Movable Type or WordPress – Arvind Knows What He Prefers and Why
One of the most recent additions to The Blog Herald blogger rooster is Movable Type hotshot Arvind Satyanarayan. He was brought on-board by yours truly to cover the Movable Type community with weekly sister features to Lorelle VanFossen’s (interviewed here) excellent WordPress Wednesday. That sparked Movable Type Mondays, hosted by Arvind.
Naturally, this sparked a curiosity in me. I’ve been interested in Movable Type since the first open source release, and have also considered looking more closely at the platform. Who better to ask about these things than the recently hired expert?
These things usually start by the subject telling me a little about themselves, so I think you should too. Who is Arvind Satyanarayan?
Sure, I’m an 18 year old college student attending the University of California, San Diego and majoring in Computer Science. I’ve only just recently (September!) come to the U.S. having lived in the Middle East previously (Bahrain and then Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates). I’ve been “blogging” (in some form or another) since 2003 having started with Blogger, moving to Tripod’s blogging system, then Movable Type (and now I use a mixture of Movable Type, Vox and Twitter).
With Movable Type, I used to (with college now leaving me no free time) be an active member of the community having created several popular plugins for MT (a number of which have found their way into the core) as well as create The Style Contest/Archive and the new plugins directory.
What made you get into Movable Type?
It was after seeing a spot on the TechTV’s The Screen Saver’s show, a fabulous show that is now, unfortunately, off the air. At the time, I was using Blogger but when Movable Type was demoed, I was blown away and needed to get it installed immediately. Unfortunately, my host at the time wasn’t able to support it and it took significant effort to not only find a *free* host that supported MT but actually figure out the sparse installation instructions.
I look back fondly on those days, blogging and our community was significantly different. I remember there being so many blogs with MT tips and tricks and I’d spend countless hours tweaking my templates to include some little widget or doo-dah.
In those early days, Six Apart was critical in fostering my continued interest in MT, especially after the MT 3.0D debacle. I begun developing for MT by simply hacking code in the application (since I knew next to no Perl) and incessantly pestered anyone who was unfortunate enough to be online on AIM, namely Brad Choate, Jay Allen or Anil Dash! I owe a lot to the patience these guys showed (and still show today!). Looking back, I’m amazed, I’m not sure I’d have the patience to put up with myself!
Could you please tell the readers a bit about the Movable Type 3.0 circus, and how this hurt the community and brand? Do you think that whole mess hurt MT in the long run?
I’m not sure I’d describe it as a circus but more as a debacle. Prior to MT3, Movable Type was free for personal users but when Six Apart previewed MT 3 (under the name 3.0D for Developer’s Preview) they announced a change in licensing, namely charging personal as well as commercial users on a per-author, per-blog basis. To put it mildly, they came under heavy, heavy fire (when in fact, these licensing terms were based off numbers MT users had themselves reported through surveys Six Apart has solicited).
Many bloggers took this as a betrayal (I’m still fuzzy on this point since I have no problem paying for software that I use), a theme that is still perpetuated by Automattic, and jumped ship to WordPress.
I think the reason it gave rise to all the heated posts was because it came early in the “Web 2.0″ phase (I’m fairly sure before the phrase was coined) and I guess people weren’t used to paying for online services or products. Since then, it’s of course become common-place with people becoming easily forgiving over link spam issues and barely batting an eyelid when basic features such as the ability to edit your stylesheet has become a pay-for feature.
I recently hired you to write weekly Movable Type posts on The Blog Herald, as a sister feature to Lorelle VanFossen’s WordPress Wednesdays. What made you take this position?
One of the areas that WordPress trumps Movable Type is aggregating and highlighting activity within the community. The fact that no one in Movable Type land does the same gives many users the impression that our community is floundering and dying, which really could not be further from the truth.
So, to correct this mistaken perception, I decided to start writing Movable Type Mondays, in order to show people that while our community may not be nearly as large or as active as it once was (though with the release of MT 4, it’s certainly on the rebound) there is still a phenomenal amount of activity occurring.
Six Apart is branching out, with an ad network and Six Apart Services. What do you think of this development?
To be quite honest, I’m incredibly excited. I had tried to convey some of that excitement through my interview with Anil Dash but it seems to have gotten buried under a slew of posts claiming that Services will threaten smaller consultants, ironically, the majority of them coming from consultants who are least affected!
Jesse Gardner does a much better job of articulating why I am excited about Services with his post: i.e. it gives the MT engineering team direct knowledge of how MT plays out in the real world and this can only mean good things for the product!
I can certainly agree that it can be good to the product, having developers actually using it with clients, meeting needs in-house so to speak. However, I must also confess that it made me put off my plans for getting into Movable Type design (I’m doing WordPress design, among other things) since I know a lot of clients will look to the Six Apart Services offering first. They’re walking a fine line here, I think. Comparing this to the WordPress model, where the developers turn to the community (with Ideas and Kvetch besides actual discussions), I can’t help but think that it’s a better model. Do you think that’s an adequate comparison, and have you perhaps heard something reassuring for people like me?
Once again, I don’t think they’re walking a fine line here and some of the biggest names in the MT consultancy world agree with me:
- Will Six Apart’s New Design Services Eat My Business Alive?
- Six Apart adds ads and services
- Six Apart Deals Itself a New Hand
The amount of work Six Apart Services can take on will be limited, and there is more than enough work to go around.
Comparing it to the WordPress model, I’m not entirely familiar with it but looking at their top ideas, a number of them are only landing in WordPress after more than a year of being proposed, with many of the top ideas still not having been implemented:
- Idea: Customizable Dashboard (I think WP 2.5 got one step closer to this, but I still feel MT4′s dashboard from a year ago is still more customizable)
- Idea: Image Handling (Now available with WP 2.5 through a system that models MT’s almost identically – with a lightbox feature and buttons on the wysiwyg editor, quite remarkable innovation here!)
- Idea: Allow a customizable “error” page (Partly landed in one of the 2.3.x security releases)
That doesn’t strike me as a working model. Another criticism I have of the “Ideas” model is that it doesn’t really inspire any revolutionary ideas. Perhaps I just hold Six Apart to a higher standard but from time to time, I’d like to be wowed with features I didn’t even expect – like Apple does.
I gather that you prefer Movable Type to WordPress. Why is that?
For several reasons really. First off, I feel that Movable Type really is more powerful as both an application (the features and flexibility it offers in its templating and composition systems) as well as a platform (I’ve compared the APIs and the code and MT is unquestionably far superior). The frequent security and bug fix releases WP experiences is testament. Personally, I prefer quality over quantity.
More importantly though, especially as it can be argued that the two are almost level in terms of features, I’ve always preferred the community around Movable Type. Every time I’ve ventured into the WP community, I’ve been faced with a surprising amount of hostility and pettiness from both users and lead developer. For example, here is a recent thread that disturbed me, especially given my point about patience above. In fact, many a time, on a post about Movable Type, you will find hundreds of comments swearing fealty to WordPress and/or their lead developer, detracting from the post and making it a pointless circular discussion. In fact, even the lead developer is not above thinly-veiled attacks directed at competition and yet when competition responds, grossly overreacts.
Now, of course, I’m painting with broad strokes. I’ve been impressed with a number of things in WordPress and their community, but generally, I’ve been left with a bad taste.
Let the flame war begin!!! Seriously, I do agree with you that the WordPress developers are pushing new releases way too fast, given the amount of security releases and embarrassing bugs. Still, Movable Type 4 took way too long to get out there, didn’t it? How would the ideal release schedule look to you?
I’d rather not have this degenerate into a flame war. Your question about whether MT4 took too long is purely subjective. The beta test of MT4 almost a year after the last release. But for many months prior to the beta test, Six Apart had actively engaged the community to assess their expectations and desires.
I think the jump from MT3 to MT4 was one of the biggest of any blogging platforms we’ve ever seen (simply perusing the feature list when coupled with a re-architecturing of the code and interface, rather than simply recolouring it, verifies this). Had MT4 been released earlier, when it was less complete, I think it would have been less impressive and would not have drawn as many people back to the platform or sparked the excitement that it did.
To put it into perspective, the amount of time it took to go from MT 3.3 → MT 4.0 was approximately the amount of time it took to go from WP 2.2 → WP 2.5. You can be the judge of which one was the more impressive.
As a member pretty deep in the Movable Type community, how would you say that the open source release of MT have affected the users and community?
Undoubtedly for the better. For one thing, Six Apart has become significantly more open with the MT development process, with a semi-public bug tracker and a Subversion available from which members can checkout Movable Type for up-to-the-minute installs. In addition to this, community participation is at an all-time high. In fact, MT 4.15 contains a large number of important contributions from the community (including patching memory leaks and adding comment threading).
MTOS is still quite young. Six Apart has often come under criticism as the project has moved slower than many expected (for example, registration to gain access to the bug tracker is still tightly controlled) but the progress that has been made is still an incredibly achievement given the small size of the Movable Type Team. Either way, the future of MTOS is incredibly bright and I think the upcoming MT Day will play a vital role is molding the future of the product and the community.
Finally, where should people curious about Movable Type, especially the open source version, turn for more information, plugins, themes, and things like that?
MovableType.org is easily the best place for inform about MTOS and the community around it (including plugins). Along with other members in the community, I’m actively working on making information easier to find on that website.