Back in the day, when blogging was still pretty much in its infancy, Six Apart launched a (relatively) easy to install and customize standalone blogging platform called Movable Type.
Movable Type was developed by Mena and Ben Trott and, back in 2002, it was about as good as you could get to having your own CMS platform publishing your website. It didn’t take long for Movable Type to corner the market with independent/tech savvy bloggers and site owners.
As Movable Type grew in popularity and, sort of by default, became the preeminent blogging platform at the time, it was pretty well known it was by no means perfect. The core of the engine itself was written in Perl, which is a high level program language and not all that efficient (Perl requires CGI scripting to function). To publish a new blog post, or even to edit an existing post, Movable Type, as absurd as it sounds, had to rebuild every single post on your site. Not only was it an extremely time consuming process, which for obvious reasons only got worse as your site grew, it was an incredibly inefficient use of resources. Still, it had a strong community of citizen journalists committed to using it and everyone just assumed that at some point these issues would be resolved. Well, for the most part…they weren’t.
As Six Apart watched their blogging platform explode in popularity they quickly found themselves in the position of having to make a decision on the future of the company. What no one could have predicted at the time was that this decision would ultimately lead to the demise of Movable Type.
What was the decision? Six Apart decided to circle their wagons, keep their source closed and create an extremely convoluted and hard to understand pricing structure that would charge all users. Needless to say this backfired. Suddenly the community that had supported Movable Type and, understandably, considered themselves partially responsible for its success, felt extremely betrayed. And Six Apart, who had been the darlings of the dance suddenly found themselves reeling from all the negative feedback springing up.
This posting on Slashdot from 2004 turned out to not only be concise, but also prophetic.
“An immensely popular weblog publishing tool, Movable Type, has announced a new pricing model based on “support level, number of authors permitted, and the number of weblogs permitted per license”. MT3D (Developer Edition) for non-commercial users has drifted away from its full-featured, free predecessor and managed to upset many blog authors whose entry summaries can be seen via the trackback feature originating from the initial MT3D announcement. Is this a case of bait-n-switch, or simply a company trying to capitalize on its dominant market share? WordPress (GPL), which is an equally powerful CMS, seems like a perfect candidate for those who are considering a switch to a non-crippled, free alternative.”
And therein lies the rub. Just as Six Apart was clamping down on their code and trying desperately to monetize their product, WordPress was just appearing on the blogging scene. What was so special about WordPress? It was completely Open Source and it was completely free. Six Apart eventually backed down on their pricing structure and continued to offer a free version of Movable Type (that came along with a number of caveats). It was too late though, the damage had already been done.
At the very moment Six Apart was busy alienating its users, WordPress was busy welcoming them into the fold. At that time WordPress was mere blip on the CMS/blog publishing platform radar but that would begin to change rapidly. By maintaining its Open Source stance and inviting people to not only help develop the product but to create plugins and themes to help customize their sites, WordPress eventually put Movable Type on its back.
Remember when I said Movable Type was “relatively” easy to install and customize? Well that was pretty subjective. You needed to be pretty tech savvy to install Movable Type on your own and even then it could take an hour or two to setup, if there were no mistakes. In fact, a major part of their revenue platform was offering to charge you $199.95 just to install Movable Type. Imagine how frustrated you would have to be trying to install a blogging platform to be willing to pay $200 bucks just to get it installed. Part of the genius of WordPress was their Famous 5-Minute Install. That was the hook, and it worked. Compared to Movable Type WordPress was a hundred times more user friendly to the common user.
In the summer of 2007 Six Apart announced the “Movable Type Open Source Project, a move that will see the release of an open source version of Movable Type in Q3 of this year”. By then it was way too late. WordPress had already handily surpassed Movable Type as the blogging/CMS platform of choice and had an extremly large and vibrant community continuing to grow and improve it.
From the outside, it seems that much of Six Apart’s so called success with their Movable Type platform has been with posturing and corporate deals with business people, who were either ill-informed or weren’t tech savvy enough to know any better, as opposed to any kind of innovation. It’s like the parable of the tortoise and the hare only much geekier.
All of this leads us to Six Apart’s announcement (read: concession) today at WordCamp Mid-Atlantic. Anil Dash, Six Apart’s longtime evangelist, made the announcement that Six Apart has launched a a plugin that provides WordPress users with access to a suite of Six Apart’s add-on features for blogs.
To put this in perspective, this would be sort of like the Yankees announcing that they were renting out their farm system and practice facilities to the Boston Red Sox.
TechCrunch points out that just last year the two companies were going at each other quite publicly and now Six Apart is developing products for WordPress users.
Dash says that this move represents “baby steps” in Six Apart’s tentative first efforts to provide a suite of features and functionality to WordPress users. This a big deal, considering the long standing rivalry between the two blogging platforms. Last year, the two companies had a heated duel via company blog posts, Twitter and in TechCrunch comments.
My initial reaction is that it’s probably too little too late. Much of what Six Apart is offering overlaps what WordPress already provides which seems counterintuitive. And, possibly more to the point, I believe there are probably still quite a few old school bloggers that remember how they were treated by Six Apart (Movable Type) when they were on top and aren’t exactly knocking each other down to start using their product again, even if it is as a WordPress tool.