Betting on the right horse at Six Apart?

Russ is launching a bet on how much Six Apart will sell out, taking About.com as an example to figure out that the NYT bought their blogs at $820,000 apiece. I think that the number of blogs is not the relevant metric here. For ad-driven and many other Internet business models, the traffic is. When what you're selling are ads (e.g. Google), what your clients want are eyeballs and what you show them are page views and click-through figures. I've seen one analyst opinion somewhere (can't find the link back) who estimated that the main reason Google was able to present improved traffic figures in 2004 was because they bought Blogger and aggregated its traffic to google.com.

Six Apart's acquisition of LiveJournal improves their position in the "We've got eyeballs" field, and that might be the other reason I was sniffing back in the time.

This leads me to the question: what's going on with Movable Type? MT doesn't fit in the eyeballs equation, and although it's still a leading product in its category, there have been months without any significant improvement apart from a few security fixes. Some long standing bugs (internationalization and UTF-8 issues notably) are not fixed and TrackBacks management remains an embarrassment. Nothing really exciting brews on the ProNet list and the word innovation has not even been murmured there for quite some time (actually only twice in the 4MB of archives I've just downloaded, and that's because of a quote of the only actual occurrence). The latest big news about MT was the redesign of movabletype.org. Nice to know it's entirely driven by MT, would you care to share how you did it? And would you care to share some clues about the product's future with paying customers? The more I venture with Movable Type on corporate blogging, the more I'm anxious about the issues I'm facing or foreseeing, and my last exchange with the MT luminaries (none of them from 6A I must admit) didn't help to reassure me on the fate of MT as a scalable blog farm (I thought I'd never use that word on my blog, but in this context it means that I don't wake up sweating in the middle of the night for the fear that tomorrow I'll have tens of requests for new blogs to process by hand, one by one).

Or is it time to forget about Movable Type and focus on TypePad? Indeed, this is the one that gets all the attention (e.g. WYSIWYG instead of WYSIFUC, drag-n-drop template customization, automatic and self-service user provisioning) and innovation, in particular its moblogging features. Not a hazard nor a mistake, mind you, as "connectable" mobile phones outsell PCs by an order of magnitude and most of the people who will connect to the internet for the first time in the near future will do so from a mobile device of some sorts. Droves of happy Nokia users will click on that "LifeBlog" button to share a picture with their friends or just archive it, and that will become a subscription option on all operators plans in no time. Six Apart has another business opportunity that they are well aware of and exploiting already.

If only they'd let me install TypePad behind my firewall...

Update: I received some good vibes from Six Apart telling me that I should be pleased by the forthcoming news about Movable Type (actually, I'll be pleased by deliverables). And today, Six Apart pointed to a third-party Lifeblog implementation for MT (ironically enough, this guy made the API because he was frustrated by the fact that MT lags behind TypePad, one of my main points in this post).

5 Comments

Hi François, I just wanted to make sure you knew that we'd read your post and that I think we've got some good answers for you, we just wanted to take the time to answer this well for *everyone*, not just you, and I know Jay is very excited to get to respond as well, too.

Damn, Anil, you better have some good news. MT has been all but ignored by SA basically since the licensing debacle. You've basically used the excuse "it's extensible with plugins" to justify doing essentially nothing with the product and pouring all the innovation into Typepad.

We've launched dynamic publishing, subcategories, professional support, an advanced knowledge base, a professional network with job leads for MT experts, a help ticket system, a comprehensive document about the entire comment spam issue, and really fast and responsive answers to security issues that we communicated to our user base about.

In addition, I've personally been working with a large number of our plugin developers to grow their applications into professional-grade, reliable solutions. As MT moves into more and broader audiences, being able to address specific niche needs with plugins is absolutely part of our strategy. We'd prefer to have the momentum around MT benefit everyone in the community, not just us, so we've invested a lot of effort into the plugin community, which is the *opposite* of "doing essentially nothing".

It's unfair to say that Six Apart did "essentially nothing" and that was not my point.

IMHO, one problem is the subjective perception that MT development is stalled while TypePad continues to evolve. Right now, I think it's fair to say that TypePad is more advanced than MT (notably in the UI, moblogging features and author management). But the MT community seems to think of itself as power users, and they can perceive this shift of 6A's attention (from MT to TypePad) negatively. Another subjective perception is that improvements brought by plugins are not perceived as favorably as built-in features. I think people are expecting upgrades to MT more than tons of plugins, especially considering the price of the base product (it's even a bigger problem for a corporation where the 'single vendor' approach is privileged) and the (more or less rightfully) perceived quality of the third-parties plugins (and here Anil can be granted for his work to improve that quality).

There are other points I think need to be developed, I guess the subject deserves a follow-up post to keep it constructive.

No, Francois, the "essentially nothing" was my statment, not yours.

You're right, Anil, about the things you've done to improve the ability of SA to support MT. Things like the ticket system have worked very well. But Francois is right about the subjective perception of your reliance on third-party plugin writers to enhance your product in lieu of real--and really supported--improvements to it. It certainly hasn't been made clear that plugins represent the strategic roadmap for MT, or even the a significant part of it. A trivial example: it's depressing when something like Amazon wishlists gets added casually and elegantly to Typepad, while MT users have to slog through combinations of abandoned (MT-Amazon) and intermittently supported (BookQueueToo) plugins to get the same.

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