Five Things MovableType Learned from Bilbo Baggins

Movable Type announced today that Movable Type 4 would be open source. This is obviously a retreat on their move to a closed model back in Movable Type 3. If you recall, MT 3 came under a tremendous amount of fire for moving away from the “free” model and created a side effect of moving WordPress into the role of most popular blogging software. They have continued to be under fire and the pressure has finally mounted to the point where Movable Type 4 will be open source again.

Of course, Bilbo Baggins, the hero of The Hobbit learned some pivotal lessons in his trooping around Middle Earth – lessons that the fine folks at SixApart have also apparently learned on their sojourn.

  • “There and Back Again” was the name of Bilbo’s memoirs upon his return from finding the ring and seizing great dragon treasure. He was completing his memoirs as we take up the start of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit was supposedly Tolkien’s translation of Bilbo’s writings. The thing is that now that MT has gone from free to paid to free again. Unfortunately, they still haven’t gotten the clue and are charging for the GPL code. Stay tuned as I may host the thing for free here at Technosailor just for people who don’t want to pay the price.
  • Despite adventures, it is still old and worn out. Yes, even though Movable Type has ventured outside of the shire, climbed mountains, ran through forests, rode on the backs of eagles and wielded an Elven sword against a ravenous beast spider, in the end it is still written on Perl and includes much of the difficulty in implementing that its predecessors have had. Fortunately, the Berkeley DB system is no longer supported so hats off for that.
  • You may have the ring, but at some point you passed it on to Frodo. WordPress bypassed MT as the blog software of choice quite awhile ago. It is an unmistakable trend to use WordPress to power blogs these days. MT may be the great grand daddy of blogging software, but the ring has been passed on to the upstart and the upstarts adventure is far more compelling. Besides, who really wants to hang out with 13 dwarves anyway?
  • You can climb in a barrel and float down the river, but that doesn’t make you fine Elven Wine. Remember when the wood elves had captured Bilbo and friends and the only way to get away was to climb inside the wine barrels and float down the river? It may come as a surprise to you, but Bilbo was never a fine Cabernet. It got him out of trouble for the moment, but only for a moment. Likewise, this move back to GPL doesn’t really do anything for SixApart from my perspective. My perception is that they are escaping the public criticism but they are not truly changing their ways. They will still be in trouble longterm, but they do escape the quick demise by crawling in the barrel and floating downstream.
  • It will take more than Gandalf the Grey to get out of danger. Bilbo had tremendous benefits by having some very big people on his team. Gandalf was inevitably the most important. But even the point hatted wizard couldn’t help Bilbo all the time. Likewise, Sixapart may continue to enjoy great success among some big players, but the model will always continue to drive folks toward WordPress and other free software platforms. No amount of wizardry can change this.

Published by

Aaron Brazell

Aaron Brazell is a Baltimore, MD-based WordPress developer, a co-founder at WP Engine, WordPress core contributor and author. He wrote the book WordPress Bible and has been publishing on the web since 2000. You can follow him on Twitter, on his personal blog and view his photography at The Aperture Filter.

20 thoughts on “Five Things MovableType Learned from Bilbo Baggins”

  1. You don’t think you were a little hard on MT were you? The new design is nice, and the fact that they are learning from their mistake is a great sign. I don’t think they are running for being the number one blogging software anymore, and they will be seen as silly if they try, but this should help them move towards being a strong number two, and will bring back the WP vs MT conversations of yesteryear.

  2. Aaron, another masterpiece! I am glad to know that you like Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit in addition to WordPress. Let’s hope the attempted comeback of MT would propel WP to a greater height.

  3. I started blogging on WordPress because it was free, making me thing I was just a cheapskate. But having read this, I realize now that I did it because I was an elite uber-nerd under the influence of old J.R.R. Awesome. Thanks for clearing that up for me!

    Seriously, awesome post. My only criticism is that you didn’t work Gollum in. Something about “My precious” and moving away from the free model would have been killer-sweet. I’m talking instant geek-wood.

  4. I admire the literary references here, but I think you’re ignoring the fact that we run LiveJournal, which has always been the largest open source blogging platform, and that we have *4* products, which overall dwarf the number of users of any other independent player, and in reality have more users than even big players like Yahoo or AOL. I’m all for making clever comparisons, but at least make them apples-to-apples.

    In short, we provide more people with more free blogs and blogging software (in both the Beer and Speech) sense than anybody. I know that certain insular corners of the tech world don’t see that, but with a little bit of perspective, it’s pretty obvious.

  5. Anil, I’m convinced you and I will never see eye to eye. That’s quite okay. You’re missing the forest through the trees here. I wasn’t talking about SA. I was talking about MT. Therefore, LiveJournal, Vox, Typepad – none of them apply to this conversation and I didn’t try to make any comparisons there. I said Movable Type. And I compared it to WordPress, not WordPress.com.

    Truth is, you know that you failed in MovableType by moving to a paid model. The historical evidence proves that. WordPress slaughtered MovableType after MT3. The vibe I get in the blogosphere is that this move is simply a last ditch effort to appeal to grassroots, to get your MT software on the radar as a viable competitor. If you take a step back, I think you’d agree that that is not flamebait but pretty obvious. I don’t think it’s wrong either. SA had to do something with MT and I think this is the right move. However, the motives are pretty obvious – at least from this end.

    Thanks for stopping by, my man. Cheers.

  6. Thank you for the mention. I’m quite sure that MT doesn’t hold a candle to WordPress as that’s what I use for writing now. My young nephew Frodo even is able to set it up and that’s saying something.

  7. “WordPress slaughtered MovableType after MT3.”

    Well, see, this is where it gets into a stupid assumption that this is a zero-sum game. MT is growing rapidly, has tons of users, is backed by a healthy community and an equally healthy company. It powers many of the most popular blogs and blog networks out there, and dominates in enterprise and business blogging, which is one of the fastest-growing areas of blogging.

    Either I just don’t know what the word “slaughtered” means, or you’re foolishly thinking someone has to “lose” for someone else to win. Look, people probably wrongly thought that “MT slaughtered Blogger” back in 2002, but I’m good friends with the team behind Blogger and they don’t seem to bear any ill will. So perhaps your perspective is distorted.

  8. Silly me to assume that market share is a quality metric. I apologize for such assumptions that generally play out in any other business in the world.

    There’s no ill will here, Anil. In fact, I’m surprised you’ve assumed this was personal. Considering I’ve yet to meet you. One day, we’ll have a beer. It’s not personal.

  9. How about a Alexa or Google trends ….. Anil ??? They show that WordPress is far ahead of MT , LJ, TP or Vox …. even if you combined the 4 …. Why is it soo hard to admit that you guys made the big mistake with MT. MT is going no were at least for the next 2-3 years. You guys screwed your own users a long time back and your users ditched you. I bet if people are using MT etc its because they don’t know abt WordPress.

  10. Aaron, we all agree that competition is good for end users. Let MoveableType be “there and back again.” As good as WordPress is, it leaves a lot to be desired. Hopefully WordPress developers will be more open-minded and work even harder.

  11. Finally a competent blogging system in Perl is what I say. I don’t accept WordPress unless on a dedicated server. It’s like publishing your root password on your blog. I know it’s technically not PHP’s fault, but that language is like a clone of what Perl was ten years ago. Things has developed since.

  12. wow, 6apart exec talks about freedom of speech… LOL

    Anil, talking about freedom in LJ… why you don’t tell to public how your company treats 2nd largest community in Livejournal, I mean us, Russians? why you didn’t pull out your dirty story of selling RUssians back to Russian SUP-Fabrik company http://www.wired.com/print/politics/onlinerights/news/2006/11/72060 ? Even after huge standout and protests, you were chilling out and later starting to do dirty staff again and again, with recent political censorship of russian NBP party (yes, they _are_ dick heads, but that is not an excuse for censorship) which was hidden under 500+ accounts being deleted under excuse of fight with pedophilia? oh, you probably never heard about that from your vice-president chair, you “know” only positive crap for PR… should I tell you where is news.google.com ? LOL

    Anil, please, please, talk whatever you like – licenses, community penetration, massive blog coverage and any other business BS… but NOT a freedom – freedom is only limited option at LJ, and you must prove opposite in a face of facts

  13. I don’t use MT or WP these days, but it seems to me that the appropriate measure for the success of any SixApart decision about MT is contained within SixApart’s revenue stream. Presumably, as a business, their decisions are intended to increase revenue and profit. If MT4 allows them to do that, why should they care how many people use WP? It’s not like anyone has a chance of selling anything to people who have amply demonstrated that they have no intention of actually buying blogging software.

    Anil is right. IT media like to frame stories as fight-to-the-death battles between competitors, when that’s usually far from the truth. For example, we still see stories about Apple trying to conquer Microsoft. That’s not going to happen, and Apple — a $100 billion company — seems to be doing just fine. Likewise, if MT is a successful product from SixApart’s point of view, that’s all that counts.

    Bloggers ought be clever enough to avoid being sucked up in the rest of the media’s distortion field.

  14. MT going GPL is a very good thing. The competition is open, and users can only benefit. If MT4 is going to be better, more feature-rich, or whatever, I’ll gladly switch (back) to MT. We should support companies that adopt the GPL.

  15. MT going GPL is most definitely a good thing. Not arguing that. It’s good for consumers. It may be too little too late for SA and thats all I am saying.

  16. I’ve used both WP and MT extensively, for both my own site and a company site. I have spent hours, days and months tweaking templates and stylesheets to make them do what I need. When my job stuck me with a pseudo-webhost that wouldn’t support outside CGI scripts, I was forced to use WP, and it became a giant headache.

    Try using WP to run a site with multiple blogs covering different topics, and you cannot do it. When I did it under MT, it was a breeze. Need to create a new blog in MT? A few clicks and it’s done. With WP, not happening. Yes I tried using WP categories, and they’re horrible, practically useless except for the most basic of uses. Yeah I tried all kinds of WP plugins and PHP tricks for categories. It’s still third rate.

    People may love WordPress starting out. True, it’s simple to set up, and there are many themes and plugins. But try to grow your site bigger with it, and eventually you might feel painted into a corner.

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