Tim Appnel, one of the developers most familiar with Movable Type, provides some interesting perspective about MT 3 (Tim helped us architect and develop some of the things done at MarketingVox, where by the way I’m not active on a day-to-day basis anymore):
"Perhaps 3.0 isn’t deserving of the dot 0 label, but I could argue otherwise so its a grey area. The real problem is that the lack of updates to MT has created an anticipation that did not forsee or properly address through their communications in order to manage these expectations. It is here were the radio silence has been so damaging. I can only hope they see how damn important this is going forward and make it a priority and not an after thought as they have. They make a tool of collaboration and communication after all!"
I’m not an insider like him, but I think I can reverse-engineer what happened and not miss the mark entirely (feel free to contradict me):
- Sometime last year Six Apart, seeing the success of its largerly self-organized developer community, decided to focus on growing the platform side of MT, as opposed to its product side. I gather that decision took some time to be internalized and formalized, and in the meantime everyone was left hanging dry with the expectation of an MT Pro feature-driven release. This longer-term bet makes sense, especially for a multiple-seeking VC-funded business, plus it’s harder to catch up with an established platform as opposed to blogging software (yes, barriers to entry — new blogging tools seems to pop up every other week, and they’re rather competitive as it’s always easier from a clean slate, and it’s not like a blog CMS is rocket science).
- Scalability, availability and security are features. Just ask Microsoft, or closer to Six Apart, Blogger, which almost didn’t add any visible feature in two years (i.e. forever) but at the same time added hundreds of thousands of users. Typepad doesn’t have a free product so the numbers are an order of magnitude smaller, but still the service is successful which means you need to ramp it up. The benefit to the end-user is invisible until things break down (my girlfriend uses Typepad on a daily basis, so I’m aware of uptime or lack of). On that record Typepad has been running well, but there’s no doubt this required resources. Add a couple of roadbumps such as comment spamming, and you’re basically recoding the same software again and again to keep it working properly.
- Typepad was the main focus for a while, as it can generate cashflow more quickly. There was simply not much attention span available for MT.
- Hiring and ramping people up is very time consuming, and adding more developers to a project doesn’t shorten time to delivery.
Now that Six Apart belatedly came out of the closet (rediscovering – gasp! – weblogs in the process), some power users and developers are upset by the lack of communication and unexpected twist of events. To that I answer, come on, you could see it coming. Silence conveys meaning. Which doesn’t mean Six Apart shouldn’t have spoken out sooner, as customers and partners are not supposed to read tea leaves to understand your direction, but let’s not be disingenuous with faked surprise either.
Notice that Joi Ito is also involved in Technorati, another blog tool faced with scalability challenges but ultimately having more potential for its API than as a destination by itself. Apart from the lapse in communication, Six Apart did the right thing from a long-term perspective, but now they need to flawlessly execute a channel and ISV strategy (and the MT 3 plugin support had better deliver!), or they’ll have momentum sucked out of their lungs. Were that to happen, the likely outcome is for MT to move to the sidelines while Typepad is where the action happens, as it seems is already the case with the distribution/localization deals outside of the US. The company could succeed in that configuration, though that would be a historical turn of events for its founders and users.
If MT can be expanded with rich plugins (many of the current plugins are really just a bunch of PERL regular expressions wrapped as a macro to execute simple operations — not that there’s anything wrong with that), they’ll end up beating the competition on the very feature front where they are currently disappointing their fans. Userland tried to play that role on top of Radio but that was too arcane to catch up (simple things being hard to do). I don’t know if anyone else is really trying but for some .NET developers here in there.
05/13/04 update: MT 3.0 Developer Edition, contest, network, Tim Appnel’s article at O’Reilly.