This past Friday, September 20th 2013, a new, much-hyped blogging platform was launched to the people that backed the project on Kickstarter, named Ghost. The rest of the world will have access in a few weeks. I’m thinking it won’t really matter much.
I was not a backer of the project so I haven’t gotten official access to Ghost yet. However, someone has already put Ghost up on Github, so I’ve looked at the code and played around with it, and there are a few things that stand out to me, from a marketing standpoint in particular.
In order to install and maintain Ghost, you need to be a developer.
To most people, this is an alien language.
Until the installation and UI is simplified to the degree that the writing experience is, Ghost will never be mainstream or have a significant market share.
You need to know markdown.
If you don’t already know markdown, is it worth learning it just to use Ghost, whose goal is supposedly to simplify the writing experience? Markdown isn’t exactly complicated, but again, to most people it’s obscure and new. Writing in markdown doesn’t feel smooth and natural to me, personally. I always want to stick in markup. I’m sure I could train myself, just as I have with HTML, but users new to Ghost may be asking “is that something I want to spend my time and efforts on?” Whether or not they are (and how many, and a bunch of other stats that would be useful) is a question that would have been answered while creating a sound marketing plan. markdown on it’s own hasn’t swept the blogging world yet despite having been around for a long time. Is it because of the platforms available? Doubtful.
Is Ghost addressing a real, actual pain point?
Consider the competition: Blogger, WordPress, Tumblr, Overblog, Medium, etc… The options for a blogging platform are already broad and deep, with some relatively mature participants. And, with WordPress at least, you’re able to minimize the writing “canvas” to essentially nothing, for those that are so easily distracted, which is a primary selling point of Ghost. As far as I can tell the main differentiator is that Ghost offers an “endless” page when writing. OK. Is that worth people’s time and investor’s money though? We’ll see.
The target market, as far as I can tell, is developers that like to blog and are huge minimalists. That’s a narrow niche. The fact I don’t have a clue who the target market is illustrates another phenomenon I think is interesting, which is the “cult of personality” aspect of many crowdfunding sites. I can think of several projects that secured money well into the 5 figures (and more, as with Ghost which cleared $300k) with no marketing plan, no real business plan showing how the numbers will work, no business experience and nothing more than really an idea. That makes an investment in it seem like more of a charitable favor or gamble to me.
But Ghost raked in the donations on Kickstarter. That is, John O’Nolan raked in the donations. And that’s what I see often: People with sizeable social spheres online can generate some impressive buzz and hype and consequently: $. Or I should say: people that are decent marketers, with online-community building skills. John Atwood rallied people to drop $150 for a keyboard, and sold out of them. People hand their money, and time, over blindly because of who’s on the receiving end, and not the concept, quite often.
People buy the sizzle instead of the steak all the time, and that’s what a lot of hugely successful companies are all about. For example, Nike isn’t a shoe company. They haven’t made shoes in years. They’re a marketing firm. But when you’re relying on not even much of a sizzle, but rather the reputation of the developer, that’s a tough business model to sustain. I’m following the lifespans of a few such projects right now, eager to see what actually grows these businesses. Ironically, in many past cases I see the owners adopt the very practices they originally shunned as a start-up, and hung their hat on the fact. Then it seems reality hits and tunes change.
Ghost is a well-written product, and it is elegantly simple-looking. But setting up an obstacle in the way of making users learn markdown, in addition to being complex to install and maintain (there’s NO WAY an average person could use it, as-is), I foresee Ghost being the Linux of blogging platforms at best. What’s going to compel people to leave their existing platform behind en masse? I’m not seeing the answers anywhere here.