June 5th, 2007
Movable Type has just released version 4.0 and reversed a decision that nearly killed MT 3.0 and led to the rise of WordPress — MT 4.0, currently in beta, will be released in open source later this year. (See Read/WriteWeb coverage.) The interesting question is how the market will respond to an open source battle between the old blogger favorite and the new blogger favorite.
WordPress has leapfrogged ahead of Movable Type in large part because most developers switched over to WordPress when Six Apart turned off the entire blogosphere by enforcing the MT 3.0 license and displaying a conflict of interest between the do-it-yourself MT software and the hosted TypePad software. WordPress has managed to avoid that conflict of interest between the open source WordPress.org and the hosted, paid service WordPress.com by keeping the open source version on an aggressive new release cycle.
Movable Type is now trying to leapfrog past WordPress by introducing community features that give blog readers the ability to create social network profiles and post content. It’s interesting to note that this feature is competitive in some respects to Pluck’s SiteLife, KickApps, and a number of other community feature platforms, although it seems to me that the potential value is limited to sites that work entirely on Movable Type, i.e. not apparently useful for sites that use other content management systems, as almost all large media and corporate sites do.
It’s a safe bet that WordPress won’t sit still by letting Movable Type leap ahead of its core feature set. The real competitive action is going to play out in the open source developer community and among bloggers and other independent publishers, who have rallied around WordPress.
As a WordPress user, I’m amazed that every time I want to add a new feature, I just do a quick search and find a WordPress plug-in that does exactly what I need. This creates a huge barrier to my even entertaining the notion of switching to Movable Type, regardless of what new core features it has to offer.
This showdown is similar to the history of PCs vs. Macs, where Apple has remained far behind Microsoft in the development of applications for its OS. The question for Movable Type is — can they catch up, or is WordPress just too far ahead?
One X factor in this competition is large media companies and other enterprise users, many of whom adopted MT when it was on top and then never switched over to WordPress, i.e. they weren’t anywhere near as nimble (or outraged by licensing fees) as independent bloggers. Of course, that probably means most won’t be very nimble in upgrading to MT 4.0 — and the incursion of open source CMS Drupal is yet another factor. (I dislike even referring to WordPress and MT as “blogging software” — they are content management systems.)
As for bloggers and other independent publishers, I can say for myself that I have a strong loyalty to WordPress and to the development community that has served me so well. Part of that loyalty is not tied to specific features or benefits, but a more fuzzy brand loyalty.
It will be interesting to see how brand loyalty affects the Movable Type vs. WordPress competition — will developers and publishers, all things being equal (or even somewhat unequal), remain brand loyal? MT is positioning its brand as the “social media platform for businesses and power bloggers,” implying of course that those who use competitors like WordPress are neither businesses nor powerful. (That’s not going to convert many independents like me.)
The open source software movement will have a lot to learn by watching how this plays out.