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A Chat With Movable Type's Anil Dash

What with <a href="http://www.sixapart.cmo" target="_blank">Six Apart</a>'s blogging/CMS software <a href="http://www.movabletype.org/" target="_blank">Movable Type</a> now released in an open source edition, I decided to go directly to someone at the company -- namely, VP Anil Dash -- and talk to him about where his company's headed.&nbsp; Movable Type's become one of my personal open source case studies, partly because I use the program myself (as does <i>InformationWeek</i>) and because I'v

Serdar Yegulalp

January 29, 2008

4 Min Read

What with Six Apart's blogging/CMS software Movable Type now released in an open source edition, I decided to go directly to someone at the company -- namely, VP Anil Dash -- and talk to him about where his company's headed.  Movable Type's become one of my personal open source case studies, partly because I use the program myself (as does InformationWeek) and because I've been curious how it would fare after releasing a fully open source iteration of its product.

I opened up by asking: what was it that compelled 6A to dive completely into open source with the core edition of Movable Type?  My initial impression was that it had been competition from products like WordPress, but Anil's answer didn't focus on that:  "We want to do everything we can to get as many people blogging as possible," Anil stated, "and from a philosophical point of view, we've always been a big supporter of open standards and we've always shipped open source code" (such as the code for MT's Trackback function).  "It was only ever a matter of degree."  They wanted to ditch any lingering ambiguities about how open Movable Type was, and in what form -- and be wholly license-compatible with the third-party plugins that are one of MT's big community attractions.

I asked Anil what the main difference between the open source and the commercially-licensed versions will be, apart from the licensing.  The core platform, Anil said, "will always be the same," available in the dual-licensed implementation that exists right now, with full compatibility across all the APIs in each version.  The nightly (unstable) builds of the open source edition will most likely have more bleeding-edge features like the social-API stuff that Anil's particularly excited about (see below), but the commercial product will feature more innovation in the UI -- templates, widgets, etc. -- and of course the enterprise-level functionality.  Anil put it like this: "The things we want you to pay for are a relationship with our [development] team and their expertise in blogging, or streamlining common [work] scenarios."

That brought to mind something I've been thinking about for a long time, and which the recent open source acquisitions (Nokia+Trolltech, Sun+MySQL) have snapped into focus: These companies aren't buying the software per se, but the talent teams behind the software.  The software can be had at no cost; that's the idea.  The talent is priceless.  Anil agreed, and pointed out how people on their own team had contributed to various open source projects, not just because it made everyone feel good but because it made their own business that much more possible.

What about competition from WordPress?  As far as WordPress goes, 6A saw it as being a competitor more in the personal blogging space than in things like professional content management.  That's the space that 6A wants Movable Type to be best known in through the higher-end versions of the product -- the ones a company will gladly pay for to get both support and advanced enterprise features.

Well, I asked, what if people decide to try and create their own open source implementations of the professional features the original company wants to charge for?  How would the company react to such a thing?  "That'd be great," Anil confessed.  "In fact, that happens already."  He cited some projects people had put together to partly eclipse the solutions in their Community Solution pack, some of which are promoted through MT's own plugin directory.  "The more they succeed, the more the platform as a whole succeeds.  And there's always going to be people who will want to spend money to have a closer relationship with us, where we can help them strategically and with priority support."  His feeling (paraphrased) is that while anyone can theoretically sell MT support and services, they're the ones who know it best and the ones that people will most likely come to first and foremost for such help.

So where do we go from here with Movable Type, once the open source version is a bit more "out there"?  Among other things, Anil's vision is using Movable Type as a way to easily tie together all the different social platforms and APIs that have become explosively popular -- Facebook, Twitter, you name it -- in ways that can be managed closely by the user for the sake of privacy.  As he sees it, the social-API stuff and the blogging stuff are each great but don't talk to each other as extensively as they could.  The unabashedly open source version of Movable Type is meant to be a way to make those things, and a great many others, happen.

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Serdar Yegulalp


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