Movable Type

Comment spam and "nofollow"

"re Google’s rel="nofollow"  initiative, I am pleased to see that voices critical and/or doubtful are making themselves heard. With due acknowledgment of the anti-social nature of irresponsible self-promotion by linking to your own blog in comments, I share the anxieties of other small (and not so small) bloggers and left some thoughts on Anil Dash's post yesterday, The Social Impacts of Software Choices.

Will the "cure" be worse than the disease? Ben Hammersley thinks so: 'forcing comment spammers to cast a wider net will cause them to target the long tail of people who have no idea what to do'. There's also the issue of whether or not companies are right to have imposed this initiative on their customers, about which TDavid makes good points. Various writers have raised the problem that webmasters now have an easy way to 'abuse the tag and control the PageRank of their pages' (eg, Slowplay).

I was pleased to read John Battelle yesterday, questioning the rel="nofollow" development in a fair, calm and open-minded way. I would have hoped to have had more discussion within the blogosphere before this move had been forced on so many of us. John Battelle wrote:

… what bothers me is that there may well be an ecology that evolves based on the link mojo in comments which we can't imagine, but that would be important and wonderful, and that will not develop if every comment has a tag telling search engines to ignore it. Like it or not, search engines are now processors of our collective reality, and fiddling with that requires some contemplation.

In an update to this same posting, John Battelle adds (leading off from observations about Anil Dash's post and the discussion-in-comments it attracted):

No Follow will discourage people from doing what I'll call "fully web-expressed writing" on other people's blogs - where they write in that rather post-modern way of linking as they write, which is what we all do in this bloggy world we live in. A deft web writer is like a spider pulling strands to support his or her central thesis - it's an emerging form of communication, and from what I can tell, it's going to be very important long term to our culture.

If as a commentator on someone's blog, you know that you're spending ten, twenty, or more minutes crafting a response, and that response - because it lives in someone's comments field - will be ignored by the conferrers of future societal attention (ie - search indexes) - then I can imagine many folks will simply avoid writing thoughtful responses in comments altogether. Instead, they'll post on their own site. It seems that one of the things No Follow will do - subtly or not - is discourage active and intelligent dialog on a post. That is not, to my mind, a good thing.

Ben Hammersley concluded:

… as respecting rel="nofollow" will involve loosing an enormous amount of implicit metadata, any tools that are interested in that will be forced to ignore it. Technorati will have to choose if it’s a site that measures raw interconnectivity, or some curious High School metric of look-at-that-person-but-don’t-pay-her-any-attention that the selective use of the rel="nofollow" attribute will produce. For many purposes, this would mean the results are totally debased and close to useless.

And TrackBacks? Like John Battelle, I've been led to believe that they are affected by rel="nofollow". Is this true?

Weblogs and Civility

Mark Bernstein on civility and the internet:

I spent the morning with an old friend. We both sense, frankly, that something is wrong in the weblog world.

We've endured a series of bitter internal storms. The Atomic Recriminations were bad. The MovableType Pricing Storm was worse. Then, a free hosting service goes down for a bit and people were screaming bloody murder. Literally.

"And you know," Old Friend reminds me, "dispassionate talk about comment technologies isn't going to fix this." I hate to admit it: he's right.

I assume that, when we blog, we're all looking to discover and explain important ideas. We're not just trying to get attention at any price, we're not just chasing popularity. In the blogosphere of ideas, we've got to change the way things work. Fixing technical mistakes (for example, repairing or dropping comment tools) is a start, but it's not enough.

Civility is the foundation.

How refreshing ...

A remarkable posting by Anil Dash:

But for me personally, this week was pretty rough. The new licenses and prices for Movable Type have been one of my main projects for the past few weeks and months, though of course we all had a hand in reviewing them. And the botched communications about them is something I feel a lot of personal responsibility for. Making mistakes on an extremely public scale is never fun, and doing it in a community that we've helped give a voice to is even worse. As Clay pointed out, people have an emotional attachment to these tools. To use the requisite automotive analogy, if Six Apart were a shiny new car, I feel like I was the person who put the first dent in it, and then a couple thousand people stood around pointing and saying "It's totalled!"

Inside Six Apart, though, I discovered a lot of very positive things. I found that not only do I have my dream job, I have a place where I can make, well, a pretty big mistake and the response is "This is something we can fix." or "What did you learn?". More importantly, I still work at a place that makes a difference. Though they might be saying "You messed up!", the reality is that thousands of people used tools we gave them and the TrackBack protocol that was invented by our co-founders to say how they felt. And we responded, much faster than I've ever seen any software company respond. I'm sure we'll be responding more.

Much more in the original posting — moving, honest (and who hasn't been through something similar) and testimony to a fine company with fine staff and founders.

Licensing MT + blogging + TrackBack — a new development in business history?

... licensing and marketing material needs to be beta tested, too, not just program code and user interfaces. Understanding your market to the level of detail they care about (and need) is really hard. The questions you ask when doing market research have to be understood in light of the market's thinking. The choices you provide for answers in a questionnaire may not always cover the entire spectrum as completely as you think. (Dan Bricklin)
The folks at Movable Type didn't test price sensitivity enough before announcing the move and generated thousands of blog entries, many of them on MT systems, about the pricing. They've since fixed the pricing model quite a bit, and I expect even more alignment to how people are using Movable Type informally instead of within the specific free guidelines they initially issued.

An important element of this mistake that you shouldn't miss is that on posts like the one above on pricing revision or this one on Mena Trott's blog -- she's one of the founders -- the critique is right there on the same page through their Trackback system which allows blogs to ping each other when posts reference other posts. (It's not Ted Nelson's Xanadu, and it's not Technorati's outside-in link analysis, but it's useful nonetheless.)

So while the Trotts and Six Apart are being hacked to death, they're not a company that insulates themselves from these attacks and critiques; rather, the criticism is co-incident in Web space with the statements being referenced. This is an extraordinary development in business history. (GlennLog)

In response to concerns by their customers (as well as non-customers, Slashdot readers, and pretty much anyone with a blog and an opinion), Six Apart has modified the pricing structure for the Personal Edition of Movable Type 3. A couple of quick thoughts on this:

1. Six Apart is listening to their customers. Based on the specific concerns of their customers, they updated their pricing in just two days time. That Six Apart has sincerely listened to their customers in the past and continues to do so as a quickly growing company seeking to sustain itself is worth some goodwill on our part toward 6A. Many other companies wouldn't have bothered.

2. The tiered personal pricing still doesn't make sense. (Jason Kottke)

MT 3.0 — continued

Nick Bradbury: 'In the midst of the uproar about MovableType's recent licensing change, it's nice to see a few rational comments. ... Having been where the Six Apart crew are now, can I make a suggestion to those who are flaming them? Even if you live in some bizarre universe that equates earning a living with belonging to a satanic cult, if you're really not willing to pay for MovableType, at least have the courtesy to thank them for the free ride up to this point.'

Couldn't agree more. And here are some of the best responses to the Six Apart MT 3.0 announcement:

bradchoate: 'Movable Type is good software. It has served me well. I want to see it thrive and continue to be developed. Don’t you? And the prices— well, frankly, they’re not that bad. If you do require a license in the first place, the $69 you pay buys you an awful lot of product. Commercial software that supports 5 users for $69 (or $99 if you prefer to count it that way) is a bargain no matter how you slice it.'

Jeremy Zawodny: 'I never realized how many folks in the blog echo chamber were so cost-sensitive and willing to jump the gun and turn their backs on a fantastic piece of software. Well, now I know. So much for loyalty. The judgment has been largely instant and harsh. Does this mean I'll never leave MovableType? Of course not. Don't be stupid. If something far better comes along or something else evolves to the point that it's worth my while, maybe I'll switch. But for the time being, I've got more important stuff to do and that includes writing here rather than trying to figure out how to replace a perfectly good piece of software that I have the source code for anyway.'

Derek Powazek: 'I've long been amazed that such a powerful tool was free. All those bloggers pitching fits need to take a step back and look at what they've been getting for free all this time, and the facts about the new licenses. The fact is, it's still free to download and use the brand-spankin new Movable Type 3 - Six Apart just asks you to agree to use it with only one author and up to three blogs. And even then, there's no enforcement of these limits. They're using the honor system. Movable Type has grown up, kids. Giant sites like use MT now. This pricing plan is not about sticking it to the little guy - it's about setting up a system for bigwig business users to pay what they should. This is a good thing, because it gives Six Apart a reason to start aggressively developing Movable Type again.'

Jay Allen: 'Are you really willing to go through the trouble of porting all of your stuff over and learning a whole new system just because you’re pissed off that Six Apart, a company whose growing pains are clearly obvious, didn’t handle things the way you would have liked them to? And if you do leave, what will happen when the Movable Type butterfly takes flight and is, by virtue of the intense development on MT 3.0D, the greatest thing anyone in the weblog world has ever seen? It’s really something to think about … I would like to leave you with one of the wisest and most forward-thinking things I have read in the last 24 hours, written by 14-year-old (!) Arvind Satyanarayan on a private mailing list to which I am subscribed.

I was also completely “I’m gonna leave MT now” but after thinking about it I’m bordering on the free license and I’m gonna wait and see what happens to prices. A lot has been promised for MT3, a lot of exciting stuff. I think I’m gonna stick around for the show :)

As will I, Arvind. As will I.'

Jason Kottke: 'The bottom line ... is that MT 3.0 is worth charging money for. Period. The fact that it was free up until now is largely irrelevant...except that for 2 1/2 years Six Apart has provided people with a very powerful, flexible piece of software for free and will continue to do so in the future. Those bastards! The one thing I do think 6A got wrong is the pricing structure for personal users. Tiered pricing of software based on the number of users was designed to make sure large companies paid more for software than did small that a company like Wal-Mart pays $3 million for a database application for 20,000 users and a smaller company like Nantucket Nectars pays $30,000 for the same software with 250 users. The same pricing structure doesn't make sense for personal users.'

Brad Choate has this analysis of the 'one author, three blogs' limit that has caused such a storm:

What is a ‘weblog’ anyway?

So with the free version, you can have up to 3 weblogs. Just what is a weblog in their definition? You see, with TypePad, even if you have the “basic” account with only 1 weblog allowed, you can create “TypeLists” and photo albums to supplement that weblog. With Movable Type, those kinds of things can be done too, but you have to create additional weblogs to do it. These additional, supportive weblogs are sort of a subset of the main blog— used to control a site. Much like I do on mine. Now if you use 5 or 6 supportive weblogs, does that mean you have to pay for the high-end personal edition? I don’t think so. They are weblogs in MT’s database, but they’re not blogs. And as such, I think they fall out of the definition implied by the license restrictions.

New information on this issue is coming to light today. The Get Movable Type page has been updated with a little sidebar panel labelled “Questions about the license?”. It clarifies the following things regarding restrictions based on weblog and author counts:

Author counts are based on “active” authors, those that have logged in within the last 90 days.
Weblog counts are based on “active” weblogs, those that have had posts created within the last 90 days.
One site at one URL counts as a weblog for your license, even if it is made up of more than one weblog in the software.
That last bullet is a very important one. It is further clarified in the updated personal and commercial license:

“Weblog” means a single Web site viewable at a single URL (Uniform Resource Locator), consisting of one or more weblogs as generated by the Software via the “Create New Weblog” function of the Software.

The restriction goes more to the number of web sites produced by the software, not the number of actual weblogs. Mena has more to say about this.

This means that if you are 1 author and you use 11 different weblogs to power your 1 web site, or even 300 weblogs to power your 3 web sites, you can use the free version. It doesn’t cost you $600. It doesn’t cost $1.

Ben and Mena are interviewed here.

MT 3.0

Six Apart's announcement of the new MT licensing schemes has been greeted with a chorus of enraged disapproval (see, eg, the comments here, at Mena's Corner). Timothy Appnel has a sane review and reaction:

Six Apart also announced new licensing which has been quickly panned by the push button publishing community. While there still will be a free version of MT, it is limited to 3 weblogs and 1 author. The reaction has been swift as many decry the new terms (specifically the fees) that run many weblogs with many authors that using MT will cost them. Many of these posts gripe that alternate server-based tools such as WordPress do not support multiple blogs and/or authors yet. What's a bit silly about these posts is that not one so far notes that the hosted version of MT (TypePad) allows for unlimited authors and weblogs (plus many other features not available in MT) at a price that rivals basic hosting packages.

The delineation between TypePad and MT have become clear with this release – TypePad is for general users wanting to blog and Movable Type is for developers and professional organizations wanting to do more then just weblogging.

Of the reactions I've read this morning I think Brian Stearns had the most poignant observation of this furor. Noting many of the initial Trackback pings to Mena's post he writes ...

For me this outlines that a large part of the weblog world was in it because it was free to do for the most part and an easy way to do something innovative (at least when they started). I think a large part of the internet world is cheap and not willing to pay for things so I will not be surprised to see people dump MovableType to start using a free weblog tool or discontinuing their weblogs altogether.

Agreed, Brian. Rumor around the MT community is that Six Apart was collecting less then 50 cents (US) for each copy of MT downloaded. That is absurd for a piece of commercial software!

This outcry raises a bigger more important point which is the reason for my post. As a developer and one who makes a living writing code, this reaction to Six Apart's new licensing is really disheartening and on a certain level frustrating to see. I am a firm believer and backer of open source. I've personally released quite a bit of open source code myself and will continue to do so. However this apparent expectation of the vocal part of community that it is their right to have all great works of software at no cost is bothersome. If users don't have the funds or won't pay on principle for my time, effort or talent – how do I eat?

Six Apart

A new weblog from Mena, Mena's Corner:

Ten days ago, when we announced TypeKey, much of the initial criticisms we read could have been answered with more information. After reading most everything that people had to say about the service, Ben and I worked on an FAQ that addressed almost all of the objections we saw. And oddly enough, providing more information about TypeKey helped answer questions and clear up the misconceptions.

Last week it finally sunk in that we've done an extremely poor job communicating about the growth of Six Apart to our users and to the weblogging community. This silence can be partly attributed to the sort of confidentiality that's required when working with partners or brokering deals.

But, fundamentally, our silence was due to the fact that we were, for a lack of a better word, scared.

Coincidentally, it's Dave Winer's essay about Six Apart that does an extremely good job articulating one of the prime reasons for our fears:

"If they have to walk on eggshells in order to communicate, they're going to do less of it. So try to give them the benefit of the doubt, and try to work with them."

So what does this all mean to you?

It means that we've entered a new era of Six Apart. We're going to pull back that curtain and not be afraid to reveal what Six Apart has become. We realize that we're never going to please everyone and, without sounding like a daily affirmation, that's okay. We want to show our users what goes on at Six Apart and what we're doing to keep our growth in tune with our vision of what Six Apart should be. We want to show that there are other people at this company other than the Trotts and that these people work hard, contribute a great deal and are part of what we've become. And, of course, we won't be able to share everything, but we'll try to share a lot more.

We're committed to remaining a successful company and providing the best tools possible. Frankly, I'm glad I can write this when we are doing well and have a lot of opportunities ahead of us rather than as a retrospective on bad decisions we made during the life of our company.

So, on this year and nine day anniversary of the incorporation of Six Apart Ltd., I christen this weblog "Mena's Corner.*

* Not the greatest name, I know. But, it doesn't have to be perfect.

Working with Movable Type

'Tackling Movable Type templates and CSS for the first time can be daunting. The MT default templates contain four kinds of code: CSS, HTML, MT tags, and Javascript.' Illustrated MT templates

Other links (with thanks to blogshop)
'Step into MT' (and other blogshop on-line "guides")
MT: a beginner's guide
Mark Pilgrim's MT Templates tutorial
Wiki Blogshop Workshop

And some new links from Nick Bradbury
CSS Hacks and Filters
Pure CSS Tooltips
Simple Tricks for More Usable Forms
The Perfect 404
Accessibility Toolbar (for IE)

And now add: Westciv's House of Style. (Thanks to Typepadistas for this link.)

And this new post (29.1.2004): Tags Omitted From MT Manual

And this (16.2.2004) from TypePadistas: Meyerweb gets a face-lift (guides to CSS).

Added (25.3.2004): Learning Movable Type.