Tue 25 Apr
From time to time I get emails from readers asking some variant of the question, “What did you use to make your blog?” The answer is Movable Type, a very capable publishing tool to which I owe a great debt; without it, I’m not sure I would have written the hundreds of posts I have, probably remaining instead just a frustrated design and technology writer of dubious talent, wrestling with the limitations of Blogger. For publishing power relative to what was available even just five years ago for much, much more money, Movable Type offers a tremendous and compelling value.
Those questions are often followed up with, “Do you recommend that I use Movable Type, too?” That’s a little trickier, but honestly, I think I’ve come to the point now where I’d have to answer, no, I wouldn’t recommend Movable Type to new bloggers. Instead, I would recommend WordPress, very similar software that’s marked by a few key differences: it’s open source, which means it’s free; it’s PHP-based (versus CGI and PERL-based, like Movable Type), which means it’s technologically easy to modify; and it’s clearly the publishing tool of the moment.
It’s sad to say this, but Movable Type and its publisher Six Apart have lost that moment in the spotlight that they possessed just three or four short years ago. I won’t speculate on what happened, other than it’s a sign of how little the blogging industry has grown in spite of how phenomenally it’s grown, too. There’s been a proliferation of new blogs, of course, but they’ve been brought to bear based on a wide variety of competing systems like Blogger, Six Apart’s own Typepad, and a dozen or so others, many of them hosted solutions. There still isn᾿t a clear winner in the marketplace, a runaway hit that’s categorically left the others in the dust.
In 2003, I would have bet that winner would have been Movable Type, and if you aggregate its users with those of Typepad and its other sister products, I bet you could make a convincing case that they are in fact the market leader. But the blogosphere is a funny place, and in spite of numerical metrics, it’s so clear that WordPress has caught the popular imagination of the most interesting bloggers out there — and that of the many of the new, ill-conceived but unrelenting wave of new bloggers publishing for the first time every day, too. I can᾿t tell you how many times I’ve seen barely altered variants on Kubrick, WordPress᾿s wildly popular out-of-the-box template, in the past six months, and how few times I recall coming across one of Movable Type’s many stock templates.
What᾿s more, the WordPress user community seems robust and enthusiastic in a way that Movable Type used to, but does no longer. When I went hunting for Movable Type plug-ins to remedy my comment spam problem, I was shocked how many of them had mothballed their Movable Type projects, declaring instead that they᾿d become WordPress developers. That’s a quietly damning turn of events.
For myself, I like Movable Type a lot, still, but mostly because I know it so well. I may eventually trade it in for a new publishing system — I’d be more than happy to use something much faster, more responsive and modern-feeling — but for now, I’m not convinced that a move to WordPress will yield enough benefits to make the learning curve worthwhile for me. Besides, this is just a hunch, but it feels nearly as if WordPress has begun to crest as well. The time feels right for a new kind of blog publishing tool, one that takes a quantum leap ahead of these two basically comparable software packages. If there’s one truism about the blogosphere, it’s that the definition of what a blog is remains under constant, turbulent change, and its tools will inevitably reflect that.