There's No Time Like Today to Start Changing Things

Reading Time: 4 minutes

It’s time for people in North America and Europe who respect Movable Type to start supporting it again, and tell the web publishing community why it is still a great platform for creating and publishing all sorts of web content.

Since I left Six Apart and started After6 Services, I have watched people make all sorts of crazy statements about Movable Type.  This is a product I have used since early in 2003 when I launched Operation Gadget.

Most of the negative things that people say about Movable Type– that it is antiquated, poorly supported, inefficient, and expensive compared to its competitors– simply aren’t true.  Anybody who thinks I’m wrong about this needs to sit down with me for a talk about which metrics you use when making your judgements.

I know Movable Type, and I am learning everything I can about the competition.  Those competitors are not head-and-shoulders above Movable Type in any area except for the mindshare of web publishers.  And that can be fixed by a concerted marketing effort from Six Apart and its third-party developer community.

Due to almost zero marketing since the original Six Apart merged with VideoEgg to form SAY Media, Movable Type usually isn’t part of the conversation when talk turns to what publishing tools will be used to build the next great online property.  Through this M&A activity, the new Six Apart— which was the old Six Apart’s Japanese subsidiary headquartered in Tokyo– was reduced to a zero-employee presence in North America for over a year.  So it shouldn’t surprise anybody that the product hasn’t been marketed outside of Japan in any meaningful way since January 2011. 

This has to change, if only because WordPress has had a free ride for a long time against competitors that are marketed unsuccessfully (which is a worse problem than not being marketed at all).  WordPress is a great product, but one with some weaknesses that make it a less solid choice than Movable Type for a number of online publishing tasks.

The other day I listened to Episode 49 of the podcast Back to Work, where Merlin Mann and his guest John Gruber from Daring Fireball spend about 8 to 10 minutes talking about why Movable Type is a fantastic platform for building websites.  The thought crossed my mind that this is not simply a better refutation of what my good friend Byrne Reese said about Movable Type a year ago than I could write.  The podcast made me wonder what it would take to get Merlin Mann and John Gruber to stand up in front of a group of people and say these things again?

“At Daring Fireball I have complete control.  And that’s why I use MT {Movable Type}.  There’s, you know, other systems I could use that would be– more modern.  But I’ve got a system set up there so I can control everything,” John Gruber at 1 minute.

“I miss MT so much.  That was my introduction to the command line….  I mean you’ve got to give Ben {Trott} props for coming up with that– what would you call it?  Like… inside of the less than greater thans, the ability to have that meta language for what posts should do on the page. {That} was how I learned so much stuff that I later kind of did with programming….” Merlin Mann.

“I think the credit that Ben should get is, to me it was the first system that, and I was looking before I launched Daring Fireball for at least a year, and… staying on top of anything that called itself a weblog system, a CMS, or anything like that.  It was really, really good at not being constrained to the author of the system’s idea of what a blog or a CMS should be….

And there were other systems before MT but you could use them to make a site like the site that it came with out of the box.  Whereas Movable Type was like LEGO.  It came with instructions to get a default blog that looked like an MT 1.0 blog.  But you could just take all of the pieces apart and put them together any way you want.  And I think that’s really, really hard to do.  And in hindsight, it’s easy to overlook,” John Gruber at 2:41.

“… Here’s the one distinction that can get lost in all that.  Also you have to give props to Mena {Trott}… once you had that thing installed,… you had a pretty blog that worked.  You never had to touch anything.  But there was still all that stuff under the hood, and some people to this day, like you or like {Matt} Haughey did for a long time, really put that to great use.

And here’s the distinction, this is nothing against Open Source software…. but if you think the way the developers think, and let’s be honest most people in some form or fashion do, you’re good to go.  And so, when you put up Plone {sic, Merlin means Slashcode}, you are implicitly making a clone of Slashdot….

But what Movable Type did, if you were savvy with it, was, I had on the original Kung Fu Grippe, I did so much stuff that was cool and hacky.  So, for example, I did something that I think maybe {Jason} Kottke did the first time I saw it, which was, at the top of the page there’s… your one most recent post at the top of the page.  Looked really cool and clean.  And then you said ‘click for more’…. That looked so awesome compared to every blog out there.” –Merlin Mann at 4:45

Let’s face it: We could get a lot of people to take a serious look at Movable Type as a WordPress alternative if we had people with this level of street cred on the Internet saying these things from time-to-time.

This is not an impossible task for Movable Type evangelists.  There are still people who love MT for what it is– not what they wish it was.  These people are better advocates for the platform than the people who make a living selling and supporting Movable Type.  This is why I am trying to rebuild the Movable Type Community step-by-step.
Let’s agree to start marketing MT as the first– and still one of the best– web-based CMSes in the world.