The Movable-Typeification of the “Blogiverse”

Just thinking aloud…
This review of blogging tools got me thinking about the Movable-Typeification of the “blogiverse”. (I can’t believe I just used that word.) Don’t get me wrong; MT sounds great and some of my favorite blogs use it. In fact, a *lot* of them use it. I find that vaguely discomfiting somehow. I think it’s because most of them look sorta the same (I mean, in that they have the same set of components) and there are certain features that are only accessible to other MT users (like TrackBack). I feel the same way about LiveJournal, to be honest. It annoys me to have to post as “anonymous” on my friends’ LiveJournal sites. I don’t think that everybody has to program their own CMS; I just resent companies’ attempts to turn blogs into walled-off communities. It’s good for everybody to be a little different, isn’t it?

I tried making a mental list of all the blogs I know that don’t use one of the popular systems and I couldn’t come up with many. There’s me, Jeff, Jann, Martin, Tracey (well, she uses Greymatter, but that’s pretty rare these days)… Can you think of any more? Out of curiosity, if you don’t use one of the popular systems, why not? If you do, what do you like about it? Does the ease of set-up make up for slight loss of freedom? To be honest, this is just me going, “Hmm, everybody else is using MT. What do they know that I don’t know? Should I accept the inevitable and move, or should I bother writing the crap myself?”

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18 Comments

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  1. I use Live Journal cus it’s easy-peasy. I’m no web goddess (I only know a few HTML tags at best). But if there were a way I could have the same ease with more flexibility, I’d go for it!

  2. my comments got all a bit long winded and tangential so i stuck them on my own site instead…. not sure they make a lot of sense really!

  3. i use blogger because i am no computer genius and i think that it is amazing enough i have managed to get that blog up and running without any major mishaps. although there are little things i would like to change, when my cc is down i will probably just go to blogger pro so i can get rid of the ads and be able to post pics.

  4. andrea handcodes her whole website, except for the comments, which are based on a free, self-hosted application. i find it hard enough just to keep MT running smoothly most of the time, without trying anything as fancy as writing my own code.

  5. As you know, I wrote my own because you told me to. That and the fact that I wanted total control of the look, the functionality and the responsibility.

    This way I’m limited only by my free time and desire to do stuff. If I don’t know how to do something I want, I find out how to do it. This has been the guiding principle in my work as a developer and is of course, nothing new but it really helps undisciplined lazy sods like myself to live a better life…with love in our hearts and peace in…etc…yadda yadda…

  6. I use goddess-blog. 🙂 And I’d rather use something home-grown than not, that way I can extend its functionality or modify it…when I have the free time…which I don’t seem to have much of lately.

  7. My reasons for using g-blog versus MT:
    – I also prefer the home-grown approach, and like tweaking and adding when I feel the urge.
    – MT seems like more of a pain to set up and maintain, what with all the cgi / perl stuff and a more involved DB connection
    – In general, I don’t like having to ‘sign up’ for services
    – In general, I like to take the contrarian approach and ‘think different’ (to steal Apple’s line)
    – As spam-blogging becomes more prevalent, Blogger and MT will be most susceptible… just like Windoze/Outlook are the most susceptible to viruses

  8. I use MT because:

    a) it’s reasonably easy to install (provided you’re not scared to use a command line and are installing to a server which has the requisite supporting software – which is pretty common).

    b) MT provides a lot of neat facilities out of the box. Moving to MT added any number of features to my weblog, which I’d previously written with an HTML-aware editor.

    c) MT supports an active developer community who have plugged some of the gaps in MT’s functionality. Not to mention documenting how to use MT and providing all sorts of handy advice at the MT support forum.

    You’re quite right that there are a lot of common design elements on MT weblogs, which is mostly because lazy people like me make little effort to customise the standard templates beyond fiddling with the colour schemes and font sizes. If I had some imagination (and let’s face it, I haven’t even changed my weblog’s colour scheme in three and a half years, so I’m clearly lacking somewhat in that department!) I could certainly make Sore Eyes look a lot less MT-like.

    Incidentally, Trackback isn’t only supported by MT. The specification is published for anyone to use at http://www.movabletype.org/docs/mttrackback.html and (it says here) is also supported by Bloxsom, Blojsom, Nucleus, B2 and Radio. Not being a programmer, I have no idea how easy it is to implement for those of you who roll your own CMS, but on the face of it it’s a viable option.

  9. Psorr is right to point out that MT and Blogger are the biggest targets for pranksters like the comment-spammers, but because MT has an open plugin architecture and lot of users who act as freelance developers it’s also blessed with a pretty responsive “immune system.” A variety of comment spam solutions were proposed within days of the first serious comment-spamming outbreaks a couple of months ago.

    Whilst it’s true that if someone finds a chink in MT’s armour it’ll be easy to find sites to exploit, I don’t believe that the problem will be as severe as that caused by the MS/Outlook monoculture. MS aren’t really committed to making substantial changes to Outlook/IE in response to exploits, because they’ve made a conscious decision over the last decade to prioritise “user-friendly” features over security. (We’ll see how far their recent emphasis on security pays off.) By contrast, the MT developer community have so far proved themselves both willing and able to respond to exploits. There’s no guarantee that this will continue, but with so many tech-savvy people using MT I’m cautiously optimistic that MT will weather future attacks.

  10. I use MT because it was the quickest and easiest way for me to get content up on a regular basis. I wish I were more creative and intelligent in terms of design and layout and so on, but in the end, I just want to get the “stuff” out there on the page as often as possible (like you, Kris, I am a big believer in a near-constant stream of content), and MT lets me do that pretty efficiently. PLus, the MT people installed it for me, so I got to save brainspace for things like TV schedules and random celebrity trivia! 🙂

  11. You’re right on the TrackBack thing, John. I originally had “not easily accessible to non-MT blogs” in my first draft but I lost it somehow. I still probably wouldn’t use them if they were easy to implement. That Daring Fireball article I linked (as well as the follow-up) do a good job of summarizing why.

    Additionally, well, it’s like RSS. I spent the morning looking into generating RSS feeds via PHP. The coding bit itself wouldn’t be difficult but making my site conform to the “blog standard” would be a huge amount of work. I don’t always use titles, for instance, and I only have a couple categories. I’d have to go back through 3600+ posts and relabel them all. It’s not like I’ve got folks e-mailing me clamoring for an XML feed, either. The biggest impetus is just that “everybody else does it.” That’s kinda what irritates me, the pressure to conform to the majority. As MT gets more press, anybody that doesn’t conform to their idea of a “weblog” comes off looking substandard. Sure, we could write our versions of their features, but inevitably you just get weary of being marginalized and having to work harder to conform to a standard you don’t even necessarily agree with.

    (Hmm. Replace MT with “PC-users” and I’d probably make the exact same argument. It’s like when companies request your CV and then get annoyed when it isn’t a Word document. I make a point of always sending plain-text or RDF, but a ridiculous percentage of HR departments now INSIST on proprietary formats. Yeah, I could hack something together to imitate it, but eventually you just get tired of fighting an uphill battle and start thinking about downloading a copy of XP off Kazaa, which doesn’t solve anything, really.)

    So really I’m not sure what my problem is, to be honest. Non-technical people need easy ways to do this stuff. I recognize that. I’m just afraid that MT’s majority could become a monopoly, and once that happens they basically get to set the standards (whether consciously or just in the eyes of the public). Who’s to say that the next TrackBack-like innovation won’t be limited to MT blogs or have an even higher barrier to entry for non-MT sites? I’m just being paranoid, basically.

  12. Hmm, you just raised another question for me, John. You mentioned that a lot of MT users are technically savvy. I’d definitely agree with that. It seems to have a very varied user base. What I’m wondering is “Why?”. It’s not like a weblog is a terribly difficult thing to code. (Put stuff in database… Pull stuff out of database. It’s just about the simplest sort of script you could write.) So why aren’t the technically-savvy folks writing their own CMSes and coming up with non-MT innovations? Sure, ease of use covers some of it, but I think trendiness has a lot to do with it too. It’s great that there are enough avid MT code monkeys to respond to exploits quickly, but my point is that if there weren’t so many of them, the system wouldn’t be such a target in the first place.

    (I’m still a little annoyed about my RSS research this morning. I was googling for information on generating it myself and most of the results I got were along the lines of: “MT does it for you; why would you bother?” I can’t help but be reminded of Cher’s response to the suggestion that she practice parking in Clueless: “What’s the point? Everywhere you go has valet!”)

  13. I’ve half-drafted a fairly lengthy response to your last two posts Kris, but it’s almost 1am here and I need to get some sleep so I’ll try to return to this discussion tomorrow. I certainly want to come back to this, because you’ve raised some very good points. (On re-reading: sorry if that sounds horribly patronising. It wasn’t meant to, honest!)

    (NB: I’m out tomorrow night seeing The Return of the King. Obviously I’ll be posting the inevitable rave review of ROTK to Sore Eyes when I get back in tomorrow night, so it might be quite late tomorrow before I return to this discussion, unless I can find some time at lunchtime tomorrow to post from work.)

  14. That’s okay, John! I didn’t mean to start a new variation of the OS Holy Wars. Mostly I’m just wondering if it’s a Good Thing to have lots of people using the same software, even if the software itself isn’t necessarily Evil. And along with that, if the software itself doesn’t do anything that you can’t do on your own, why do people with the technical know-how to write their own still use it? Anybody else wanna weigh in before John gets back?

    And enjoy the movie! We Antipodeans have to wait til bloody Boxing Day… 🙁

  15. I started using LiveJournal because I didn’t have any web space of my own, I didn’t have time to put together something fancy on my own, and I wanted to be able to read my cousin’s friends-locked entries.

    I’ve stayed with LiveJournal because I like the communities there (most of them), and there are so many features I appreciate (as well as new code and extra features constantly in development).

    Mostly, I like that my friends list pools all the journals I read (as well as rss feeds) and orders them by the most recent entries, so it’s easy to stay up to date. I’m lazy; I like only having to go to one page to see what’s new. Also, I particularly enjoy the nifty feature of the LJ clients which notifies me when any “friended” journal has been updated by a blinking icon in my system tray.

    I also really like the security options. I make most of my entries public, but I like having the option of making something friends-only, or specifying exactly which friends can see a particular entry. [For example, I could post asking for suggestions on what to get my brother for Christmas and not have to worry about him getting wind of it.]

    I haven’t done a whole lot of customizing with my journal (just simple overrides), but from what I’ve seen, the customization options are extensive.

    Oh, and the new features (like voice-posting by phone) are kinda fun. There’s no way I’d figure that out on my own.

    I think it is annoying that you have to post as anonymous, and that if I respond to your comment, you don’t get the same little e-mail letting you know what the comment is. [Of course, you could solve that by just setting up a dummy account. *g*]

    So yeah, that’s my two cents. And on a completely unrelated note, did you see the article I posted written by Gil Loescher about his experience in the bombing? I can’t believe he lost both his legs. . .

  16. Well, to be honest, i don’t use one on one of my sites. i don’t like blogger and i can’t get another one to work. so i just go in myself and type it since my posts on that site are so rare. If I could find one that didn’t take all of a day to set up and a week to totally figure out, i’d use it. suggestions?

  17. Well, maybe I should say why I hate blogger…. because nearly every damn time I tried to post, i was told it was “down for repairs”, or I’d get some kind of error. And since I didn’t pay for blogger pro, I wasn’t guaranteed any help. In fact, the reason one of my blogs, WWBSD, shut down was because of a blogger problem and after reposting my question several times over the course of 3 months, i still didn’t get any help. I guess I’d just like to find a blogging tool that lets me do my own thing, but at the same time, if I have any kind of question, they have a good sized forum or support center for me to find the answer myself. I just hate feeling all helpless like that. *sigh* ok, I’m done.

  18. I’ve just seen an weblog post from someone who agrees with you that MT is a straitjacket: “The whole damn format, the inference that a title is required for each post, the inferred size of the post from the size of the text input box, and everything else in the system constrains a blog tool user to conform to a format. It’s like using a damn Microsoft wizard to design a webpage.”

    For what it’s worth, I think it’s a bit unfair to criticise MT for the size of the input form field – for one thing, the damn thing will happily grow a scroll bar if you choose to write more text than it can display at once. Anyway, I hate writing anything of any length in a browser’s form field; I write about 95% of my entries by opening up a text editor and pasting the text into the browser’s form field when it’s done.

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