Where Is The Ghost Blog Mobile App?
Update: John who is the CEO/Founder of Ghost was kind enough to reply further clarifying the current status of the Ghost Mobile app. Update and thoughts are at the end
Yesterday in the morning I finished servicing my older casual skates and testing my new racing skates. I wanted to post about it on my blog at the time, but I couldn't just take some photos and write a post on my phone. It was going to have to wait till I was at a computer. The reason for this is that there is no working mobile app for Ghost. I couldn't help wondering why this was. So I wrote this post to question both the technical and business challenges of making a mobile app.
What is the current status of Ghost's mobile app?
If you look in the app store (for Android at least), Ghost no longer has a working mobile app. The app has 2 stars out of 5 and everyone including myself face the same two problems:
- We can't login to our self hosted blogs
- We can only edit markdown based posts (assuming we were able to login)
The app was last updated on April 2nd 2019. For all intents and purposes, the app on the store is dead.
In November 2017, Quill joined forces with the Ghost team to become the official Ghost Android app! Quill itself will no longer receive any updates. Please install Ghost Android from https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=org.ghost.android. Read the announcement at https://blog.ghost.org/android/. To my users - thank you for your support thus far, and I'll see you on the other side!
Ghost is a non profit organization that has open sourced all its work. So looking at the Android repo we can see what the status of work is. And over here, the commits seemed to stop coming in during the first quarter of 2019.
There are no other branches visibly in development. So even on the source code side, it looks like the app is abandoned.
Guesses on how it got here
To be clear, this isn't a showstopper by any means. Nor is it a condemnation. Ghost is a non profit. They run a tiny tight team and they make an excellent blogging tool whose internals are quite complex in their own right. I love Ghost blog. It's a pleasure to setup. It's easy to maintain. And I don't have any complaints about how well it works.
But I still wondered, why did the Ghost mobile app somehow fade away like this.
From my observations, I think that from a technical perspective, the ghost blog team kind of ran themselves into a bit of a block.
When ghost moved from v1 to v2, one of the big shifts was the editor. Gone was the markdown format and here was the Koenig editor. The Koenig editor made use of an open standard called mobiledoc. However, I've been through the standard documentation and… it's not easy to wrap the head around. I probably should try harder. But! But basically there is no implementation of this standard for mobile. And it looks like this is the sticking point for the mobile app at ghost.
There's an open issue from 2019 relating to the editor, but it doesn't look like the app has made any progress on this since. It looks like this might actually be a good thing for some interested soul to work on as a passion project.
Basically, it seems like the mobiledoc standard/koenig editor is complex enough that the team actively maintaining it hasn't been able to dedicate the resources needed to bring it to mobile. And that is my guess as to why a mobile editor doesn't exist yet. The technical side at least. But I believe there's also a business case to it.
What makes money takes precedence (as it should)
When writing this post, I wondered when I actually want to use the mobile editor. The use cases aren't that many.
Sometimes I take a few photos and I'll feel like uploading it to my blog — like when my skates arrived — in the form of a quick post. I occasionally have quick thoughts I might like to publish too. Or most likely I'll have the outline of an idea in my head that I'd like to draft. There are times I also want to edit a post but these are very very rare.
And when I look at my use cases, I can't see any of these applying to a business site. Or to a blog that's been established as a source of revenue  . My requirements of a mobile app are purely for casual, random person on the internet postings. And that's no longer ghost's target by the looks of it. Which makes sense — most people doing these casual postings are doing so on social media — the internet of personal random blogs has long been dying.
Most importantly though, people on the go will use methods like I do. They will use any of the plethora of apps out there to create their drafts on mobile and then use a more powerful device to actually complete and polish their writing. Basically, there doesn't seem to be a good business use case for a mobile app for Ghost.
In general, as an open source product built by a non profit foundation I 100% respect ghost the company's need to focus on the needs of people more likely to pay for hosting their blogs.
So there are technical challenges whose solving doesn't seem to make business sense. Put those together and it just means that the ghost mobile app is dead for now and will likely remain that way for the future.
This is sad to accept, but it does leave me questioning: can someone interested enough build this? The standards are out there. Ghost blog's APIs are well documented. It just might be worth a try.
One never knows.
The founder/CEO of Ghost, John replied to my tweet on this post with some further clarification.
Mostly right +— John O'Nolan 🏴☠️ (@JohnONolan) October 7, 2020
- App was maintained by OSS contributor
- OSS contributor got a job at Google
- Nobody left to maintain complex codebase, and generally low demand for app
- Mobile browser works fine
- Other native apps work great and have integrations, like Ulysses and iA Writer
I didn't realise that the maintainer had been hired by Google (no stalking here). But a couple of other points stood out to me:
Firsty, regarding the mobile browser, I'd probably push back on that gently when it comes to Android browsers at least. For me, the app literally states that mobile editing is not supported. And from my experience, the mobile editing is janky on Android mobile devices (I haven't tested on iOS because, you know, no iPhone)
Seocndly, I didn't realise that Ulysses and iA Writer have integrations with Ghost. Importantly, both of them seem to run on Markdown based editors. So what's happening is — much like this post — the editors are using an API to post the content into a markdown based "card"; this is the language of the mobiledoc spec. And this great writing experience with markdown from other apps begs the questions: Was the transition to mobile doc worth it? And could the team have worked on furthering the experience of their markdown editor instead? I asked John the question and he was pretty clear about his feelings 😂😅
Markdown was a total fucking disaster
- John O'Nolan, 2020
Markdown was a total fucking disaster - that's what you happens when you build on top of a non-standardised language with 1000x different [incompatible] "flavours".— John O'Nolan 🏴☠️ (@JohnONolan) October 7, 2020
You see every app hit this same point and introduce a GUI eventually (eg. GitHub, Slack)
I guess that closes the loop. I definitely agree with the part about a 1000x different flavours. I myself have hit this issue multiple times with various editors. Which leaves me with the final thought thinking that it would be a fun learning project to try and implement a mobiledoc editor for mobile. As a bonus, it would be interesting to try and implement footnotes — which is what keeps me using Markdown cards in ghost.
What's nice is, thanks to Ghost's adoption, it would be easy to get plenty of sample expected outputs to compare against. Definitely going to mull on this one (and then probably never do it 😝)
- “Google Play - Ghost", Accessed October 7 2020. https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=org.ghost.android
- “Google Play - Quill", Accessed October 7 2020. https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=me.vickychijwani.spectre
- Ghost. “Introducing Ghost 2.0,” August 21, 2018. https://ghost.org/changelog/2-0/.
- GitHub. “Mobiledoc Editor (or: Build a Koenig-Equivalent for Android/Cross-Platform) · Issue #41 · TryGhost/Ghost-Android.” Accessed October 7, 2020. https://github.com/TryGhost/Ghost-Android/issues/41.
- GitHub. “Bustle/Mobiledoc-Kit.” Accessed October 7, 2020. https://github.com/bustle/mobiledoc-kit.
To be precise, the markdown format is still there. It's just one extra step away and is basically another type of block in the Koenig editor which is an implementation of the mobiledoc standard. ↩︎
Businesses aren't going to green light random photos from a contributor's phone into a marketing post. Serious money making writers aren't going to publish random thoughts. ↩︎
Ghost introduced setting up paid newsletters in V3, thus aligning the product further towards individuals looking to use their ghost instances as a source of revenue. ↩︎
Posted on October 07 2020 by Adnan Issadeen