Introducing From Filmers to Farmers on Ghost – Just a Collapse Blog on Just a Blogging Platform

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Published on From Filmers to Farmers on October 31st, 2017

Discuss this article at the Science & Technology Table inside the Diner

Greetings!

The 31st is finally here, so to all you Americans and Canadians out there, Happy Halloween!

And to all you Aussies and Kiwis who have only just started celebrating this joyous occasion imported from North America – will you please hold on to whatever vestige of culture you have (left) and quit it with this American/Canadian bastardization of yet another cultural marker, what in this case is actually the Celtic equivalent of New Year's Eve?

If I can try and satisfy the curious, it turns out that if we take a look at history rather than TV commercials it turns out that Halloween can be traced back to the Celtic festival of Samhain (meaning summer's end), a bisecting festival in which the completion of the harvest on one end and the approaching cold dark winter on the other was seen as a boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead. In response to that it was common practice for costumes of ghosts and such to be donned in order to disguise oneself as a harmful spirit, the idea being to ward off any harm from ghosts of the dead that might walk amongst the living.

Somewhat similar to this, with several other imported "celebrations" having quickly picked up speed down here in Australia and New Zealand over just the past couple of years – most noticeable of all Black Friday (do Aussies and Kiwis really want to have their own Black Friday Death Count websites tallying the amount of people that have been literally stampeded to death?) – I almost wouldn't be surprised if come July 4th and 1st of 2018 that I started seeing American and Canadian flags getting waved around in celebration (!). Now would I be surprised if come Halloween a few months later I didn't quite start seeing people donning ghost and goblin costumes but rather dressing the part as Uncle Sam and big beavers (we all know of the "spooky" reputation that Uncle Sam can have around the world, although being born and brought up in Canada I can tell you that some of those beavers are known to get downright vicious as well).

The things some beavers can to do pieces of wood is awe inspiring (photo by Theo Crazzolara)

Anyway, to keep up with the Celtic festivities of summer's end (even though summer is actually only just starting down here in Australia), From Filmers to Farmers (FF2F) is in fact going to don the garb of a ghost in order to ward off the evil spirits of the Medium blogging platform, what in this case is actually the garb of the Ghost blogging platform. I kid you not, because from here on in FF2F will in fact no longer be running on The World's Worst Blogging Platform™ but rather on a platform that derives its name from the idea that it be so unnoticeable that by getting out of the way it in turn allows writers to do the one thing they came to do – write. (That being said, I don't actually write on computers myself but instead write by hand, and following the type-up of a first draft I then make a printout and edit on top of that by hand, rinse and repeat several times over. But hey, it's the thought that counts, right?)

Because that is in fact all that Ghost is – it's "Just a blogging platform", which is literally a tagline it prides itself on. More precisely, it's not a platform out to be an ecommerce store or a social network or an RSS reader or whatever, its sole purpose being to do nothing but straight up blogging, this focus being precisely what allows it to be what is arguably the best blogging platform out there.

If you read my previous post covering the blogging "scene" then you would have read that quote by WordPress' former (2009 – 2011) Deputy Head of the User Interface Group, John O'Nolan. As he also stated in that same blog post (written in 2015),

Three years ago we sat down and tried to imagine what WordPress might look like if it was rebuilt from the ground up using modern technology – purely focused on publishing.

Because after a somewhat unassuming blog post in which O'Nolan fleshed out some ideas ended up going viral across certain swaths of the Internet, O'Nolan took that as a cue and continued with a Kickstarter campaign in 2013 that sought £25,000 in funding to construct the new blogging platform he had envisioned, only to then see the campaign reach nearly 800% of its goal with a whopping £196,362 in contributions.

Although the Kickstarter campaign still fell short of Medium's $174M in venture capital funding by about $173.7M, Ghost has nonetheless benefitted from what is a top-notch crack team that with less than a handful of people was not only able to get some semblance of a platform built so as to produce an income before its scant seed money ran out, but which with what eventually became not even two handfuls of people has continued to build out some astounding software which earlier this year reached its 1.0 milestone. The eight people that Ghost currently employs includes the founder and CEO O'Nolan himself, the co-founder and CTO Hannah Wolfe, three full-time developers (just three!), two people running ghost.org/Ghost(Pro) , and one on support – fortunately half of whom are still male I might add (watch out, those female tech workers are once again taking over!).

The eighth isn't present as she was apparently bursting at the seams at the time

That's not to say though that the Ghost team has built the entire platform themselves, what with there literally being hundreds of people who have voluntarily contributed their coding skills to construct the system. Why would anybody in their right mind volunteer their time to build a blogging platform other than to move up in the Silicon Valley world by perhaps being an unpaid intern for the likes of a Medium? If I had to guess I'd say it's probably got something to do with the fact that Ghost is an open source project built with a top-notch technology stack and which is administered by an interesting non-profit setup.

For starters, the platform can be freely downloaded and/or installed on a system of one's choosing, preferably done via its CLI (not too much skill is needed for the latter). Otherwise, if one would rather avoid the hassle of maintaining updates and such themselves they can always pay to have their blog(s) hosted on Ghost(Pro), the part of the Ghost Foundation setup that allows it to produce an income of which in turn is funnelled back into funding further development of the platform.

"We call this Sustainable Open Source"

As O'Nolan described it in a podcast,

Ghost is a non-profit. We'll make money from our premium hosted service, but we'll use 100% of the money to make Ghost better and pay people to work on it. We won't distribute any profits to shareholders, because there won't be any shareholders. A non-profit has trustees who don't own shares, they just oversee the company. We literally won't have anything for Yahoo! to buy.

What's not to like about that?

I imagine though that even if you're experienced with blogging that chances are you've never heard of Ghost before, something that would be partially due to the fact that the Ghost Foundation doesn't actually advertise and instead relies solely on such things as word of mouth (which includes having its users write blog posts about it out of their own volition).

While I fortuitously came across mention of Ghost back in 2014 due to a button on my then-cPanel interface (I say fortuitous since I've never come across any random mentions of Ghost in the three years since), and while I've also noticed the Ghost platform being used for blogging by such outfits as Elon Musk's Open AI Project, NASA, Bitcoin, and many others (yes, I know, that didn't just score me any points in the collapse blogosphere), the fact of the matter is that most of the Ghost blogs I've seen out there are run by coders or those in related tech fields. By no means though is that to say that Ghost requires a tech-oriented person to use it (on the contrary its user interface is so well designed that there's virtually no learning curve and one can just glide into writing), but perhaps goes to show that the grapevine has yet to extend too far beyond tech-related websites which know a well-built and well-designed platform when they see one.

Because one of Ghost's biggest selling points is its simplicity to use. By concentrating on being nothing but a blogging platform, the core elements one needs for blogging are built directly into the system (such as SEO, social media integration, email subscription functionality, RSS feeds, and more), negating the need for one to fiddle around with a bunch of extraneous plugins that can not only make the system vulnerable in a myriad of ways but can also make it a pain in the arse to use and manage. That's not to say though that Ghost is "blogging for dummies", since the Ghost team have in fact been creating a strong base for a very powerful blogging system, one that is increasingly being catered for a rather "upscale" set of users.

Because while an install of Ghost can be used by virtually anybody, it is however no longer catering itself to being used by the casual blogger but rather by professional journalists, which in light of this means that its Ghost(Pro) service can admittedly be a bit dear for some. While I myself don't use Ghost(Pro) that's not necessarily due to financial considerations but rather because of the added flexibility and freedom I can get by hosting the platform myself. (That and perhaps I'm a nice enough guy to not want to tarnish Ghost's good name by forcing them to host on their servers a blog on the collapse of industrial civilisation next to Elon Musk's Open AI blog.)

That's not to say though that I'm not appreciative of the hard work partaken by the Ghost team and am trying to weasel my way out of financially contributing to the platform's development, because as far as I see it if the capability for taking donations were built into the system in parallel to the subscription functionality currently being worked on then perhaps I (and others who also self-host) could by way of a donation button on their blog forward a portion of those funds to the Ghost Foundation.

I did in fact make an extremely meagre donation about a year ago, although to be honest I can't actually say that it even made it into the realm of the placeholder second to the right

Because no, although the possibility of setting up this blog with a subscription system (read: a paywall) will soon be possible thanks to an upcoming update to Ghost, there's absolutely no chance that that's ever going to happen as I'd sooner shut down this blog in its entirety than lock people out of what is just one of the few blogs out there talking about the rarely touched-upon topic of the collapse of industrial civilisation.

And while I certainly don't want to lock out those who may not have the disposable income for such things, I also don't want to shirk another group of people by avoiding to give credit where credit is due. Because although I had the full intention of once again building this blog from "scratch" (atop of Ghost, of course), when I actually started looking into building a theme a few months ago I quickly realized that there was absolutely no chance that I was going to be technically capable of doing so anytime soon, if ever. That being so, I fortuitously ended up discovering the meticulously designed and constructed (and supported!) Eston theme (which O'Nolan happens to have formerly used on his blog before he moved over to Ghost's stock Casper theme a few months ago), fortunate enough since there wasn't a single other theme out there that I could see as amenable to what I'd want to do with FF2F on Ghost, Eston providing not only an excellent coding base and an excellent layout but also a very versatile design that leaves much possibility for constructing around its core in order to highly customise the theme to one's liking.

Because yes, if you take a look at Eston's live preview and/or have seen FF2F in its hand-coded version (Internet Archive capture here) then you know that a fair amount of the design elements you currently see have been incorporated from FF2F's previous iteration and that significant additions have been made to the Eston theme.

But although I'd similarly put myself under the impression that with an excellent theme in hand that I'd then be easily able to adapt it to what you see before you, I once again couldn't possibly have been any more wrong. Because while the Ghost team and its legion of volunteers are responsible for the blogging platform and Mike Buttery is responsible for the Eston theme, it's Vikas Potluri via the non-profit organisation HexR that is responsible for such a wide range of what's behind FF2F's new iteration that it'd require an entire blog post to elaborate on it all, a contribution that has allowed this blog to be incomparably superior to the extremely drab and "shit-box"-esque version that I would have rather horrendously managed to cobble together.

Because while I certainly did what I'd say is a decent job of doing the grunt work of coding 99% of the HTML and CSS as well as pasting in a bit of other coding, 99.9% of the JavaScript (and Handlebars and JSON and what have you) was skilfully coded and assembled by Potluri, who is very much responsible for what I think is a not-too-shabby looking and functioning blog and who deserves a massive amount of thanks.

Thanks!

(That being said, I do have the reigns over FF2F's private theme repository on GitHub as well as have ownership and thus control over its hosting, so any mishaps you may come across are by no means due to Potluri but rather because of me playing around with things and screwing it all up.)

Otherwise, while I can once again say that all but one of the scripts used for FF2F are open source, in this case that "one" is none other than Eston itself. What this implies is that I can't in return open source what's been put together and instead have to keep it all behind a private repository on GitHub. That being said, I can nonetheless list all the scripts I've found across the Internets and which have been integrated into FF2F's usage of Eston:

With that final note in mind, if you scroll/swipe to the bottom of this page you'll see a photograph in the background of the box listing other posts matching this post's primary tag, that photograph by no means being a shot of some random plant roots but is actually a shot of none other than the roots of perennial sunflowers being bred at The Land Institute in Salina, Kansas. You might also see me using that photograph elsewhere (like on my Twitter account), to which I have Jim Richardson to thank for granting permission for its usage. With all that in mind, if you do in fact fancy the photograph yourself and would like to pick up a print of it then you're more than welcome to do so by following the (non-affiliate) link via the embed below:

A Cross Section Of A Sunflower Root

 

Finally, what FF2F will be using alongside Ghost for its commenting platform is the open source forum software Discourse, co-founded by the creator of Stack Overflow and is what even O'Nolan himself has called "the Ghost of forum software". I've unfortunately yet to have the chance to play around with it or to even configure it so that it could at least match FF2F's colour scheme, what with I not having the time to do anything more than integrate it into the blog. To a certain extent all I can say then is that supposing you sign up for an account on this FF2F-hosted Discourse commenting system and actually leave a comment then you'll be figuring out how to use it and what it's capable of at the same time that I end up doing so as well.

What I can say for now though is that while this blog and commenting system are both completely owned and controlled by FF2F and even utilise an SSL certificate (meaning https rather than the unsecure http) you can either sign up for an FF2F Discourse account with your email address (which is what I'd do) or you can alternatively use a variety of any social media logins to safely create an account (FF2F's self-hosted instance of Discourse of course never sees or stores your social media credentials but simply uses their systems for login purposes, as is the fare now).


With the entirety of what I've written above in mind, and supposing that you haven't noticed already, both Ghost and Discourse are some seriously powerful and functional pieces of software, and it might very well be construed that FF2F is punching way above its weight by assuming it deserves to be running on, and with, such software. Moreover, with Ghost becoming increasingly catered to professional journalism (it recently ran a $45,000 Ghost for Journalism development program, a program which I wasn't exactly granted one of the three positions but was awarded a participation ribbon of a free year on Ghost(Pro) instead), not only is yours truly not a professional journalist, but by no stretch of the imagination even qualifies as being categorized as a journalist in any way whatsoever. With that in mind, the current state of "news", and my credentials that continue to shrink with virtually every sentance I write, for better or for worse I've left myself with very few options.

So without any further ado, and with From Filmers to Farmers having donned the garb of the Ghost so that it may venture inconspicuously amongst the living and the dead (or what you might call the to-be-dead due to the coming die off), there's really only one thing that can be said.

Fake journalism, here we come!


p.s. Okay, okay. Elon Musk's Open AI Ghost blog isn't actually hosted on Ghost(Pro) but from what I can tell with Amazon Web Services, although I'm sure you get the point

p.p.s. And here's to hoping the Internet doesn't end tomorrow – this took a lot of work!

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