How did WordPress win?

When we are passionate about something, it is sometimes hard for us to wrap our heads around why someone else might not be passionate about the same thing. You see this in the WordPress community often - fans and users of WordPress are often flabbergasted that someone might choose something else. Why would anyone choose Movable Type for instance?

Believe it or not, members of the Movable Type community often wonder the same thing. Most recently someone in the ProNet community, frustrated by their experience with WordPress, asked the question: how on Earth did WordPress win the battle over Movable Type?" The question was rhetorical, but sparked a very interesting dialog in our community.

In the past I have refrained from answering such questions, or if I did, I would not respond publicly, for reasons I can only attribute to a mentality that was beaten into me while I worked at Six Apart:

"Byrne you are a leader in the community, and your words carry significant weight. Therefore be very, very careful what you say. Very careful. Don't do or say anything to jeopardize the company's product line. In fact, if you want to say anything, why don't you run it by me first? And Anil, and through marketing, and while you are at it through a couple other people as well... Cool?"

This time however, "to hell with it" I say. Let's talk about this. Let's see what lessons can be learned from WordPress so that others seeking to build a successful product can learn from it.

Why did WordPress win the Blogging Battle?

This is not the first time this question has been posed obviously. And in all the times people have sought an answer to this question, the answers are remarkably consistant. They are:

  • Movable Type's licensing fiasco in 2004 angered the community and drove users to WordPress.
  • Movable Type is not open source. WordPress is.
  • Movable Type is written in Perl, while WordPress is written in PHP.

These answers are of course all correct to an extent, but do not account for WordPress' success by themselves. Not by a long shot. The truth is that WordPress won for a whole host of reasons, including the act that WordPress has more themes, more plugins or a larger community. These too are important considerations, but these are by-products of its success, not the reasons for its success.

So let's break it down shall we? Let's talk about the commonly cited reasons for WordPress' success, and some less well known reasons as well.

Movable Type's Licensing Fiasco, and WordPress is Open Source

When Movable Type changed its license in 2004, it proved to be a significant turning point for WordPress. Yes, the change angered a lot of people and led to a lot of loyal Movable Type users deciding to switch to WordPress. More importantly however is that it gave WordPress the opportunity to change the nature of the debate, and let it very compellingly espouse the superiority of free over all else, even superior design, superior feature sets, and superior support.

What resonated with customers first and foremost however was not WordPress' license, but the fact that it was unambiguously free. Back then no one knew that much about open source, much less the GPL, but what they did know was all that mattered: open source means free. Period. Forever.

The fact that Movable Type was in all reality free for the vast majority of people using it was irrelevant because it was never clear when Movable Type was free and when it was not. And what users feared most of all, is a repeat of exactly what happened the day Movable Type announced its licensing change: one day waking up to the realization that you owe some company hundreds, if not thousands of dollars1 and not being able to afford or justify the cost monetarily or on principle.

WordPress is easy to install

The fact that WordPress has always been easy to install, especially when compared to Movable Type, has always played a significant role in its growth and adoption rate. Technically, the reasons behind WordPress' famed 5-minute install can be attributed largely to PHP's deployment model, which was architected specifically to address the challenges associated with running and hosting web applications based on CGI, or in effect Perl 2 - the Internet's first practical web programming language.

Furthermore, every web host likes to configure CGI differently on their web server, which led to a lot of confusion and frustration for a lot of users, and prevented anyone from authoring a simple and canonical installation guide for all Movable Type users across all web hosts.

One cannot underestimate how important ones installation experience with a piece of software is, because it frames every subsequent experience and impression they have of the product. So while blogging was exploding and people were weighing their options between Movable Type and WordPress, its no wonder why increasingly more and more people chose WordPress, even though it had fewer features, and an inferior design. Fewer people gave up trying to install it.

WordPress is written in PHP

Unfortunately it is impossible to avoid the Perl vs PHP debate when it comes to WordPress and Movable Type, and the fact that cogent and compelling arguments can be made and demonstrated that Perl knowledge has never been required, not once, not ever, to build a web site using Movable Type doesn't matter. People simply feel more comfortable working with PHP. And even though the vast majority of people will never have or have ever had the need to hack the source code of their CMS, they are still comforted knowing that they could if they had to. People just never had that kind of comfort level with Perl and by association, Movable Type. Perl is just simply too scary.

That being said, the fact that people feel more comfortable hacking PHP did and still to this day, contributes significantly to the number of plugins and themes available on WordPress simply because the world of people who possess the bare minimum of knowledge necessary to write a plugin is so much larger.

Which leads me to another, and arguably more important reason why WordPress has been so successful: corporate adoption. If you are going to build your company on top of or rely heavily upon a CMS, and you are going to hire engineers internally to help you maintain it, which is an easier and cheaper job req to fill? A Perl engineer or a PHP engineer? Dollars to donuts, the answer is almost certainly PHP. Furthermore, if you know how companies often select the software they use, then you know that companies most frequently use the software their team members are most familiar with. And as more and more people started using WordPress at home, more and more people began recommending it to their bosses at work. And eventually, even though Movable Type dominated the Enterprise sector for so long, provided far superior support, and had a lock on the features Enterprises so often require (Oracle, SQL Server, LDAP support for instance) eventually Movable Type lost mindshare behind the firewall.

WordPress has a huge community

All of the factors above contributed in the long run to what ended up being WordPress' single most important asset: its community. But its community was not born simply out of having a lot of users. Its community and ultimately WordPress' success was born out a steady stream of people who began to rely upon WordPress as their primary, if not exclusive source of income. A healthy economy around WordPress consulting and professional services ultimately gave rise to "Premium Themes." And once people began to demonstrate that there was a viable business model in selling themes, the theme market exploded. Now it is almost impossible to rival the selection of themes available on the platform, not to mention how cheap it is for the average person to get started with a cheap, good looking web site.

As more and more people though began making money using and building for the platform, as more and more people began thinking about, living in, and becoming invested in the platform, there became an ever increasing incentive for them to contribute back to the platform. Now, the great irony is that even for all of WordPress' open sourcey, socialist, hippy goodness, it is the competition driven by the capitalist free market that drives much of WordPress' innovation today.

Forces beyond anyone's control

What's fascinating of course is that all of the above are things that happened outside the control of any one person or company. For example, WordPress never chose its license, or the language it was written in.

That being said, there were also a number of tactics employed by Automattic and mistakes made by Six Apart, that collectively had an equal role to play in the fate of their respective platforms.

The Cult of WordPress

One thing that I personally feel mars an otherwise untarnished product is the fact that WordPress' leadership and community chose to define itself early on not upon its own strengths, but upon the mistakes made by a young and inexperienced pair of entrepenuers. WordPress defined itself not as superior product by its own merit, but as the underdog. It succeeded by villifying Six Apart, by casting doubt on Six Apart's integrity and by constantly stoking the fires left over from Movable Type's licensing fiasco. Never for example have I seen a WordPress user work to establish a more positive and constructive tone when it comes to its competition.

This general lack of civility, much more apparent early on in WordPress' life, contributed to an underlying sense that WordPress was the best and everything else sucked. This state of mind, love it or hate it, served WordPress greatly, because wars, even a meaningless "blogging war," are only successfully fought when everyone knows who their enemy is. And Six Apart was not just a worthy competitor, it was the perfect enemy.

Automattic's Switch Campaign

One thing rarely cited by the outside world, probably because it was not visible or apparent to anyone, was the systematic targeting of high profile brands to switch from using any competing platform to using WordPress. In fact, in the four years I was at Six Apart, if I had a dollar every time a significant and loyal TypePad and Movable Type customer confided in me that an employee of Automattic cold called them to encourage and entice them to switch to WordPress I would have quit a rich man. Automattic would extend whatever services it could, at no expense to the customer, getting them to switch. They would give away hosting services. They would freely dedicate engineers to the task of migrating customers' data from one system to another. They would do whatever it took to move people to WordPress.

And once a migration was complete they did the single most important thing: they blogged the hell out of it. They made the story about how another customer switched from Movable Type or Type Pad to WordPress. They very smartly never let the sense that the world was switching to WordPress from ever disapating, even as TypePad and Movable Type was growing in users and revenue quarter after quarter.

Granted, no one switched to WordPress against their will. Simply put though, Six Apart was just not working as effectively giving people a reason to stay as Automattic was at taking away every reason a person had for sticking with their current platform.

Six Apart's Purchase of Apperceptive

Even as Movable Type's community started to become small in comparison to WordPress', its community was still just as competitive. Its community was strong for the same reason that WordPress' was - it consisted of a number of very bright, and exceedingly dedicated community members who were as invested in their respective trades as Six Apart and Automattic ever were.

Then Six Apart purchased Apperceptive. It was a great business move from a revenue stand point, but the consequences to the community were devistating in the long run. Here's why:

Six Apart's purchase of Apperceptive was successful, by all measure and accounts. Business increased, enterprises flocked to the platform and Movable Type was growing at an even faster clip. In order to meet the demand of the new business though, Six Apart began to hire the smartest and most innovative members from its community into its professional services team. Once hired, all of the awesome work they were doing got swallowed by the increasingly closed and proprietary Six Apart professional services ecosystem.

What's worse is the fact that Six Apart sapped its community of its greatest leaders and contributors. And slowly over time, the number of professional and truly capable professional service providers got widdled down to a very small list. Six Apart, without knowing it or purposefully doing it, created a monopoly. Customers coming to the platform, looking for an alternative to Six Apart for their professional services needs, found only a hand full of independent contractors, contributing to the sense that Movable Type's community was too small to support them.

Six Apart's Failure

Finally, I will add one more contributing factor to WordPress' success: Six Apart's failure. The reasons behind its ultimate failure as a product company are many, are complex and in many cases very nuanced. But the general consensus is apt: Six Apart severely hampered its own ability to compete effectively by spreading its many exceptionally talented resources across too many products.

In short, Six Apart lacked focus.

If Six Apart, early on, had made the decision to put all of its resources behind a single product and codebase, TypePad or Movable Type for example, then I think the blogging landscape would be a fundamentally different place today. WordPress would undoubtedly still be popular, but it might still have a very potent adversary and competitor helping to drive innovation and the technology behind blogging.

Who won the war?

It is pointless to refute that WordPress came out on top. But I personally find the conceit of a "war" to be faulty premise. The "war" between WordPress and Movable Type was either manufactured or the natural by product of a rivalry that two communities had come to define themselves by. It is a mentality I find fundamentally poisonous to all who engage in it because it promotes the idea that one platform is inherently better than another. The truth of course is that each platform, be it WordPress, Drupal, Expression Engine, Movable Type, Simple CMS, TypePad, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, or what have you does different things uniquely well. That is why I prefer a perspective that embraces and recognizes each platform for its strengths, and never denigrates those who have made a personal decision to choose one platform over another.

All this being said, no doubt people will always press the question: is WordPress' success evidence that it really is a better product? The answer to that is a no-brainer to those who have already made up their mind.

For my part, I still maintain that Movable Type is an successful and yes, even a great product. Afterall, it continues to support me, not to mention many of my friends and their families. It also supports a very successful and profitable company and ecosystem in Japan, not to mention hundreds upon hundreds of people world wide. Plus, who can ignore the fact that Movable Type still powers much of the web today, and is in use by some of the largest and most influential media properties on the planet.

For those reasons, and a whole host of others, both personal and technical, I choose Movable Type, and of course Melody. And I would choose it again and again and again given the opportunity. But that is me.

1 To the best of my knowledge, not once did Six Apart ever police or enforce its license. From the day Ben and Mena started collecting donations to fund the development of Movable Type, Six Apart relied exclusively upon the honor system when it came to collecting payments for people's usage of the platform. One story in particular exemplifies Six Apart's attritude towards its very own license, a story that can only be described as legend within the walls of Six Apart: that the Huffington Post, the poster child of Movable Type, never actually paid for their license to use the software. To this day, even as Huffingpost is sold for over $350,000,000, its success can be attributed to the effectively free platform it built a business on.

2 What makes Movable Type hard to install has actually nothing to do with Perl at all. It has to do with CGI. CGI was originally architected to allow any script to be run and invoked via an addressable URL, and when that capability was first introduced system administrators and programmers feared the security ramifications of allowing any arbitrary script to be executed in that fashion. Therefore, they instituted a number limitations enforced by the web server: 1) only certain directories on your web server can possess the ability to run CGI scripts, 2) only executable files can be invoked via CGI, and 3) no static files (html, css, javascript, or any text file) can be served from the same directory as a CGI script. These limitations are often inappropriately attributed to Perl only because Perl became the dominant, if not the only scripting language used to author CGI based web applications early on.

Disclaimer: Byrne Reese is the former Product Manager of Movable Type and TypePad and worked at Six Apart from 2004 to 2008. Byrne Reese is now a Partner at Endevver, LLC, a premiere Movable Type and Melody consulting company, as well as the chairman and a leading contributor to Melody, a fork of the Movable Type platform.

Recommended Entries

73 Comments

The biggest reason in my mind that Wordpress won the blogging war is one you didn't mention and I think its impact is huge and easily ignored: Wordpress had themes, while almost no other blogging engine did.

This allowed people to easily gather up all the bits and bobs that make up a site's design and easily share them with others. This also meant there was a giant pile of options when it came to selecting a template (other blogging engines offered one of maybe 50 selected themes, where Wordpress seemed to have thousands going back to 2003 or so). This also meant there were so many options one could set up a marketplace for selling the best designs and designers could flock to making templates and everyone with little-to-no knowledge of HTML could have an awesome looking blog.

Have you ever tried to teach someone new to HTML how MT or Blogger templates work? It's pretty confusing stuff. Getting to pick out any template, download, install, and enable on your WP blog is a million times easier.

Now that they've won the battle, I think the biggest problem for WP now is two-fold: One is the constant threat of exploits with your own WP install. It's crazy and like running Windows 95 without patches. Everyone I know with a self-hosted WP has been exploited in the last year or two and worries about it regularly. The second problem is people ditching the self-hosted route for Wordpress.com don't get to run their own ads or make any money, just the parent company does and that feels grossly unfair to writers.

As a Blogger user, heads up for "Have you ever tried to teach someone new to HTML how MT or Blogger templates work? It's pretty confusing stuff."

Its new Blogger Template Designer is awesome, but I think it came too late. And changing templates from scratch (i.e. editing the html-css sources mixed with blogger code) is a PITA, at least the 5 or 6 hours until you just "get it" and can more or less tweak freely.

Cheers,

Ruben

This is Awesome. Thanks.

Very interesting. Definitely a new perspective to read it from a "corporate insider."

An excellent summary Byrne. As a long time supporter of MT, I have sadly had to roll my sites over to WP over the last year. I'm not technical enough to swim against this tide. My greatest frustration with MT was the installation. While Perl expertise was never a requirement, issues with configuration and installation commonly manifested as Perl issues - so troubleshooting was always a challenge.

I'm hopeful that Melody will overcome these issues and that I am someday writing about switching off of WP. I will stay connected when I can.

As an aside, you have been an insider in this drama. You should write more on the subject - there are lots of lessons here for others to benefit from.

Byrne -- There are two important points that get lost in the Perl/PHP divide. 1) It wasn't Perl vs PHP. It was MT's template tags vs PHP. I love Movable Type and have used it for eight years. The template language in MT is very powerful, but it has a steep learning curve. Documentation is a huge advantage WordPress had over Six Apart. Even today, the template tag documentation for MT is rudimentary at best with many tags lacking any examples or even useful information.

2) In terms of Perl/PHP, WordPress was also successful because they tagged MT's static HTML publishing preference as the PAST, and Wordpress' dynamically-driven PHP pages as the FUTURE. When buzzwords like Web 2.0 were used, people thought WordPress was where they wanted to be, not with some clunky blog that takes five minutes to re-publish every time you make a template change.

But as Matt pointed out, WordPress' huge Achilles heel is security. Have you watched the roll out of the updates from 3.0 to 3.0.5? It's a mess, including a critical security update the week between Christmas and New Year's Day. I think you'll see Enterprise support for WordPress weaken as these security problems continue year after year. Drupal is huge in my world (academia) and is serious iron. It's got a learning curve like other serious contenders, but Drupal and others like it are the best way to go these days if you want to host more than your run-of-the-mill get-rich-quick content farm.

I think the Documentation really is the biggest point. Sure themes are a huge reason but the availability of documentation and support from the community was AMAZING compared to anything else at the time.

Counter, this is the also the reason BBpress is a pile of crap. The documentation is terrible to non existent.

Really great to see this measured, thoughtful post-mortem, Byrne. Lots of lessons here.

Agreed, Matt, re: WP exploits-- I just did a mass upgrade to about 30 sites and 5 of them failed for some unknown reasons w/ scary SimpleScripts error messages.

Over the past several years, I've been finding people outside the web and technical communities shifting their interest in hosted services from Blogger to WordPress.com as well.

WordPress has their finger on the it-just-works needs of lay users; the hosted service is impressively streamlined even compared to a standalone installation.

It seems somewhat odd to people in the trade, because as hosted services go, Blogger provides far more comprehensive features and amenities - and cheaper, too. And I suspect the it-just-works advantage may be usurped by newer, minimal platforms like Tumblr. For the time being, WordPress is in a sweet spot, but as it continues to aggregate and embed more features (and as platforms like Drupal aggressively push UI improvements), I wonder if it's going to start sagging around the edges and lose its charm.

You suggest that WordPress users have a "poisonous mentality" in their distaste for Six Apart. I was an MT user at the time of the great bait n' switch, I remember staring at the new pricing structure, I remember the extent to which it undermined my immediate plans and I feel that a certain amount of antagonism is justified - not incivility or mindless invective, but I sure got a wake-up call that day and never forgot what the wonder couple tried to pull.

Having said that, the overwhelming majority of WordPress users today have no idea who Six Apart are or what Movable Type is. The principle movers in the WordPress world seem to be fairly stable, reasonable people and Anil is treated with nothing but respect as he does the rounds and attempts to re-invent himself.

You seem to be reading a lot into the fact that a young company aggressively competed for customers and, once they won those customers, had a marketing department that did its job and trumpeted those wins. You know, that is what companies do before they become necrotic on venture capital and presumptions of easy victory; they compete.

Your piece accepts that Automattic's win was largely due to Six Apart's failings but, all the same, you criticize Automattic for doing what a young, ambitious company is meant to do and which your company failed to do, despite the obvious potential and importance of the mission. I don't know what went wrong in Six Apart's culture but, seriously, don't make out that Automattic were somehow unethical or crass simply because they weren't hit by the same malaise. In EVERY industry, competent sales people do whatever they (legally and ethically) can to win business. Your clients were not idiots, they knew you better than most, they received a better offer and trusted someone else more.

I appreciate hearing your angle, I respect Movable Type as a pioneer and I thank you for drawing my attention to Melody but, having considered what you've said here, I do wonder if, perhaps, you are using a competitor as an emotional pinata for all the things that didn't work out as you hoped they might.

You guys had the ball, you dropped it; you were the undisputed leaders, you should have continued growing to Facebook levels of importance but some dumb, dumb, dumb decisions were made. Matt Mullenweg had no part in that, he was just watching in horrified fascination like the rest of us. It was a confusing market - the decisive moments in fast-moving markets usually are - but Automattic were a little more awake and they didn't do anything that they shouldn't have; why begrudge them the victory with these mealy-mouthed excuses?

I do not begrudge Automattic at all for any measures it took to compete, even if that included what can only be described as "poaching customers." As I said, no customer ever switched to WordPress against their will. Their tactic was in fact brilliant because it forced Six Apart to be defensive, and it was also extremely disruptive. As such it was frustrating to me, and to others I am sure, but not once did I ever hear anyone at Six Apart say what they were doing was wrong. What they did was smart.

Next, when you say that Automattic's win was due largely to Six Apart's failings it leads me to believe that I wasn't clear in my writing. This piece is not about Automattic at all. It mentions Automattic sure, but this piece is about WordPress. Nor do I imply in any way that WordPress' success is due "largely to Six Apart's failings." My piece is attempt to break down just some of the many contributing factors to its success and Six Apart's inability (for which I must take some responsibility for the part I played) to provide compelling competition cannot be ignored.

I also would never argue that the people who were hurt, angered and even infuriated by Movable Type's licensing fiasco had every reason to feel the way they, and you, did. It was a colossal mistake. But to say that anyone is justified to be "antagonistic" is flat out wrong. For you, "antagonistic" might mean some ribbing here and there in comments. It might even mean some harsh language thrown in for good measure. But for others, it meant vitriol and hatred the likes of which I have never seen. It meant personal attacks and insult that I would not even invite on my worst enemy. There was a high ground for the community to take, in spite of all the completely justified anger. The high road however, was not the one most people chose to take, and it was never the one people were encouraged to take. Movable Type became WordPress' Alamo. It was a rallying cry, and I believe it struck the right chord for a victory at the time, but an unfortunate chord nonetheless.

The fact that the licensing change is most often characterized as some pre-meditated attempt to extract money from every corner, as something "the wonder couple tried to pull" for example, is the most inaccurate characterization possible. Although I can appreciate the fact that to the outside world one has little to draw upon to come up with a different conclusion. The licensing change was in fact not "premeditated" at all, it was effectively un-meditated. The licensing scheme was devised without adequate consideration for who would it affect, it was made suddenly and without warning and it was made without even the chance for the community to provide its feedback. The mistake in my opinion was not that they chose to go commercial. The mistake was one of communication and community management.

If I'm allowed to chime in here. I think I understood WordSkill's comment right, since I got the same feeling while reading the article. I also read to many 'yes, but...' and downright contradictory things.

It's most obvious in the part where in two sentences the purchase of Apperceptive is characterized from devastating in the long run to a huge and unquestioned success. I realize that the keywords were meant to be 'in the long run', but it just doesn't fit together under any circumstance and it's a good indicator of the whole theme of the article. Which I read as 'we had a competing product, but...'.

When people ask me what I do, I always try to avoid saying that I'm a programmer, since I don't consider myself one (although it's what people see me as, unfortunately). Therefore, I'd avoid getting into technical details of what is better: WP or MT. But I will say this: the technical aspect is not the only one that is important. WP was better for most people, and so I agree with the last part that it doesn't mean that it was better. If somebody would come up to me and ask me to build something with MT, I wouldn't scream and say that I only use WP. I just think it's irrelevant to say that it's because Six Apart lacked focus.

First, thank you for sharing your view of what happened. It's an unusually honest and insightful view, from the inside, of what was going on with SixApart. A view that most of us never saw at the time.

I started out using Movable Type back in the day, because it was the ONLY tool to use if you wanted to blog and not create the pages by hand. Because, when I started blogging, that's what I did; I wrote out the HTML, made the links and uploaded the page. Movable Type changed that and really opened up blogging for a lot of us. Movable Type inspired me to really dig deep into Perl, too. I had already been using Perl for some other things and got really excited about MT for that reason. Unfortunately, it was poorly documented and frustrating to develop for at every level. Still, I did actually write a plugin for it. A calendaring function that let someone blog in the calendar used for an official D&D setting. Geeky to the max, right? But, by the time I was done, I swore I'd never write another plugin for MT because of all the time and frustration involved. It was horrific!

I was one of the many who moved to WordPress at the time of the license debacle, or, as I think of it, the Time of Troubles. But, by then, as you pointed out, so many of the support resources were private and only available for a fee too steep for me to pay at the time, I was already souring on the entire MT ecology. Anyone who was any good, it seemed, and helpful in the community got "bought up", as it were, by SixApart and stopped offering any help for free. Their right, to be sure, but it killed the community. And, to me, that was the on-going problem with MT all along, almost from the start, but certainly after they really got rolling; they all but ignored their community. I'm sure there are people who would disagree, but, well, my recollection of trying to get help with the tags and the code was that it was like being locked outside the school while class was going on. More frustrating than I can describe!

WordPress, on the other hand, was better documented. Not much at the time, but even then it was better documented than MT. And, I rewrote that geeky calendar plugin for WP in a fraction of the time it took to write it for MT. That was an eye-opener, to be sure! And, of course, because of how WP has been setup and positioned, I never have to worry about waking up to a sudden fear of charges and corporate lawsuits for licensing fees, as you pointed out in your article.

I loved MT when I started using it and it changed the face of the web forever. We owe Six Apart a debt of gratitude for opening up that market so widely and so well. I honestly hope Ben and Mena are getting along well with all the acquisitions and such that have been going on. They've worked hard and deserve to do well and I hope they are! But, for now, WordPress is easier to use, to develop for and has fewer things for me to be afraid of in the future.

Of course, right now, somewhere, some kid is in their parents' basement inventing the Next Big Thing that will knock WP from the top spot. At least, I hope someone is being entrepreneurial enough for that!

(And, to be fair, I've heard plenty of Drupal and Movable Type fans bash everyone else as I've heard WordPress fans bash anyone. It's the internet; it happens!)

This is really a fabulously clear and enlightening post. I can actually place myself in this story: I started with Movable Type, became frustrated with CGI woes at times, and then fled after the licensing changes. I tried at least a dozen CMS before settling on WP. Wordpress seemed to have a more welcoming and active community, and I haven't really looked back since, even if it has given me headaches... but I do wish that there would be more robust competition and innovation!

Thank you for writing this up. I think it is so important to revisit what worked and what didn't during the history of Six Apart. I've got an essay of my own brewing in the back of my head. Hope all is well!

Thank you for an excellent insight into the development of the most popular CMS's of the last decade.

When I started blogging many years ago I tried Movable Type first as it was the first platform I'd heard of. I was a novice and couldn't get the damn thing to install - so you're article is right - difficult installation pushed me into the arms of Wordpress and I've been content ever since.

Matt,

One is the constant threat of exploits with your own WP install. It's crazy and like running Windows 95 without patches. Everyone I know with a self-hosted WP has been exploited in the last year or two and worries about it regularly.

I haven't seen an up-to-date WordPress install get directly exploited in around five years. Seriously.

Every time I investigate a compromised WordPress install, it is either because they were running an old version (usually not just a little bit old, but really old), or because their web host was compromised. All of the large scale instances of WordPress being compromised lately were because of web hosts who don't prevent users on one account from accessing files on another account. In these cases, WordPress wasn't exploited so much as it was victimized due to a lower level security issue on the server. WordPress is almost always public-facing, and is the most popular user-installed web app. If you're going to write a script to compromise hosting accounts and inject spam links onto established URLs, WordPress is the obvious target. That's what these scripts do... they look for WordPress installs on other accounts, and they inject a blob of base64-encoded PHP that allows them to remotely control the site and inject spam links. The state of shared web hosting security is grim. Customers need to demand better. It's not an unsolvable problem. Hosting companies have just mostly been competing with a race to bottom-barrel pricing. When you're paying $5 a month for hosting, three things will usually suffer: Stability, Security, and Support.

That's not to say that we haven't had our security issues. But they're manifestly not how up-to-date WordPress installs are compromised. In our next version's development cycle, we're going to focus even more on updates, so it's even easier to keep your install up-to-date.

Two big priorities right now are: (a) making it super easy to stay up-to-date and (b) pushing web hosts to get their act together.

The second problem is people ditching the self-hosted route for Wordpress.com don't get to run their own ads or make any money, just the parent company does and that feels grossly unfair to writers.

I prefer to think of WordPress.com as WordPress training wheels. You can get up and running, learn the software, start writing... and then when you're ready to run a shop or sell some ads or add custom functionality or do anything else that isn't allowed or isn't feasible on WordPress.com, you can upgrade to WordPress. There is a happy middle ground to be found. The folks over at Automattic are already attempting to find it with their VaultPress backup service for self-hosted WordPress sites.

Byrne,

Enjoyed the writeup. I don't deny that in the early days the rivalry aspect between WordPress and Movable Type was a bit... pointed. There were a few contributing factors there, for our side. We were young, we were the underdogs, and we felt that we had the philosophical high ground. The tone has matured a bit, since. In 2005, Movable Type was thanked on our about page, and remains there to this day. I viewed Six Apart's fumbling attempts to right the Movable Type ship not with hilarity or disdain, but with sadness. Movable Type made me fall in love with web publishing, and I personally owe it a great debt. I wish it had gone open source much sooner. I wish Six Apart hadn't (in my estimation) ceded to WordPress the personal blogging space in favor of the enterprise market. Six Apart wasn't the "enemy" to me. They'd just disappointingly lost their way.

It is worth distinguishing between Automattic/WordPress.com vs. Six Apart and WordPress/WordPress.org vs. Movable Type. Movable Type is a Six Apart product, but WordPress is not an Automattic product. It is an independent project that Automattic contributes to. But the community is much bigger than that (take me, for example, an independent). The rivalry between Six Apart and Automattic is a run-of-the-mill business rivalry, and one I'm glad I could sit out. The rivalry between Movable Type and WordPress was different. It was about a product versus a project. I loved the Movable Type community while I was involved with it. But it always felt that I had my relationships with other Movable Type users and supporters, and then I had my relationship with Six Apart. I was a fan of a product, and that was it. When I became involved with WordPress, I felt like I was actually part of something. It was empowering. And that feeling wasn't just limited to developers — it extended to users too. Had Movable Type been open sourced and turned into more of a community effort (say, if Melody had happened in 2004), history might have been quite different.

WordPress was in the right place at the right time. There were a few good decisions made early on (Movable Type importer, for one) that contributed, and there have certainly been decisions made since that have further solidified the lead (themes cannot be emphasized enough), but the turning of the tide in 2004 had a lot of luck involved.

What's worse is the fact that Six Apart sapped its community of its greatest leaders and contributors.

This is an excellent point. I know for a fact that Automattic was cognizant of the danger of draining a market of talent, and their hiring restraint in their early days was intentional and in retrospect, quite prudent.

I work for a large organization which uses Movable Type across a significant number of different properties.

When I got into blogging in the early days I used and was a big fan of Movable Type. Unfortunately I now quite dislike Movable Type and it frustrates me to no end that I have to use it every day.

From my experience and that of the team I work with, the publish time situation and lack of dynamic page generation is a huge deal. A commenter above spoke of 5 minute publish times for a site. That's an irritant but bearable. Unfortunately it does not reflect my experience.

A site that I work on daily takes over an hour to publish. Furthermore, making one new post to the site is counted in minutes not seconds as I would expect.

Make a typo in a post? You can't fix it for a while. What if you update the header template and accidentally don't close a tag and the whole site blows up? Sorry, you have to wait an hour for it to be fixed everywhere. As you can imagine this situation is a horrible suck on productivity and can lead to some really challenging situations with keeping a site functional and up to date in a fast-paced environment.

Now I do understand perhaps this is our fault. Perhaps the way our servers are set up is wrong. Perhaps the way we code our sites is inefficient and is causing these massive publishing times. Perhaps we just need to throw more server power at it. Though I would say if we have to throw more server power at MT, why not just throw the required server power at Wordpress. One of the big critiques of Wordpress' dynamic nature is that it will crash your site under heavy load. Perhaps, however, by properly using caching and throwing more power at it that would be a more reasonable situation than having the day-to-day maintenance and development of a site be bogged down in endless publish times.

The point is, while this may be our fault at the end of the day it is happening and I suggest that the software should not let us get to such a state. If it cannot be prevented in Software, Six Apart (or whoever will own this going forward) should provide support to its big customers to advise on speeding things up, the architecture of sites, etc.

Lets me also touch on developing a site with MT. Even if we presume the best case low-publishing time situation (which I do once in a blue moon witness when developing a new site on a new fresh install on our development server in the middle of the night when nobody else is bogging it down) that delay in seeing your changes reflected live and the requirement of clicking publish and all that is a big deal when compared to Wordpress. With Wordpress I open the file directly and save it. After that when I reload the page I see my change. It's a small difference (under ideal circumstances which I rarely operate under) but that small time adds up and the break in my flow going over to click publish and all that harms my productivity as well.

As previously mentioned MT's template tag system is also poorly documented in comparison to Wordpress. I find it much easier to figure things out in Wordpress from their documentation, and if I can't there is a much greater chance that I can find out from the community. When I search for things about MT I sometimes even end up on websites talking about Wordpress instead!

The fact that Wordpress is so closely tied to PHP is also a really big deal. I'm not really an advanced programer by any stretch, but I know enough to make my way through things and do some pretty good things by mucking around with PHP in my Wordpress templates. (I can even get PHP code executing in the posts if I want to!) Wordpress is so closely tied to PHP that I feel like I have the freedom as a pseudo-developer and with assistance from real developers to do whatever I can think of within the templates themselves. In Movable Type I don't have anywhere close to that freedom and constantly feel like I'm operating within a cage of what features and functionality MT has decided to give us or what the small community has produced plugins for. (Plugins which are often very poorly documented or unsurprisingly out of date.)

There are other frustrations which crop of as well, but those are what my mind currently is identifying as the big ones.

At the end of the day I and everybody else on our team absolutely loathes MT due to the day-to-day frustrations and slowness we experience. If I recorded the comments made around the office and played them back it would be the kind of stuff that would make a brave PR person weep.

Wordpress has its limitations and problems (security, uptime under heavy load, etc.) but when you work all day fighting against MT and waiting for it to publish and then go home and use Wordpress yourself or for freelance work with minimal trouble it's not surprising that MT seems to be the devil and Wordpress the saviour.

Once again, I recognize that the problems may not be fully MT's fault or may be entirely ours, but for whatever reason perhaps this can shed some light on situations which cause people to want to abandon MT.

I know this what not the point of your post, and that I probably could not change your opinion about Movable Type at this point, but please feel free to contact me because I think I can at least make your life at work more bearable. :-/

I was going to post a comment sympathetic to your position, until I scanned your comment again and found this nugget:

The point is, while this may be our fault at the end of the day it is happening and I suggest that the software should not let us get to such a state.

Performance optimization is a black art in any field. There are Oracle experts who are able to smoke gold foil-wrapped cigars lit with burning $100 bills because of the demand for people who can make Oracle actually perform like a bat out of hell. Yet few professionals rain burning coals on Oracle for not having a 1 click "optimize wizard" that magically makes every Oracle installation behave like it's gotten TLC from one of those specialists.

Instead of complaining and not doing anything, why not reach out to the community and ask for help.

The exploits I have seen have been because someone had Windows and their email was compromised with the login information.

So let me preface this by saying thanks for being open and posting this - it was well written and an interesting read as I've been around since 01/02 ish... And I love the comment by Mark Jaquith... well written as well.

The biggest draw away from MT back in the day for me was the rebuilding of the blog every time I needed to post something... back then I was posting multiple times a day and it got aggravating to have to wait for my content to go live... I wasn't doing too much customizing yet so the minor layout stuff I was modifying wasn't a big deal... yet.

I really was looking for a dynamic setup, but was worried about how to host that and heard all the horror stories of php and mysql and the server loads and processing stuff... worried me but I looked anyways. The open source thing was very important to me at the time... i medeled in some warez stuff so I had that mentality going already but the licensing was attractive to me back then, and still is.

That's when i found b2/cafelog with that chick looking down with the sunglasses on in the header... I know you all remember that lol. It was pretty crappy at the time but I loved the premise of it being dynamic and served immediately. Which lead me to follow along with wordpress when it forked. I've never really looked back since then.

I've used just about everything out there, joomla, drupal, EE, concrete 5, simplecms, and countless others... and yet I still use WP and base a good portion of my career on it. I even run WordCamp Phoenix these days... The community is good, and that's a BIG part of it.

So... I had an issue signing into your Melody with Facebook to comment... and when I clicked on people's names I got this error: http://goo.gl/LGHeX Not saying anything other than that but... just sayin. Twitter sign in worked fine, which is what i'm using now.

Anyways... thanks for the honest and open post... much appreciated. Good luck with Melody guys

Mr. Reynolds,

Perhaps my experience isn't indicative of everyone else's, but I wanted to say I've spent the last four years working with an organization that uses Movable Type to manage a site with about 40,000 articles. Rebuilding everything takes a couple of hours on our dedicated quad core server with 4GB memory.

But, we rarely need to rebuild due to how we put together the templates. We utilize many PHP includes such that the structure of the entry templates almost never needs to change. That might be something to look into.

Aside from that, our server regularly gets hit with such traffic that it is difficult to keep everything running, especially when a big news story breaks. I don't even want to think about the additional strain we'd endure if we used Wordpress and had dynamic pages. But perhaps caching would help out enough, who knows.

That all said, I am in the process of converting my personal blog to Wordpress, both to simply learn another CMS but also due to the ease I can attain various functionality through the ample plugin supply.

So clearly the products both still have their strengths. I can only hope both and others will continue to innovate.

Great read, although I never used Movable Type myself, but I did peek on to Perl and ugh! I'm a Python guy but had a 6 years experience of PHP ;)

Thanks for such a great post! Cheers :) ~ @kovshenin

" Now, the great irony is that even for all of WordPress' open sourcey, socialist, hippy goodness, it is the competition driven by the capitalist free market that drives much of WordPress' innovation today"

Business models can be built around GPL projects, usually via support, and it obviously served WordPress well.

If we ignore the ideology of free software, open source development is still a viable and often technically better way to develop software (business or personal).

(See Chromium, Mozilla, mod_passenger, …) many open source projects with a viable and working business model built around them.

I'd also consider them, by large, to be of high quality as well.

Anyway, I liked your article.

The reason I used wordpress was because I looked at the install page and I thought "that looks easy, I think I'll try it". So I tried it, got using it, and didn't have a need to use anything else.

I was a big supporter of MT back in its heyday, and I had several friends who worked for 6A so I had reason to stick with it. It was indeed the licensing fiasco that finally drove me away. It felt like they'd gone corporate, and little individual bloggers, their earliest users, were going to be ignored. So I left, and today I know only one person who still uses MT.

That WP is in PHP did help a little bit, though: I was enthralled by the idea of no more lengthy rebuilds!

"each platform, be it WordPress, Drupal, Expression Engine, Movable Type, Simple CMS, TypePad, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr"

When you wrote Instagram what you really meant was Posterous, right?

nda

Very well written summary indeed. For me, the huge amount of plugins and themes is the winning point. With WordPress plugins one can do almost anything when necessity arises. I have translated some plugins into Brazilian Portuguese lately, and intend to contribute even more to the WordPress community.

I don't think "war" is an apposite metaphor to be honest. It's like "guitars won the music war" or "shovels won the digging war".

A terrific post, thanks for providing an absorbing read.

I think you're dead right in your over-arching observation: WordPress is easier. I remember when I was moving from TypePad to self-hosting in late 2005/early 2006. I experimented with test installs of both platforms. I loved Movable Type but fouind it a huge and steep learning curve (I'm not a tech type, just a user) compared to WordPress.

So I went with WordPress because it was easier to figure out what to do. It was that simple for me.

Five years on I'm still with WordPress. Which of course has got even easier over time.

You said: "number of professional and truly capable professional service providers got widdled down to a very small list."

I think the word you want there is "whittled".

Please feel free to delete this comment after making the correction.

/My/ biggest problem with all these self publishing platforms is the lack of copy-editing... ; - )

Thank you for such a thoughtful and insightful article. It was a bit sad, but at the same time wonderful to see the "MT Story" from another perspective.

As a former MT user and web developer, I kept nodding my head as I read your article and, as others have commented, I could place myself in the story. Thank you for giving me a broader view and context.

Excellent post, Byrne with some nice insight into what happened from your perspective, on the inside.

As an outsider, I converted from MT to WP in 2003 because it was easier. At that time, I couldn't care less if it was PERL vs PHP; it was just flat out easier to work with.

I assume great improvement have been made with MT over the years - however; at the time, rebuilding was my greatest issue. Imagine my pleasant surprise the first time I used WordPress and made an update to a template file ... clicked a button and my entire web site was updated with the change? What? No rebuilding of years worth of archives that took hours to get through (that is, if my hosted server, at the time, didn't choke in the process).

At that very moment - - that very first template modification in my WP theme, I was sold and gone from MT forever, and never looked back. It was ... well, dynamic.

I didn't care about the politics of the time - and that is to say, most end users did not (and still do not).

As an end user, MT required too much of my time to do what WP did in half the time. Once that concept started making its way around the web - there was no stopping it. Users want simple and WordPress delivered.

All the rest of what you mentioned in your article unfortunately added fuel to that burning ember. Good for users, not so good for Movable Type/Six Apart.

It's funny, I had almost forgotten about the MT license change brouhaha. At the time, I was in no position to run a blog on my own website anyway, so I didn't really care. But what did I hear about WordPress early on? Constant security complaints. Inability to run multiple blogs. (Since then this has been fixed, I believe.) I was fairly happy when I heard MTOS was released, because I knew people might want to keep using MT and a true open source package was the way to keep the software alive.

Yet, when I did get into position to deploy a blogware on my own site, MT 4 was pretty much the only choice I had, for a simple technical reason: WordPress still only supports MySQL, and I need SQLite. Of course, the irony is that MT 5 doesn't support SQLite either, due to ahem direction changes at SixApart, no doubt. So thanks for reminding me that Melody exists - I just switched from MT 4 to Melody and it works pretty well. (...and it even appears to work better than your site, since OpenID works on my site. =)

what oracle has done to mysql will mean that eventually this will all have to move to postgres, and that will be the downfall of wordpress...

I used to be a big fan of MT, but it just kept frustrating me. Though I have a background of Perl development for network management tools, I'm not an interface designer. I wanted a personalized design for my blog. The answer from the MT community was that you needed to hire a designer for that. The plugins rarely worked and were never quite what I intended.

When I finally switched to WordPress, I could have kicked myself for waiting so long. WP was a breath of fresh air. Themes, outstanding plugins, and plenty of documentation that made sense to me. This was something for writers, not geeks.

MT failed because of MT, though. One bad decision after another, alienating the very community that helped the company start...it pisses me off to even think of it now.

I have no problem paying for software. I didn't switch to WP because it was free. I switched because it offered something I had BEGGED Six Apart to offer for years. No more begging. I have no sympathy for Six Apart. They caused their own problems.

I started with MT because it was pretty much it at the time (early 2000s). I was running a small blog inside the corporate firewall so it easy enough. But I chose to use the Berkeley DB, rather than MySQL. That wasn't an issue until I had a disk problem that messed up the index files. I couldn't seem to get any help with rebuilding them (quite possibly my fault for not looking in the right places, but it was very frustrating). I ended up trashing all of my old data and reinstalling with MySQL.

Then came the Great License Change. I had no budget for the blog and wouldn't be able to pay other than out of my own pocket. Since I already had MySQL and PHP installed, I decided it was time to convert. I don't know Perl and I don't know PHP, so there was no language-based rationale here, just the license cost. And while Six Apart may not have enforced the license, my company would have compelled me to do so (see above about budget).

Since it was mentioned above, I now use Drupal for an inside-the-firewall site. It's okay, but support for sites that have to go through a httpproxy to reach the net is a joke. While it's not required, the automatic update notifications don't work without it. So every time you update, the site hangs until the notification feature times out. Then you can get to the admin page that lets you shut it off. Then, if you want, you can patch the source to add httpproxy. This has been an open issue since 2004: http://drupal.org/node/7881.

What's fascinating of course is that all of the above are things that happened outside the control of any one person or company. For example, WordPress never chose its license, or the language it was written in.

Not sure I get that line. Unless you mean the software itself hasn't grown a mind and decided for itself. The WP_AI class isn't quite finished yet. ;)

I think he meant that as a fork of b2, both the license and language were inherited, not chosen independently, which is true.

I wish wordpress had never been invented...I use it, I make money with it...

but I hate maintaining it or working on other peoples setups.

there are too many plugins and too many themes and too many places where you end up editing php code or css in some directory you have to memorize...and everyone and their dog seems to think its a CMS not blogging software.

Just yesterday I was repairing some wordpress site with "SuperAdmin" or something which had 150+ customer blogs under one interface. The permalinks had become borked by the "The Events Calendar" plugin

it was a mess

I'd like some clarification on something: to what extent did Automattic actually win? I mean, they raised even more money than Six Apart ($30MM, if I remember correctly, to 6A's $25MM or thereabouts)- and it's been 7 or 8 years, and they haven't achieved an exit either. To me, it's usually a bad sign when when one of the two companies in a space goes out of business- that is, if 6A couldn't succeed on VC-terms with the blog sector, what makes anyone think Automattic can either?

Yes, WP is clearly the more successful product- but that doesn't mean Automattic is a success as a company. Does anyone here have current details on how it's doing as an actual business?

What I honestly respect about Automattic the most is a feeling I have that Matt has never been in it for an inevitable exit. Matt does what he does because he loves it and because he is great at it. My honest sense is that Automattic is more aptly compared to Craigslist than Six Apart.

Unlike Craigslist however, I don't believe the folks behind Automattic are morally opposed to a greater liquidation strategy.

But mostly, I just don't believe a company needs to be on an IPO or buy-out track to be successful, nor do I feel that it needs to grow quarter-after-quarter. As long as Automattic is profitable, as long as it is able to continue to promote what it believes is right and as long as it is making customers happy - then it is a success in my book.

I don't know- that sounds like a lot of bullshit to me. You don't take $30MM from VCs and then decide to put your feelings first. Craig is allowed to do that because he never took money.

I mean, if we're discounting financial outcomes, and judging the companies just on their effect on the world, then I think 6A and Automattic and Blogger are all basically tied- they each invented a bunch of features, hosted millions of sites, popularized the medium, etc.

But if you take VC money, then you need to make money- and my guess is that Automattic hasn't done any better at that than 6A did. I mean, $10m/year in revenue? After 7 years and $30MM in investment, and you're still just breaking even?

According to Toni Schneider, Automattic is break even, and isn't focused on revenue right now.

There were rumors of a $200 million offer that was rejected back in 2007. No idea whether that's true. You know what they say — it's worth what someone will pay for it. I'd have to guess that their worth has only gone up, since.

Automattic's $29.5 million round was in 2008 — not that long ago.

The licensing debacle might have been the first leak, but ease of use is what tore down the levees and gave WordPress the advantage.

Here's the thing: people will pay for quality. Companies will pay for support. They will pay for software that works well.

MT stopped working well.

I was working at a newspaper at the time. It used MT for its highly-trafficked blogs. The blog server crashed once a week. Publishing was a pain in the butt because mistakes couldn't be corrected quickly. Their most popular blogs would go down for HOURS.

Now by that point, WordPress worked well enough that the stability gains were worth losing features such as multiple blogs.

They switched to WordPress.

And THAT is how WordPress won.

I am going to re-post most of the email I sent to ProNet yesterday. Just one person's experience and impressions:

I am reading this thread with great interest as I have just recently decided, after the better part of eight years, to give up the ghost on MT and move to WP. That's a lot of momentum to give up on and jump to an unfamiliar platform (and no, I don't speak PHP -- or PERL). Why?

Well, a lot of reasons, really, all sort of coming together at once.

First, for a number of reasons I like to be part of a large user community. I speak at least descent html and CSS, but the programming end of things is obscure to me. That is to say that I like to have that large user community to go to to ask my "How do I..." questions (and occasionally answer them, too). When I started, MT was far and away THE choice of platform, and the MT forums were an absolutely great resource where you could get questions answered and banter about the best way to achieve something.

When I returned to the forums some time after the licensing thing, it was like someone had set a neutron bomb off in the place. Everyone was gone. Had it been like that when I started, I never would have chosen MT. It also doesn't give one much hope for the future when one sees a ghost-town of a user community, and worse, filling up with spam messages.

Wordpress has the user base and community. While I've since learned that I have a pretty good chance of leaving orphan messages in the Wordpress (or Thematic, which I'm using) forums (so things are not as perfect as I'd imagined them), at least there's a chance of getting an answer, and an even better chance of Googling up a solution, as opposed to MT, where increasingly, if you can even find an answer to a "how to" or the even more important "Oh no, something's messed up" question, it's likely to be a five or six year old solution that applies to an old version of the software.

The huge user and developer base also, as others mentioned, means a huge number of continuously supported and updated plugins and, secondarily for me at least, themes. The plugin thing is a big deal.

I understand the amazement posters here have expressed with how WP could have done so well, considering what a pig it can be to work with behind the scenes. That was one of the first things I noticed. I just can't run my site with an off the shelf theme, and wanted to come back with WP using the exact same look and feel of my MT site.

What a task!

With MT, you can follow the template trail right there in the UI, and do most of what you need with a little html, css, and the appropriate MT template tag.

With WP you have to track down the PHP file that creates the part of the page you want to modify, decipher the PHP as best you can (would have been much easier for most people on this list who would speak PHP going in), figure out the WP "template tag" you need to use (which is still all basically in PHP format, so you still need to know PHP to know how it works, unlike MT where the tag generally just acts like any other html in the flow of the code), save it, upload it, and hope you didn't kill your site. I never bothered with a development localhost on my hard drive with MT, now I wouldn't edit without testing locally first.

You can help someone with MT just by pointing them to the appropriate template tag, but with WP I've seen basic questions answered by "Oh sure, here's 25 lines of PHP code to do that..." WTF? Really, WP is a nightmare in this regard.

OTOH, in the years of making my own look and feel in MT, I never quite figured out how to save them as easily packaged themes. WP is quite simple in this regard, and I now have a couple of themes that I could easily give out to other people if I wanted to, and install just by uploading a single directory tree.

Also, for the average user not obsessed with personalization, the WP backend, the way it's super-simple to install themes, plugins and the way it automatically updates said plugins and even the core...it's super. I also know I can set up total non-techies and they'll be good to go with minimal help from me going forward.

That's another thing. As someone who has set people up with blogs a few times, I have to say that going forward, the platform of choice will be WP. Ease of use on the back end, the plug and play nature of it, the fact that everyone's using it, etc...make it the no-brainer choice. Sorry. Oh, and the future of the product...

It's been clear for some time that more and more MT is aimed at the developer, not the semi-techie user like myself. Don't take this as criticism of this list -- I have gotten help here a number of times -- but I'll never forget the time I posted a blop of template code in my message here just to include all the data that someone might need to answer, and one of the first replies I got was along the lines of, "Well, I hope someone charges you to go through all that." I don't want to over-dramatize it, and I'm sure the person who wrote it didn't mean anything so bad by it, but to my ears that reply exemplified exactly what had gone wrong with the MT "community" over the years. If you need help, pay a professional.

I am in danger of rambling now. Let me wrap up that for me, after all those years and upgrades, my install was creaking. Something was wrong, maybe in the javascript, something I couldn't figure out on my own, anyway, and I knew there was no way to fix it without hiring a pro to comb through my code -- something I couldn't justify.

So I had two options: 1) Stay with MT and go with a new install/database. But am I really smart to invest in MT going forward? What version should I use? MT 5x is still not a stable product. From talk on this list and from what I already know, it sounds as though MT's future is just not something I could invest in.

or 2) Move to WP. Suck it up, increase my personal skill set by getting familiar with the platform, take a deep breath, grab a PHP book off the shelf and go forward with a new platform. So that's what I did.

It is a shame. MT is a good product, but there's a lot more to what makes a success than just what programmers admire.

There's probably a lot more I could say. I've invested countless hours in tinkering with the software and lurking on the email lists and forums, and I've learned a lot of lessons along the way, and more recently learned a lot of lessons with WP (I almost literally didn't leave the computer for two weeks as I got ready for my move), but,...ttfn. Congrats if you made it this far. I should also say I mean none of this as a knock on anyone on this list, or the people like Jun and crew working hard to improve the product. I wish everyone the best, and will keep monitoring the situation for the foreseeable future.

-Martin

Wordpress is so easy to hack and improve. I could churn out a simple plugin within 15 mins of seeing the API for the first time.

I love the hackability!

It's simple. I tried to install MT on a Ubuntu box. After 2 weeks of torture, and help forums I got the admin end to work. Front end would still crash.

You take Wordpress after that. 20 minutes later, i have a website.

Now you tell me, why did it fail?

And...None of the companies mentioned above make any money. A blogger needs to know how to produce good content, not PHP.

Just one bit of anecdotal evidence to second one of your points: WP ease of installation was a huge factor.

In 2005, I set up my own domain and was looking for the best / easiest blogging software. (I was moving from blogspot.com)

I didn't even know about MT's licensing issues. If I had, that would have put me off for sure.

As it was, I read the instructions for setup on each one, took a gander at the forums to see how much trouble people were really having, and went with WP.

Fwiw, their "5-minute install" boast was wildly overblown in 2005. More like a "two hour plus lots of editing config files install." But still, as these things go, it was much simpler than the other DIY blogging software out there.

Re the community: with the benefit of six years' experience, I can say that rarely have I seen a less helpful, more brusque, or more useless bunch of moderators. A couple of times when I was desperate, I got my WP questions answered on Ubuntu forums!

Wordpress is just a better name than Movable Type. Fewer syllables. Easier to share/ recommend. Wordpress sounds simpler and actually delivered on that promise.

Absolutely.

The name of a product is what shapes your very initial impression of it, before you even get to know what it is. Movable Type obviously appeals only to a very select community, while Word Press talks to everybody.

I am surprised that so many concentrate on technical explanations for WordPress success. They certainly do carry some weight but the invisible elephant in the room that is his name shapes users' perspective so much that it can't be ignored, let alone not even mentioned.

That's really funny you say that, because when we started people said WordPress was a terrible name because it sounded too much like Typepad, which had launched a few months before.

I got far more help from the MovableType community than I ever did in the WordPress community. So while it's community is larger, the quality of the help was better with MT.

WordPress has won* because of extensibility, clarity of license (it's really free), and, mainly, ease of installation. My choice of hosting company for ~10 years, pair.com has an option to "one click" install MT and I've considered it, but a monthly charge for a free blogging platform? That just seems peculiar. Six Apart was great to get deals with webhosts for things like this, but in the end the "ugh, ANOTHER thing that's an itemized charge" thing is death by inches. There was a real opportunity to do deals with big webhosts and make MT available, but to my knowledge that didn't happen. That did happen with WP for many hosts, and for free.

Thanks for sharing your write up, I don't agree with all the characterizations of WordPress folk, and in fact some of the things you mention I've never heard of, and I thought of myself as being knowledgeable about WordPress (I was a user of b2 and I think was one of the first to migrate from b2 to WordPress when that change happened).

As to users getting "poached," I would say that getting high-profile users solicited like that was a wake up call, a very heavy one that Six Apart failed to heed. Having users who talk to you about such things is a great testament to the loyalty of your users in terms of communication.

For me, I started with Blogger.com via FTP in 2001, and migrated to WordPress for my own personal blog in 2004. WordPress has not been a perfect platform, but the community has been responsive and adaptive and has acknowledged problems with the software on a timely basis.

  • being the most popular now does not mean it will be the most popular forever

Absolutely; more hosts offered one-click installs of wordpress than of MT. Result: more WP installs than MT installs. (The downside of this is that there are a lot of never-updated elderly WP blogs sitting around waiting to get hacked.)

WordPress no doubt best blogging platform and i have totally dedicated WebGudie4U to WordPress and this blogging platform is now the only source of my income and that too comes in handy

I jumped to WordPress from Movable Type during the licensing switch -- I was starting out as an independent internet musician and worried that MT was going to be mad at me for being "commercial".

Thanks for the great, honest post. It's a really fascinating time in the history of web publishing (I was there!) and I really enjoyed reading your thoughts.

As a faiiiirly impartial observer some parts did come off a bit defensive or (understandably) sour towards WordPress, FYI. Just to back up/explain some of the comments here.

The thing I kept thinking while reading your article was (I think) that none of the success of WordPress was unavailable to Movable Type. Sure there was the Perl/PHP thing but that could have been sorted out in a version or two.

But I think despite any tech advantages MT could have embraced openness even further and grown its ecosystem and platform and given WordPress more competition.

I remember a bunch of years ago when WordPress sites were being routinely downed by Digg and Slashdot due to database overload. I thought that was a perfect time for Movable Type to step up and offer a competitive alternative, but that didn't happen. Same thing these past few years with all the security exploits.

But hindsight is 20/20. And also annoying.

Great post. I too am a long time MT user (since about 2001) and in a way am saddened that a market leader fell by the wayside. But mistakes were made.

And themes and being easiest are key to how Wordpress got where it is. And hey, size brings community. Ironically it's (I hope a small part of) the community that has really put me off Wordpress. Some of them are as bad as Apple fanboys - it's like "JUST USE WORDPRESS DUMBO" once you say you use MT.

That kind of bitter, nasty rivalry that is at the heart of all this (as you say) really does the world no good at all.

Late last year, I decided to try blogging again, and it seems like all the SEO folks were recommending Wordpress for its search engine friendliness.

"The next version of Movable Type will be version 3.0, a significant and free upgrade." - Ben Trott, http://www.movabletype.com/blog/2003/12/movable-type-30.html

"We're big on honor at Six Apart. We haven't built in any nagware for license violations or phone home mechanisms. We trust our users' good judgment and intentions. We intend to use our good judgment in being flexible about enforcing these limits." - Mena Trott, http://www.sixapart.com/blog/2004/05/itsabouttime.html

"To the best of my knowledge, not once did Six Apart ever police or enforce its license."

How did WordPress win? I think this sentence holds the key.

"Fortunately, b2/cafelog is GPL, which means that I could use the existing codebase to create a fork, integrating all the cool stuff that Michel would be working on right now if only he was around. The work would never be lost, as if I fell of the face of the planet a year from now, whatever code I made would be free to the world, and if someone else wanted to pick it up they could." - Matt Mullenweg, http://ma.tt/2003/01/the-blogging-software-dilemma/

And to quote myself from the relevant time period, this certainly didn't help, either.

"Here was the critical mistake for me. Between the announcement on Thursday morning and the announcement on Saturday, we heard not a thing. If the second announcement had come out on Friday, I would most probably still be using MT. But by the time it did, I was already too deep in the process of moving to WordPress to feel like staying." - http://www.libraryplanet.com/2004/05/17/free-to-free-version/

Thank you so much for sharing this collection of links and quotes. It highlights for me what the real failure was. The failure was not Movable Type going commercial (although I am sure people will debate me on that), the failure was one in communication.

To be fair, I must admit that I was not there when MT3 was released. Six Apart was only three people back then: Ben, Mena and Anil. Actually maybe four because I think Mie was there too. But I digress, here were 3 or 4 people who were very, very green, who had just got funding, who were getting pressure from their funders to begin making money, who were tired, haggard, and strung out, moving waaaaay too fast. Had they slowed down. Had they taken a little more time to think through how there were going to manage the transition from shareware to payware, I am confident they would not have pissed off so many people and the blogging world would be very different today.

Hundreds of thousands of people told you that they had been cold-called by Automattic?

I'm sorry, but that's not believable.

@Patty - I think you misunderstand, I am not saying that every TypePad customer called us, or that Automattic called every TypePad customer. What I am saying is that Automattic systematically targeted to highest trafficked TypePad web sites, and key A-list bloggers hosted by TypePad to encourage them to leave. They successfully recruited some (or more) without Six Apart every knowing about it. But some of the people they approached were very loyal to Six Apart and TypePad. Those customers would sometimes let us know through back channels that they were approached by Automattic. And that is how we know that such a campaign existed.

Okay, and I don't doubt that. The exaggeration just bugged me.

Personally, I switched to WordPress because it was so much prettier than any of the other choices available at the time.

Since then, WordPress has gotten even prettier. Plus it has gotten easier to maintain.

I was looking for a balance between do-it-all-yourself solutions like Blosxom and the let-us-handle-it-for-you solutions like dotMac. I wanted the ability to do some limited customization (themes, navigation elements, pages, images) but I didn't want to have to do any programming to get these things. And, it had to look really great.

WordPress did these things, and continues to do them.

I almost left, though. The update process was ungainly and scary, and I kept putting it off. When the automatic one-click update was finally added, I cheered.

I created my first blog in 2004. When I was looking around, I found WP.com, but almost immediately found WP.org and liked the wider range of options from self-hosting. The same day I also found MT.

Looking at the two, and only having designed HTML sites before, and because I was really only doing it to have a personal blog, I decided on WP. I believe it was just about the same time the different pricing levels for MT were revealed. MT seemed to have too much of a learning curve even in just figuring out what I was going to be charged, let alone figuring it out! I did try one installation, which failed. I immediately tried to install WP and had no problems.

A friend with a MT was always telling me about the problems she was having and all the costs she was paying. That, too, influenced my decision.

I've been designing sites using WordPress ever since.

It is simple; WordPress won because of wordpress.com. That is why I started using it and once I was comfortable with it I recommended it to my friends.

When I first started looking into blogging in 2005 it was as a hobby so cost (free) and relative ease made WordPress the obvious choice. That hobby started to generate a little side business as I helped others improve their sites. And that side business has grown into a multifaceted company over the years with a variety of services, all centered on WordPress and responsible for the creation of hundreds of other WordPress sites.

It's possible the results would have been the same for me with Movable Type. But the higher barrier to entry at the very beginning set my course because it was only after learning a new skill set via a hobby that I even thought about providing services for businesses.

I think that is one of the overlooked reasons WP has come to dominate the web publishing arena today. Many of us who provide WP services started out as hobbyists and could afford to learn the software for free until we honed our skills enough to start charging for them.

When we did start doing commercial work we stuck with what we knew and naturally promoted WordPress to our prospective clients.

From a technology standpoint, it may look like this was a php vs. perl issue to someone who has a perl product. I don't think that's the case considering the time when MT fumbled the ball. You can build a snazzy installer for perl just as easily as you can for php. There are still thorns in the php world, having to do with file system permissions, so it's not like Wordpress has a perfect idiot proof one button installation, because such a thing is not possible in the php world. Wordpress was following in the footsteps of other popular CMS and forum applications written in PHP and understood that the first impression that comes along with an installer that looks like an application, is an important one. With that said, there is a WP competitor in the PHP world, contributed to by a number of people who are well known in the PHP community. When I first looked at WP, extensibility and modularity were important to me, and what I saw with WP was something that looked to me like I would be hacking it rather than extending it with plugins, and I wanted something I thought had a better architecture. After searching I came upon the serendipity project, which was built from the start with an eye towards php best practices and having good clean code. It also has a really neat feature that is not unlike CPAN or PEAR where you can install plugins or templates using their central repository, with a couple clicks in the admin. They also support Smarty templates which has some performance benefits and should have appealed to the php developer audience who were already familiar with Smarty. Despite the better architecture and it's adoption by people like project lead for PHP itself, it has never caught on or developed much of a following. WP had a company behind it, with a clear commercial model, whereas Serendipity is completely free software from a group of adhoc developers, and has no business agenda or entity to drive it in the marketplace. The "freeness" of the software really doesn't seem to be an advantage at all, and probably is a disadvantage. "Free" and open source are just too often confused.

It looks like WP was just better at building a brand, listening to and supporting both its users and its customers.

Leave a comment

what will you say?


Monthly Archives

Recent Comments

  • From a technology standpoint, it may look like this was a php vs. perl issue to someone who has a perl product. I don't think that's the case considering the time when MT fumbled the ball. You can build a snazzy instal...

  • When I first started looking into blogging in 2005 it was as a hobby so cost (free) and relative ease made WordPress the obvious choice. That hobby started to generate a little side business as I helped others improve t...

  • It is simple; WordPress won because of wordpress.com. That is why I started using it and once I was comfortable with it I recommended it to my friends. ...

  • I created my first blog in 2004. When I was looking around, I found WP.com, but almost immediately found WP.org and liked the wider range of options from self-hosting. The same day I also found MT. Looking at the two,...

    Tracey Rollison
    How did WordPress win?
  • I was going to post a comment sympathetic to your position, until I scanned your comment again and found this nugget: The point is, while this may be our fault at the end of the day it is happening and I suggest that t...

Close