Movable Type 3.0 Developer Edition, much ado about nothing?

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One thing I've learned over the years, especially in the corporate world and even more in the blogosphere, is that when tempted to rant about something or flaming someone, one should wait and digest the facts rather than go up in arms instantly. Possibly the best advice I got from a colleague about that, when I can't wait, is to start writing right away the "How dare you, you little piece of..." then take a deep breath and rewrite in a "Dear colleague, thanks for your valuable input..." style.

It seems that Six Apart's announcement of Movable Type 3.0 Developer Edition exemplifies admirably this overreaction problem that many have, and that goes out of control thanks to the echo chamber amplification from TrackBacks on steroids.

Two days after this announcement, some sensible, constructive comments are starting to emerge from the wolves cries, from people who have taken the time to digest the news and understand what's really going on here:

  1. MT3.0D is a developer edition. Most of the changes done in this version are related to the core engine and its API and will be invisible to the end-user until developers start to leverage it. Jay Allen, the developer of MT-Blacklist, nails it very well. Six Apart is turning MT into a development platform and for that, it needs developers. And for developers to start developing plugins, they need a development platform. Chicken and egg... If you're not a developer and MT2.661 satisfies your current needs, why rushing for a version that's not for you? Wait until this platform starts showing some new benefits, they will come, along with a feature release, probably MT 3.1.
  2. Six Apart is a growing business. It's really amazing to see, still now, so many people who think that MT is a freeware -- some even believe it's an open source software! -- written by two cute bunnies called Ben and Mena who will work day and night to satisfy their wildest desiderata. Well, the reality is that the 40 or so employees of Six Apart cannot support everybody for free while fighting to establish themselves as a leader in their field, and a pretty competitive one indeed. It's also a start-up that needs time to manage its growth and start stabilizing its business.
  3. Six Apart addresses very different users with different products. Almost a year ago, I did a little analysis on how Six Apart is building a weblog empire, which I think remains valid (including the MT Pro bit although under a different form). Individual users are served through MT 2.661, the free MT 3.0 and TypePad. Power users and developers are served with MT 3.0. Companies are served with TypePad, MT 3.0 and special licensing deals negotiated on a case by case basis. It seems to me that most individual bloggers have forgotten that, notably those who describe the new license as more restrictive, while business users (including developers) will find it less restrictive than the previous one.

Does this mean Six Apart did everything right? No. The padawan realizes that he still spends infinitely more time learning from his and others mistakes than giving lessons to anyone, but here are the few things I humbly think Six Apart could have done better:

  • Never raise your customers expectations if you are not going to deliver soon (aka: under-promise, over-deliver.) This lesson I've learned at Apple when Jobs came back and stopped the bad habit of the company to pre-announce products a long, long time in advance, disappointing everyone and their dog who then had plenty of time to fantasize over a dream in their head that would never match what was eventually delivered (if delivered at all). Six Apart should not have raised our expectations with two things: the promise that MT would remain both free and on pair with TypePad, and Movable Type Pro (which I feel entitled to call a vaporware for now).
  • Don't copy/paste broken business models. The license published on May 13 did contain a restriction that MT should be used solely on a mono-processor server (note: the revision done on the 15th has removed this restriction.) As a business buyer, I've always been reluctant to such restrictions, which are more typical of high-end databases than weblog software. I do not accept to pay for variables that are purely linked to my own performance (e.g. optimization of server resources) but I'm definitely willing to pay for concrete work done by a supplier (a license and maintenance fee for software development and upgrades, a support fee for support, etc.) -- the only variable that I can accept to be based purely on my sole performance is called a bonus pay!
  • Don't mix all your audiences together. This one is tricky, precisely because of the weblog-centric nature of Six Apart. I don't think that they are bad at communicating with their users, as some have written here or there, but that their weblog makes it difficult to address different audiences specifically. IMHO, all their sites could benefit from a little information re-architecture to paint the picture distinctly to the individuals, the developers, the business users -- this might be a little controversial, but I'm on both sides and I can see that "L'Internationale de la blogosphère" is not ready to fly yet, i.e. you don't sell the same concepts and dreams in the same terms to "free lunch Joe Blogger" and to the BBC's CIO. Or may be I'm completely wrong, may be the CIOs are more mature and that's those individual bloggers who aren't getting it ;-).
  • Granularity is important. The price list has figures with two to four digits (including the one that some corporate users got to see). Six Apart chose to index the price on two variables: the number of authors and the number of weblogs. I think the present model is not granular enough, too steep for individuals (I'm already using four weblogs and two authors to run this web site because of MT's present limitations!) and lacking clarity and flexibility for the high end corporate user. It could benefit from being clearly split in three: a limited but free version for individual/personal use, a flat-fee unlimited version under $70 for the personal use of power-users (like Jason Kottke suggests) and a granular price list for business users that should do a better job at explaining the options, notably in terms of support.

Now what?

Six Apart is listening and has already responded to many legitimate questions: expanding the free version limits, adding cheaper personal options, clarifying the notion of web site vs. weblog, removing the server processor limit, confirming the terms of the 2.661 license.

I think now that it is time to watch those for whom this version of MT is meant: the developers. For they are those who will make the difference between MT and other weblog software. As a technologist it is my role to evaluate different tools on an ongoing basis, in order to know a market and pick the best options for my company. And I would find it foolish to ditch MT altogether at a time where it's clearly opening new possibilities!

Now if only I could retrieve that second MT Key I got for my $45...