October 27, 2012, 8:00 AM —
Last week I was invited by Six Apart to attend a Movable Type conference in Manhattan. If you're not familiar with the software, Movable Type is a blogging platform turned CMS which was once a major player in the US market. After a lengthy toe-to-toe battle with Wordpress, one which they lost, Movable Type slowly faded away.
This left MT users, including major media outlets like the Gawker network and Conde Nast, in a tough position. While the platform has its strengths, nobody wants to rely on unsupported software that is no longer being developed for their business. Even worse, the shutdown of the platform came soon after the release of MT5 which felt unfinished and buggy at launch. Aside from some minor security patches to MT5 the software has largely been sitting idle since January 2010. Plugin development ceased, support vendors fled, it was a swift abandonment.
On September 22, 2010 Six Apart merged with VideoEgg to form SAY Media. On January 21, 2011 SAY Media announced that they would be selling the Six Apart and Movable Type brands to the Japanese tech company, Infocom. While this was the start of something big in Japan, this marked the death of Movable Type as a viable blog or CMS option in the United States.
Six Apart, now headquartered in Tokyo after the sale to Infocom, began a massive push to market in the Japanese commercial sector. In fact, over 50,000 commercial sites are powered by MT in Japan at the time of this writing. This birthed an entirely new market of MT support vendors, developers, and web hosts based around Movable Type in Japan. As an example, one of the presenters at the conference, Genova, which specializes in dentist websites, created, manages, and hosts over 11,000 Movable Type sites.
After a two year hiatus, Movable Type is ready to begin its attempt at a revival in the US following their success in Japan. On September 26th, 2012 they released MT5.2, the first notable update since MT5. They are also working on translating over 100 modern Japanese plugins into English for use in the United States. During the conference they unveiled and launched 40 of these new plugins to the US market in an effort to show that they're serious about making progress. In attendance was the CEO of Six Apart, Nobuhiro Seki, as well as a Six Apart team consisting of their corporate product officer, marketing manager, lead engineer, CTO, and US VP of sales. They were all happy to discuss their business plans and were eager to get feedback and suggestions pertaining to the US market and Movable Type.
Their primary strategy seems to cater to higher end enterprise clients rather than individuals and smaller businesses. Six Apart is also focusing on rebuilding a development and support network in the US by establishing a new tiered partner program. Premier Partners and Pro Network Members will be featured on the Movable Type website and will be funneled leads by Movable Type itself in addition to being offered commissions on MT Enterprise licences. By building an attractive partner program, MT hopes to rebuild the US support network and start getting development shops to put their clients into MT installations once again.
Too little, too late?
The big question is, will it work? Is the damage that has been done too great to overcome at this point? After all, the way that MT users were abandoned a couple of years ago has definitely jaded the previous user base. Enterprise clients paying a premium for a service expect a higher level of support and continuity. Establishing that relationship once again is going to take time, and it sounds like MT is aware of that. They were clear that they don't expect things to improve dramatically in the first 12 months, but they expressed willingness to stick with it as long as it takes.
For end users and development shops, the more viable, quality platforms available the better in my opinion. While MT has faltered recently, there is no doubt that it is a mature platform with innovative publishing capabilities. I've run a sizable media site on MT starting with version 3 and currently on version 5 over the past five years. It can truly do some impressive things, especially when it comes to scaling to higher traffic. It can also be supremely frustrating. Such is the CMS game however. I don't think many will rush back to MT to start, but if they can prove themselves to be reliable again, and they can show progress with development of the software, in time, they just might get themselves back into the conversation.
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