in Joomla, but I would not tell them it would be easy. There will be times where you stare at the computer screen for hours on end looking for a solution to a small piece of code.


Drupal is known for its high level of customization. If WordPress is a race car and Joomla is a Cadillac then Drupal is the Kit car. In other words, Drupal provides you with the strong core code and it’s up to you to put it together.


  • Configurability – You get tons of control over your content and how it’s displayed.
  • Multiple content types – select which way you want to display your content by picking a predefined look and functionality.
  • Flexible taxonomy and menu structure – you can make limitless customizations to fit what ever taxonomy you need.
  • Hundreds of contributed Drupal modules – modules help you shape your site and Drupal would be nothing without the third party content that pieces it together.

Comparison Notes

  • Built for: Medium-large websites. You certainly can use it for smaller sites, but all the customization will take a lot of time and may not be necessary.
  • Usability: Hard. Drupal doesn’t hold back. If you want to make a website with Drupal you will have to get your hands dirty.
  • Scalability: Excellent. The highly customizable content and taxonomies makes Drupal an excellent choice for loads of complex content.
  • Extensions: Excellent. Part of the reason to use Drupal is because of its rich third party extensions and modules.
  • Support: Decent. Count on spending a lot of time in development. The support is there but can be flakey or expensive.
  • Core coding: Robust. Drupal’s core code is built to last. It’s functional and works seamlessly with new components.
  • Design: Pretty good. Drupal has awesome potential, but fails to attract designers because of the complicated architecture. When Drupal is designed well, it looks awesome, but that can be pricey.
  • User administration: Excellent. Drupal rivals Joomla when it comes to user management. There are limitless features and options you can add to the user permissions to achieve what you want.
  • Community: Pretty good. They have a solid base of core users and contributors, but it lacks the expansiveness of a platform like WordPress.
  • Performance: Excellent. At its core Drupal is fast and efficient. Develop around it correctly and your site will be very fast.

Drupal Conclusion

Drupal can be difficult to work with unless you’re an experienced developer. Most sites that use Drupal do so because it offers the flexibility needed to run extremely large sites with lots of functionality.


As I mentioned, Ghost has a lot in common with WordPress. They both have the same intent: to create a very straight forward blogging system. Ghost appeals to users by being ultra accessible and easy to use. The following features are some of the new ideas that Ghost brings to the table.


  • Split-screen editing – edit your post on the left, and see the live version on the right. This is one of the coolest ideas, I think. Simply because it’s so easy to see changes.
  • All new markdown – no need to know or understand HTML, formatting is done with markdown. This seems a bit unnecessary to me. Why not just have a very basic HTML content editor? Those of use who use HTML regularly will probably find this frustrating and we will be the first to download a plugin that brings in some HTML editor.
  • Stats based graphic dashboard – this new dashboard is quite astonishing visually. It looks great! But, it’s completely pointless if you ever need real stats. I like the clock and the date, but the dashboard of my website is not where I go for in-depth analysis. Having a separate tab for this could be interesting, but I’m sticking with Google Analytics, despite the pretty graphics.

Comparison Notes

  • Built for: Bloggers
  • Usability: Very easy
  • Scalability: TBD – After reading over what Ghost is made for, it doesn’t sound like expanding or customizing it will be very easy.
  • Extensions: TBD – It claims to be just the same as WordPress for development. So it may be safe to assume there will be a good amount of plugins to choose from once the ball gets rolling.
  • Support: TBD – There are some big names backing Ghost but support will be based on how many people use it, find issues, and fix them.
  • Core code: Lean – like WordPress.
  • Design: Excellent. The design is one of the main strengths of this platform.
  • User administration: TBD – There is no mention of how multiple users would work with Ghost.
  • Community: TBD – There is no way to know how big the community will be for this.
  • Performance: TBD – It will probably be pretty fast, but, like most platforms it will depend on how it’s set up.

Ghost Conclusion

I’ll have to wait to completely make up my mind. I would like to see how the theme’s and plugins work, what the settings are, how much is left up to plugins to fix, and how much I will miss working in HTML. I am excited at the idea that I can use a platform just to blog. Maybe on a personal site or something. But, at this point, I can’t see myself switching to a brand new platform right off the shelf.

Overall Conclusion

Well, to be fair, this is an early comparison as far as Ghost goes, bvut it’s still interesting to see how it might fit into the CMS / blogging market already dominated by three such efficient and established content management systems. Still, it’s a market that is still growing and there would seem to be room for a lean, fast blogging-focused online publishing system that is easy for individuals to use. That’s how Ghost is positioning itself. How successful it will be remains to be seen.