Girl with Microscope - Blogging tools

Today: Looking at Posthaven, Postagon, Silvrback and Ghost

In our previous post, we discussed four new, easy-to-use blogging platforms: Svbtle, Medium, Postach.io and Sett. Today, we look at four more new blogging tools.

Posthaven

Posthaven logo - Frugal Guidance 2 on Blogging ToolsPosthaven recently grew out of the ashes of Posterous, which was bought by Twitter and closed last year. Garry Tan and Brett Gibson, two of the co-founders of Posterous, are now building a new version, built to last, easy to use, ad-free, with the goal of making the “the world’s best blogging platform.” To do that, they now charge $5 / month. But with that fee you can create up to 10 blogs with one registration, have multiple authors, and create private blogs secured by passwords. “Built to last” is not an idle promise, they also promise that they will not sell the site out to another owner and they intend to be in the blogging business “forever.” (No other site offers that kind of assurance. But isn’t it an impossible promise to make?)

Posthaven uses a simple post editor with WYSIWYG formatting, with the option of adding HTML. (No Markdown editor here.) You can also add a post via email. You use the Upload Media button to add images (only one at a time) or add audio and video files. You can also attach other files (such as PDFs) for your readers to download. You can add tags to your post, schedule when to publish, and mark posts as private. It looks like a simple commenting system has also been implemented.

Posthaven Promise

There is a dashboard to view posts and give simple stats on each. There’s also a personal biography section.

Once posted, you can automatically notify your Twitter and Facebook followers. If you decide to no longer pay the monthly $5, you don’t lose your content, it still remains online (if you wish), but you can’t edit or add to it until you renew your payments.

Currently, most Posthaven sites look pretty similar. On a wide-screen, the post takes two-thirds of the screen (or a bit more), with a sidebar on the left. You can have menus on the left, but I can’t tell if they are separate pages or other Posthaven blogs made to look like static pages. Most sites resized themselves nicely for phone or tablet viewing. (A couple of sites, perhaps using HTML to create unorthodox layouts, did not resize properly.) Readers can sign up for email notifications when a new post is released. (I also saw RSS icons on a couple of sites.)

It is still in its infancy and adding features as time goes by. Posthaven is obviously trying to recruit former Posterous members with a similar service, but if you want a simple, clean-looking site that emphasizes your writing and promises to be there for some time, Posthaven looks like a great option.

Postagon

Postagon logo horsePostagon is a minimalist blogging platform with a surprisingly robust list of features. For $4.99 / month, you can write and edit in either a visual editor or in Markdown or post via email. You can add graphics to your posts and also include a title / background image with Retina support. You create public or private posts and can add your own domain.

Your posts can support comments, sharing with social media, collect “accolades” (similar to “Likes,” I think) and offer readers email notices or RSS feeds.

Readers will see a blog name, round author photo, name and a description, followed by a list of posts which show the title, date, a short excerpt, and a small standard-sized photo. Click on a link and that photo becomes the background banner at the top of the blog. On the bottom are an Accolade button, a bio, links to other posts, sharing buttons, and a subscribe option. That’s followed by comments.

On the back end you can view your email subscribers, see Google Analytics, and import and export posts. In short, Postagon appears to be in a features competition with Posthaven, and winning by a nose.

Postagon blog image - Blogging Tools

A sample Postagon post.

Again, Postagon offers the editing format you want (text editor, Markdown, or email), and an easy, attractive experience for users and readers. A good study in minimalism applied with a nice set of options.

Silvrback

Silvrback is a new platform that’s been getting more buzz lately both for its customization and for its back-end editing.

Silvrback logo - blogging toolsUnlike many of its competitors in the simple blogging field, Silvrback has many more features, including excellent layout tools, improved user interface, custom domains, post previews and our simple editing friend, Markdown, with real-time preview. (See our earlier blogging post for an intro to Markdown.) It also offers an About page and the ability to offer archived posts.

Created by Damian Sowers, Silvrback has been getting accolades the last few months as a simple but great looking blogging platform. It costs $29.99 / year (half the price of the previous two services) to use the service, which hosts your blog. With a recent upgrade, it offers two different UI (User Interface) schemes – customizing both the front and back ends of the service: Classic Silvrback and Alpha Gorilla. Features include: color palettes, email subscriptions, YouTube and Vimeo video support, Disqus Comments in a slideout panel, and improved typography. You can apparently divide a single photo into header and footer graphics with the option of darkening it for use with white text. The headers and footers offer a simple parallax effect.

The reader sees the header graphic behind a very tiny author photo (in a circle), the blog title, a description, and a menu, with the choices of Blog Home, Archive, Bio, Featured Posts and RSS. (In the Alpha Gorilla theme, these are hidden in a slide-out panel.) Then there’s a list of posts with featured photos of various sizes and excerpts. Posts can have their own header image or a black space for the title in white text. In other words, it looks a lot like a regular blog with a few more photo options than on Posterous or Postagon. On a wide screen, the posts are centered, using about 66% of the screen real estate, with no sidebars and no ads. The posts resize nicely for phone and tablets.

Silvrback sample blog

If many blog platforms seem just too simple, but the tech requirements of WordPress or Blogger just seem overwhelming, a beginning (or growing) blogger should give Silvrback a look.

 

Ghost

Ghost logo & imageIf you wonder if you have a ghost of a chance of learning advanced blogging, you do with Ghost. Ghost is a new, open source, blogging-only platform that you can use on its own hosting site (for a fee) or download for free and host on your own or another’s servers, all of which invites some comparisons between Ghost and WordPress. The software is supported by a new Ghost Foundation which helps manage a world-wide corps of volunteer programmers and supports the project financially.

Ghost aims to take some of the best features of WordPress with the ease-of-use of some of the simplest blogging platforms, or as they profess, returning to to blogging roots of WordPress.

Ghost Control

Go to the control side of Ghost and there’s a beautifully designed dashboard that shows you what you need know about your blog. Ghost allows each blog to have multiple contributors with four security roles: Owner (only one of these), Administrator, Editor and Author.

To view your posts, you see a list of posts on the left; click on one and you view the post on the right.

To write, Ghost offers Markdown support with a dual-screen editor. You write the Markdown code on the left pane and the preview pane shows how it would look when published. (You don’t need to know HTML to use Markdown, but if you already do know HTML, Markdown is designed to allow HTML, too, to expand your formatting. Not sure how that integrates with Ghost yet.)

Ghost blog editing

The Ghost editing environment is very simple, with a window with Markdown on the left and the resulting formatting on the right.

Click on a gear icon below the editor and you get a pop-up display that allows you to pick a cover photo, edit the URL, and add meta data including a Meta Title and Description to use when a search engine links to your site.

Importing from WordPress

Importing from WordPress is a multi-layered process. First, transfer the WordPress posts to Ghost by installing the *WordPress Ghost Plugin” on your WordPress site, exporting the files, then importing them into Ghost. Ghost doesn’t use a multimedia database as does WordPress, so you also need to export your WordPress images to a third-party database to use them. Similarly, your WordPress comments need to be exported to Disqus and you will need to follow instructions for pasting Javascript to get them into Ghost. In other words, there is no one-click transfer of a WordPress site into Ghost, but a determined user can do it. Search online for instructions. (If you’ve created a Ghost site on a hosted site, ask customer service if they have advice on doing this. They might have a special service to help or at least give technical assistance.)

Themes

There are over 300 Ghost themes, both free and paid, but you can use the pre-installed one that comes with the software. Many of them look remarkably similar to WordPress themes. Some themes add features such as menus, multiple column design, photo portfolios, commenting systems (such as Disqus), time-line display, and social media tools. At least one offers parallax graphics. So, even if Ghost doesn’t have plug-in support yet, you can get many sophisticated features with the right theme. You can see the currently available themes at All Ghost Themes. If you want commercial themes with advanced options, Themeforest offers many themes ranging in prices from $8 to $48. For the job hunter (remember, this series started by talking about job hunters), there are a few résumé / CV themes as well as others for designing a portfolio site to display your work. Lots of choices.

Ghost Hosting and Cost

If you create a site on the Ghost(Pro) site, you can start right away. They will take care of the backups, hosting, storage, upgrades and deliver your posts using 27 servers world-wide! You pay them $10 / month for 1 blog with up to 25,000 views per month, which is plenty for any new blogger (unless you already have a million followers on Twitter or Facebook). If you exceed the maximum views three months in a row, they’ll ask you to upgrade your account.

For $30 / month you get up to 3 blogs and 100,000 views. (There are Team level plans for $100 and Business plans for $250, but an individual blogger won’t need those services.) The fees support the organization that continues to develop Ghost.

Certainly, Ghost deserves to be able to charge enough money to host its service and to develop its platform. However, considering that it shares much of the same user base as Blogger and WordPress.com (which host blogs for free), some users might feel they are getting fewer features for more money. This shouldn’t be a big problem, though, if the Ghost community can beef up its features quickly while still offering a simpler writing and publishing platform.

The Ghost software, itself, is free. If you need to save a few bucks per month, you can install Ghost on a web hosting service, including most of the same ones that host WordPress blogs (most offer a discount for new users). (This might be much more economical for multiple blogs with lots of viewers.) Try to find a host where the tech staff already know the ins and outs of Ghost, though. See if your favorite internet host supports Ghost here. If you’re not sure, $10 / month buys you peace of mind.

The All About Ghost site offers most of the current instructions on using and upgrading Ghost. Another site, Ghost for Beginners offers step by step instructions on installing and using a Ghost site.

From the viewer’s perspective, it’s hard to tell a Ghost blog from a WordPress or Blogger site.

This is still a new platform but don’t let the current version number, 0.52, scare you. While writing these posts it was a toss-up whether to include Ghost in the “simple blog tools” or the “advanced blog tools” list because it is both. Ghost is generating a lot of excitement and already building a dedicated community. I wish Ghost was around when I started blogging.

If you find the minimalist blogging platforms are just too minimalist, you want extra photographic or design options, you want to learn about the backend of blogging, and/or you want to create a unique look for your blog, you really should consider Ghost. It’s not a WordPress killer, it won’t compete on features alone, but it’s an easy-to-learn, highly customizable platform with an impressive community growing around it.

The Job Hunter’s Perspective

We began this series with an eye towards creating sites for job hunters. If you want a blog to support your job hunt and create a web presence, your choice depends a lot on what type of blog you want to create. If you want to feature your writing exclusively, the simplest (and easiest-to-use) alternatives should suffice. If you want extra pages for your résumé, work samples, or a photo display, that is a different set of choices. If you want the flexibility to show off your design chops and artistry, Ghost is probably your best choice in this lot.

If your job hunting survival activities might also involve selling downloadable products (including ebooks), building large mailing lists for marketing, or even creating a full eCommerce site, there are still more services to examine. (I was really trying to avoid calling these sites our Ghost Busters, but the force was strong with this pun.)

Our next post will talk about some famous powerhouse blog tools, such as WordPress, Blogger, Typepad, Tumblr, and Hubpages. We’ll follow that with another article about several full-featured and great looking eCommerce specialty sites.

Credits:

Title image “Student Working with a Microscope”  is used courtesy of “Photokanok” and FreeDigitalPhotos.net. (Image adjusted in Topaz Adjust for this blog.)

Other logos and images from the respective program’s webpages.

Frugal Guidance 2 - http://andybrandt531.com