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Our co-founder and President Mena Trott has been sharing her stories on her personal blog Dollarshort since 2001.

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MT in 2008: Open, Powerful and Easy

I started blogging on Movable Type in 2002 -- and began a long love affair with the product that has helped transform the world of blogging, and the world blogging touches. I remember that sense of both freedom and control that I felt when I realized how easy online publishing could really be for an individual. When I came to Six Apart in 2006 I had the privilege of being put in charge of the Movable Type group. And now as CEO, I get to continue that work, which makes it even more important to explain not just where we've been, but where we're going.

A Re-Commitment to Movable Type

Despite the continued growth of the Movable Type platform, the hard work of the brilliant people on the MT team, and the dedicated community of MT bloggers and developers, when I joined the company MT was confronting a host of challenges from within and without Six Apart. From within, new projects, such as TypePad and Vox, captured some of the internal attention that MT once had, new OSS blog platforms such as WordPress had been gaining traction in some parts of the blogosphere, and Movable Type, while always a platform suitable for individuals, had been distinguishing itself on the high-end while leaving many with the impression that Six Apart didn't care about the individual blogger. This was never true, but the challenge of making a blogging platform both sufficiently easy to use and powerful is certainly significant. In fact, I don't think any blogging or CMS platform has succeeded in combining the ultimate in ease-of-use with the ultimate in power -- yet.

So, back in 2006, we made some decisions. First and foremost, we were going to compete. MT has brought more to blogging than any platform in history -- it was the first professional grade blogging platform (when it launched) and the first enterprise grade blogging platform (with MT Enterprise) -- but in 2006 it was time to double down or take the chips off the table.

We decided to bet on the future.

Central to this effort is Movable Type 4, a completely re-thought version of the software designed to address the way the web and social media have changed in the past half-decade. We wanted to improve the ease of use, the user interface, the installation process, and the content & community management capabilities. We also greatly enhanced our advanced capabilities, launching an Enterprise Solution, making MT unrivaled in its power for large customers who need to run large numbers of blogs integrated with enterprise systems, and the Community Solution, which we believe makes MT the leader in the emerging "CCMS" space (community content management systems) for which we have seen huge market demand.

And Movable Type has always been about freedom, but this was another fundamental tenet that may have become less clear along the way. Despite the fact that Six Apart has always been a major contributor to open source software, and MT itself is built largely on top of OSS, there was no fully open source version of MT. There was a disconnect between our intentions and the decisions we'd made about promoting and distributing Movable Type, and it was hurting us and the community. MT had relied on its innovations to move it forward -- after all, that's what put us on the map. But conversations about distribution and licensing should never overshadow the more important ideas of openness and innovation.

Six Apart has been, and will continue to be, the most innovative blog company around. In addition to MT taking personal, professional, enterprise, and now community blogging where no platform had taken it before, Six Apart also released TypePad, the first high-end hosted blogging platform and TypePad Business Class, the first business class professional blogging platform. Vox was the first social blogging platform, deeply combining social networking and blogging before anyone else and starting a category that is now growing along with peers like Twitter, Tumblr, Pownce, and more. Six Apart is where TrackBack and OpenID were invented, and we're the stewards of some of the major technologies that power today's biggest Internet sites, such as Memcached (which is used by Facebook, Craigslist, Wikipedia, YouTube, Digg, and many more), Perbal, MogileFS, and DJabberd. We've been involved as founding supporters in initiatives such as the Atom protocol, OAuth, and OpenSocial.

We see all of these projects as part of an effort to make the entire web more open, and to give individuals more control.

What's next for MT

Sometimes we've felt a little like Apple was a few years ago -- inventing insanely great stuff but at times outfoxed on the distribution front. A major component of our strategy to fight back and serve the broader market was MT Open Source, which was released in January. This is a huge milestone for Six Apart and MT, and we believe for blogging itself. We've always been more focused on freedom - empowering our bloggers to do whatever they desire -- than on "free", but they aren't mutually exclusive.

But we aren't stopping there.

As mentioned above, I don't think anyone has successfully created a blogging platform that's both extremely easy and extremely powerful. Some might even say that these objectives are inherently at odds. We disagree. While we made great usability advances in MT4, we realize that there is more for us to do in terms of making it easier to get, install and use MT, and we are making a firm commitment to make MT not only the most powerful platform, but the easiest.

Now let me say some words to the whole blogging community, and not just the Six Apart community. Even if you never have or never will use a Six Apart product or service for your blogging, even if you are the most ardent WordPress supporter, you ought to rejoice in the fact that Six Apart and Movable Type are going to push, push, push the art and science of blogging forward and that we are committed to making blogging powerful and easy. While we have competed, MT and WP have helped each other in a fundamental way -- we by introducing blogging features and capabilities that they have not, and they by making blogging simpler and easier to use where we have not. A healthy competition will help BOTH platforms improve. And the winner is blogging itself, and everyone who blogs. Given the explosive stage of growth and evolution that we're seeing in blogging, we even have the chance to help the whole web benefit. So, even if you don't use our platform, we'll help keep your platform honest.

We thank you for more than six years of support for MT, and we hope you'll join us in continuing the successes we've seen with MT 4.1, MTOS, and the recent release of Action Streams. Just head over to movabletype.org to join the community.

8 Comments
LSF said:
February 6, 2008 7:20 AM

Usability advances in MT4? Would you care to explain what those were? As far as I'm concerned the usability of MT decreased in MT4. For example, application pages take three times as long to download and user paths just haven't been thought through so that goals take longer to achieve. Rather than throw MT3.35 away, you should have built on it.

The open source edition may represent a milestone for Six Apart but it has so far failed to grasp the attention of anyone beyond the MT community that already existed prior to its release.

February 6, 2008 12:52 PM

LSF, thanks for your comment. The overwhelming majority of the feedback we've heard about MT4 is that everyday tasks for regular users are much easier, and that the refocus on presenting information intelligently, as in the dashboard, is a huge step forward compared not just to old versions of MT, but to *any* blogging tool. We feel the entire UI approach was an enhancement (albeit not without tradeoffs), creating a menu-based approach that will scale as the capabilities scale, there were great improvements in editing screens for posts and templates, and plenty of improvements around managing entries, comments, tags, assets, and the like. Is there still more work to do? Absolutely! And we're going to continue with the many improvements we made in 4.1 with version 4.2, including a lot of contributions from the community -- just today we've got members of the community working on things like improved keyboard shortcuts and simpler template editing. Performance is also a major focus for us in the immediate future.

As far as the MTOS project goes, it's still very early obviously, but we've seen great interest from people who are new to the community, especially around areas like Action Streams and other interoperability work. The fundamental point here is: We're working on it! If you feel we haven't yet reached the successes we're going to have in the future, we agree with you completely. But the best part is, if you want to fix anything, from the user experience to the participation of the community, you can be part of making that happen. Let us know how you want to help, and we'll put you in touch with the right folks.

February 8, 2008 12:47 PM

The biggest problem I have with MT is that new versions, minor updates have the most hideous and tedious installation. If you've done any customization, you have to do a ton of manual file copies over (s)ftp.

Setting up easier update procedures needs to be a priority for MT 4.1 *now*. It's inconceivable why there's no "check for updates" featureset in a product like MT.

February 8, 2008 1:17 PM
the open source edition may represent a milestone for Six Apart but it has so far failed to grasp the attention of anyone beyond the MT community
Incorrect in at least one case; mine.

I was a user of MT for years, even modifying the code to fit my requirements -- which lead to me growing increasingly frustrated with the platform. I moved off some months after the transition to a Commercial license, transition to Wordpress because of both license and ease-of-use.

But Wordpress eventually hemmed me in, as well. Among other reasons -- I have a lot of friends who use LiveJournal, and made a number of attempts to use the then-available OpenId login plugins for Wordpress, to little avail. Nonetheless, I kept plugging away at WP, and never looked back at MT. I even recall once stumbling over one of the old MT plugins sites I used to visit by accident, and wondering what had become of all that stuff...

Until, that is, the MT4 announcement, with the accompanying Open Sourcing. The Open Source got me intrigued, but it was the discussion on the actual software that got me to install and try it.

And, compared to WordPress, I actually do like it. It's more robust, more potent. I'm happy to trade disk space for CPU time, overall. There are issues and quirks with the dense menu structure -- heck, with all of it -- but the power in the system is astonishing.

Kub said:
February 9, 2008 12:15 PM

Chris, I have been a MT user since 2004 and I have to agree with people who say that MT 4.x isn't boosting our productivity.

The biggest issue from my point of view is performance. I keep reading that the new version is faster, but after installing it, I just can't see a boost. It is slower then MT 3.36.

For someone who has popular site, the day to day maintenance is increasingly difficult.

MT needs to be smarter at rebuilding stuff and it needs a front-end editing for admins.

Hg said:
February 28, 2008 12:02 AM

"Vox was the first social blogging platform, deeply combining social networking and blogging before anyone else and starting a category that is now growing along with peers like Twitter, Tumblr, Pownce, and more."

I know Six Apart has now sold LiveJournal, but surely you can still give it some credit? LJ strikes me as a much fairer comparison to Vox than these other services. It was clearly enabling "social" blogging years before Vox was even a twinkle in 6A's eye.

(I'm a long-term MT user who has dabbled with LJ in the past. I also use Twitter, Tumblr, WordPress and Vox on a regular basis.)

Anil said:
March 3, 2008 6:47 AM

Hg, that part about Vox wasn't at all intended to diminish what LJ invented -- like every modern social application on the web, Vox owes a deep debt to LJ's history of innovation. What may have been unclear (and this is probably just a result of editing for space) was that LJ was primarily designed as a personal journaling service, and we see that as distinct from Vox being born into a blogging world that's more about links to external sites and connecting to external web services. No disrespect intended to LJ -- we are still extremely proud of our association with LJ, and of how much the service grew under its tenure with 6A.

Hg said:
March 4, 2008 1:04 AM

Ah, the old "blog vs journal" conundrum. Never been entirely convinced of the distinction myself, but I guess that's because my own site - like countless others - inhabits the murky middle ground between the two. However, it throws more light on where you're coming from, thanks.

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