The follow on from Part I: Let's Begin at The Beginning
A few days after I'd sat down and scribbled in my notebook about what WordPress would look like if it was rebuilt from scratch with a focus on just publishing - the idea hadn't dulled in my mind. If anything, it was stuck there.
Having let my sketchbook ideas percalate for a few days, I'd moved on to mockups in Photoshop of the admin UI. What would this thing look like, embodying all of these ideas, starting completely from scratch - and focused on publishing? I had three screens with some solid ideas. Largely these ideas weren't new or groundbreaking, they were simply a combination of a lot of things I'd used elsewhere. The very epitome of Kirby Ferguson's documentary: Everything is a Remix.
I had an idea, I had some designs, now I just needed a name. I wanted something that spoke to the nature of how blogging has transformed online journalism. That, after all, was what this little platform would try to do again in a whole new way. As I started thinking about this, a story which my father had told me years ago popped into my head. An Open Source enthusiast himself, he told me once about a small group of people in Cuba - a country which was (and still is) suffering heavily under an oppressive communist regime - who were using WordPress to "smuggle" blog posts about their lives out of the country.
In a place where unauthorised internet access and criticism of the government was illegal, anonymity was essential. WordPress enabled them to tell the world about what was really going on. Effectively, they became the ghost writers for their own lives. It was one of the most significant examples of Open Source software enabling important social good that I'd ever heard of.
It seemed to fit. Thinking about this and glancing over my design ideas a second realisation came to mind. Simply, but fittingly; I was trying to make the user interface get out of the way. The focus was on writing, and I wanted the UI to almost be something you didn't even think about. Eliminating as much complexity as possible, it should be there, but you shouldn't see it. Like… well… a Ghost.
Publishing The Idea
At some point in Summer of 2012; I, like most people on Twitter, watched as Tobias Van Schneider took the internet by storm. Having grown tired of big, bloated email clients which never seemed to "just work" - the Austrian designer sat down with Photoshop one day and mocked up his idea for a new mail client called .Mail. It was simple, beautiful, and right on the money. After getting a lot of interest, Tobias put up a placeholder website with an email-subscription box. Reportedly over 20,000 people signed up who wanted this idea to become a reality.
The fascinating thing was, Tobias didn't bother to make a website for this idea… because it was just that: an idea. He created a product-page entirely in Photoshop explaining his concept and when he was done he exported an image and published it on his site. No overhead, no stalling on making a perfect site to promote something, just sharing an idea.
I loved it. It was such a simple way of sharing a high-fidelity concept without putting in a ton of work on something which might never see the light of day.
So I opened a new canvas in Photoshop and started super-imposing my mockups onto Macbook product shots and annotating the designs with some notes about the overall idea. At this point Photoshop was just an extension of my notebook in digital form; I was sketching and writing. It would not be long, however, before I'd have to justify this decision to a horde of disgruntled web developers who wanted my head on a stick. It's funny how these things go sometimes.
I pulled together the final PSD file and exported it into 10 giant images, which I would paste one-after-another in a simple page on my website. The final image contained a basic FAQ with some context and a way of getting in touch, in the event that anyone actually did want to sit down and hammer out some code with me.
At around midday on November 5th, 2012 - I hit the publish button.
Here We Go
For a couple of weeks, as it turns out, I'd been sitting in one of those little rollercoaster cars. Slowly but surely I'd been creeping up a steep incline, that loud clacking noise all the while in the background. As I sent out that first Tweet with a link to the post, I gulped one final breath of fresh Brazillian air, checked my tray table was in the upright position, and plunged head first down into the maze of loops, corkscrews and madness that was about to unfold.
New post: Rethinking WordPress... no longer a blogging platform. Introducing: Ghost. http://t.co/rRDflSuW— John O'Nolan (@JohnONolan) November 5, 2012
I have a few followers on Twitter, and I expected that the idea would resonate with at least some of them. I've written blog posts in the past which have had a good 25,000 view spike. I expected (well, I hoped) that this might be one of those. That would be nice.
A week later Google Analytics was telling me that my expectations were out by a factor of ten. Having hit the front page of Hacker News and pretty much every news site in the WordPress community, it was well over a quarter of a million views and the response loud and clear: People wanted this thing to exist. Even Matt Mullenweg, the founder of WordPress, was complimentary - his was the top comment on Hacker News:
"I really like some of the things John has done in his mockups here ... I love seeing different people's takes on what the next generation of WordPress will look like"
— Matt Mullenweg, November 5, 2012
My inbox was flooded with offers and ideas and suggestions and comments. It was impossible to keep up, but I made a valiant effort.
The only negative thing that kept coming up was people on Hacker News, asking "How can this guy build a blogging platform when he can't even build a website? All images? Give me a break." - it was bizarre and unexpected. Tobias later told me he'd faced much of the same critiscism. It missed the point entirely. The point of the post was to publish a high-fidelity drawing of an idea, not a finished product page. Had I faced the task of 9-12 hours of unpaid coding before being able to share my idea… well, I might never have shared it all.
It was a small hiccup, however, in an otherwise phenomenal week. People were excited. They wanted to know more. And most of all, they wanted it to see this idea come to life. I knew that if I didn't jump on this opportunity, I'd regret it forever.
Getting started, however, would prove to be a challenge in and of itself.