What’s happened to Movable Type ?

2009 October 15
by Karen

I’ve been finishing writing the chapters for my book on open source web applications in libraries and have been doing some research and writing about Movable Type. I went back and forth alot about including the software in the book for a number of reasons. I wanted to include something besides WordPress to give people a comparison point. I also think Movable Type and its history is a great example of how open source software can go awry. The fact it is dual licensed and how that has played out is also of note.

Movable Type was the first blogging platform we implemented at UH. We later switched to WordPress (mostly because we lack Perl programmers). At the time version 3 had just come out and there was the HUGE backlash about the change in the licensing terms going down. I was interacting with the user community at that point in time and found it to be relatively stable and robust. 4 years later I’m not sure I’d say the same. It was really difficult writing the chapter and navigating the user community to feel the kind of confidence about Movable Type I felt 4 years ago. Ironically, this doesn’t seem to be about the quality of the core software, which I feel is solid. Version 4 was way better than version 3 and I’m very curious to see what the version 5 release scheduled for the end of November looks like.

The problem seems to exactly be community or lack there of. People don’t seem to be contributing code, whether that be plugins, styles or whatever. The numbers of people and the variety seems to be down. Not being a member of the Movable Type community for some time I’m not sure why this is but I suspect the change and then change again in licensing terms may have something to do with it. Others seem to think that the supported licensed user (corporations and such) don’t contribute to the community because they have no reason to do so.

Also, the forking of Movable Type into Melody over the summer is an interesting development. My curiosity was peaked in reading on the Melody blog

Where our official Six Apart releases of Movable Type focus on great professional support, rock-solid stability, backwards compatibility, and broad platform support as core principles, we see the Melody community focusing on the equally-valuable ideas of bleeding-edge community-driven ideas, rapid iteration, and integration with the code of other open source projects.

So it would seem there are some philosophical differences about how Movable Type develops and is managed. It’ll be very interesting to see what type of traction the Melody project is able to gain and if can move the open source portion of Movable Type into a new direction.

6 Responses leave one →
  1. 2009 October 15

    I think it’s a real shame Sixapart has let MT collapse because I still say that it’s a lot better than WordPRess in many ways. They obviously did mess up with their licensing stupidity in the past, so much that people went to WP. There is the total lack of perl developers making plugins that are worthy of expanding the capabilities of MT and yet the developers of MT inner circle are arrogant when I made a comment how much more there php development there is on other platforms. Their lack of documentation which is more like a glossary lacks the quality “how to” tutorials….and then there’s the lack of quality themes…no where to be found. Going opensource was too late and it was only partial too which I think they messed up yet again with opensource. They should have done it long ago and made it 100% opensource.

    If you were to go to compete.com and enter in movabletype.com and even movabletype.org, you will see MT has almost flatlined for the last year or more. However, you do a check of typepad.com and there you go, HUGE!

    It appears Sixapart is focusing and putting more effort into their typepad and MT is just something they are doing on the side for a tiny market. I have tried to light a fire under their butts that I would dedicate some time designing quality themes but they just didn’t seem to put effort in my offer.

    Anyway, it’s a shame because I actually like MT and was about to launch a separate design site for themes but I just don’t think it’s worth my time if they won’t start marketing it to the typical blogger.

  2. 2009 October 16

    Yeah, Movable Type has some great strengths. It seemed like version 4 was headed in the right direction to compete functionality-wise with WordPress. Its really sad the lack of plugins and styles. Frankly it is a shame because Movable Type seems to do a much better job of supporting multi-blogs. WordPressMU works but gosh from a technical perspective the non-normalized database architecture is a hack.

  3. 2009 October 21

    Many thanks for your views on Movable Type. MT is always in the back of my head, and what you wrote confirms what seemed to be happening over the last few years.

  4. 2009 October 21

    *Disclaimer: I am the leader of the Melody project and former Product Manager of Movable Type, and the product architect of MT4 and MTOS.*

    Many people think that by virtue of making something open source, you will cultivate a community around it. The truth is that GPL is just a license. It doesn’t do anything by itself to encourage or assist in expanding and building a community. That rests exclusively upon the leaders of the project to engender its users with the values that they will help you propagate. And one of those values should be the community itself. And that is where Six Apart I think was letting the community down. They very much operated with a hands-off approach to the community maintaining an outward disposition of, “we will do our thing, the community will do theirs.”

    *That* more than anything was at the heart of why the MT community forked MT to create Melody. The community ultimately did not feel supported. So we took matters in our hands.

    And what is happening now is encouraging – the platform is evolving substantially to incorporate features and abilities to help address some of the underlying challenges of the platform: a perceived reliance on Perl to perform simple tasks. The truth is that no one actually needs to know Perl to build sites for Movable Type or Melody. That is to a very large extent a myth perpetuated by its critics and competitors.

    That being said, there is some truth to it, which is what has given rise to tools like Config Assistant, Auto Prefs and the like which reduces much of the work typically reserved for plugins down to the simple task of editing a config file. If Melody is successful, it will have turned this perception around on WordPress by demonstrating that to build a site with Melody, not only do you not need to know the Perl programming language, but you don’t even need to know the PHP programming language — or ANY programming language for that matter!

    Movable Type though is far from obsolete, or down for the count. It still has a dedicated and devoted group of engineers working on at Six Apart, plus a huge team of professional services engineers also working to make the platform more successful. And then their is Melody which we hope will be a positive influence within the entire Movable Type community – by creating a project whose purpose is more devoted to the needs of the community.

    You should follow along with what we are going on http://groups.google.com/group/openmelody/ and see for yourself! If you wondered where the MT community went… they went to Melody!!

  5. 2009 October 21

    Thanks so much for posting here. I completely agree an open source license doesn’t mean community. It does seem like that open source software relies heavily to community. I’m psyched to see what happens with Melody and how community can develop around it.

  6. 2009 October 28

    Hi Karen,

    This is Nick, and I’m a Japanese web director and engineer.

    Movable Type has really large share in Japan as a CMS software.
    You can see an insight with Google and you’ll find there are lots of Japanese people who want to search for information about Movable Type’s tips and how-to.


    I am also using Movable Type with my job and developing website with it.

    But now in Japan, WordPress is spreading and lots of people start to use it as a CMS.

    I think that Movable Type is a good software, but it’d rather say that people tend to use MT for there jobs, not blogging.

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