Movable Type 3.0 Reviewed

Movable Type is, in many ways, the Cinderella story of the Blogosphere. When Ben Trott's wife, Mina, complained that there wasn't a content management program out there to manage her online journal the way she wanted, the two set out to build it. The result was one of the most popular and versatile blog programs around. Those who have enough of Blogger's accessible but limited interface tend to switch to Movable Type; the transfer is seen by many as a blog's coming of age. Ben and Mina Trott were lionized and the story of the little content management software born in their bedroom office became the stuff of legend.

Since then, the company that Ben and Mina founded, Six Apart has grown to a payroll of about 22 and a revenue stream of a decent high tech company. However, the company has not grown far from its seat-of-the-pants roots, as witnessed by the recent trouble and controversy that has been raised around the latest version of Movable Type, 3.0. The new workers, and the need to upgrade Movable Type into a program that can really take on the commercial market pushed this release, which gives users very little in new features, but which sets up plenty of opportunities for new add-ons and plugins, and which establishes a more commercially-minded licensing structure.

The Movable Type community, brash, bold, and very, very used to the donation-driven product that their blogs had grown up around, freaked.

Movable Type version 3.0 attatches limitations on how many blogs a single installation can run and how many authors can write for them. In the case of the unsupported personal version of the program (which is still free), the installation can run only three separate blogs and contain only one author (although something, perhaps the fact that I donated to Movable Type before, allows me to keep more than one author on this particular installation). The paid personal edition of the program sells for an introductory price of $69.95 and limits you to five weblogs and five authors. Commercial editions (which you are supposed to get if you use Movable Type for any money making enterprise) run in the range of $200 or more and still limit you to 20 authors and 15 active weblogs. You can add on additional authors and weblogs for a small extra fee.

Since this announcement, Six Apart have changed the pricing plan to make the personal edition more reasonable and the payment options more flexible. This suggests to me that Six Apart is still very much a small company making honest mistakes as it leaps to the big leagues. The response to Six Apart's errors by the Movable Type community has been swift and, at times, brutal, but many have respected the Trott's willingness to try to set things right.

This website is now running MovableType 3.0, although I have not upgraded Vividpieces, Spiritbookword, Dopplegangland or the sites under Clarksbury from version 2.661. How do I like it?

The installation process is as scary as usually is for Movable Type, as it requires you to fiddle around with ftp permissions and be extra sure that you've installed the correct cgi programs in the correct directory. That said, I followed the instructions and it all worked. I am also pleased to say that the plugins I installed in version 2.661 worked without modification in version 3.0. I'm still typing this post using Textile formatting and the smilies and macros still work. Version 3.0 appears to make the creation and installation of plugins easier and more trouble free, so it appears that any plugin that works with version 2.661 will work with version 3.0.

Movable Type version 3.0 features a number of cosmetic changes. The interface uses CSS and is more compliant with web standards, meaning that it displays better on all browsers. The new look is nice but not really a pressing issue, here. All of the features appear to work, and the folks at Movable Type have given us the ability to browse comments and trackback pings a lot more conveniently.

By far, however, the biggest improvement to Movable Type 3.0; indeed, possibly the only new feature that matters, is its enhanced comment management. The new version allows you to accept comments as before, or moderate them in order to kick out comment spam before it goes onto your website. It also allows you to vet comments further, by giving you the option of having your commentators sign in through Typekey, a sort of global "I'm okay" registry for Movable Type users. The instructions on how to handle Typekey comments are not exactly clear, and as moderation and other plugins such as MTCloseComments still work to keep my website free of comment spam, I'll be waiting a while before I activate this feature (it should be noted that MTBlacklist, the plugin that many users turned to earlier this year, is not recommended by the author for version 3.0. He feels that MT's improvements are sufficient and that his plugin is no longer necessary).

Users of Movable Type version 2.661 may find little reason to upgrade to version 3.0 -- even the folks at Six Apart acknowledge this. Version 2.661 is an exceptionally stable and robust program, and key plugins fix many of the problems that were serious issues earlier this year. The old licensing agreements for version 2.661 also hold, and Six Apart is not requiring that all users upgrade to version 3.0.

The changes in 3.0 are more about making Movable Type easier to commercialize, both by installing its new licensing program, and through the possibility of allowing the authors of plugins to charge for their own work. Ben and Mina Trott are struggling to balance the demands of their many users for an inexpensive and accessible product with the plans to take Movable Type deep into the realm of commercial content management. It is up to you to decide to go along for the ride. Assuming that Ben and Mina find a price that most users deem to be fair, dedicated users of Movable Type will probably see no problem in paying for the product. On the other hand, large but non-commercial users such as non-profit organizations might do well to stick to Movable Type 2.661, or even consider switching to free competitors like the developing WordPress.

Either way, there's a sea change going on within one of the larger communities within the blogosphere, and the next few weeks will make for fascinating viewing among technogeeky blog watchers.

Further Reading

Jay Allen, the author of MT Blacklist (who warns MT 3.0 users not to use his plugin) has an excellent assessment of where MovableType is and where it is going.

Brad Choate offers his own, level-headed, "wait and see" advice.

blog comments powered by Disqus