Guesting at Read/Write Web

I have yet to achieve my ambition of guesting on The Simpsons (although the movie-related competition offers a slim chance at that). But I have guest-posted at Read/Write Web, my favorite Web 2.0-focused blog.

The post in question is a comparison between Six Apart and Automattic, two “major indies” of the blogging world. I am pleased to see that it has drawn 20 comments so far. None of them complain of pro-Automattic/WordPress bias. Some of them I disagree with, but disagreement is one of the reasons to allow and encourage comments in the first place.

One of the comments I disagree with is that “blogging is dead vs myspace/facebook stuff. Where is the need for a individual expression tool when the whole business is moving to social?” I was going to respond to that, but Read/Write Richard beat me to it.

Since the article was published, much of the traffic to this blog has come from Read/Write Web. If you’ve just arrived via the link from there, welcome. Please stay and have a look around. If you’ve subscribed as a result of following that link, my particular thanks to you and to Richard.

That said, the next post will probably scare you off again. Bad poetry alert!

Six Apart and Automattic: Overview

I’ve been doing some thinking and scribbling recently about Six Apart and Automattic, which I regard as the two leading indie blogging tool firms (Blogger being a subsidiary of Google these days). This table provides an overview comparison.

Six Apart Automattic
Founded July 2002 December 2005
First release available for download Movable Type 1.0, in October 2001 WordPress 1.0, in January 2004
Free at first? No charge, but donations welcome Free/open source under GPL
Hosted service(s) TypePad, LiveJournal (acquired), Vox WordPress.com

In each case, the initial software release preceded the founding of the company by some time. WordPress was free/open source at release. It is a fork of b2/cafelog, which was under the GPL, so WordPress was in effect GPL’d before it existed.

Movable Type was in a sense free at first release. When it ceased to be free, with the release of MT3, there was an exodus from MT to WP. It may turn out that MT3 is the most significant release ever, for MT/Six Apart and for WP/Automattic.

Each firm has a hosted service, as well as a downloadable product. In fact, Six Apart has three such services. Automattic has one, and it has the WordPress name/brand. In one sense, then, Automattic is the more focused of the two firms.

On the other hand, Automattic is less strictly focused on tools used directly by bloggers. WordPress Multi-User enables the building of hosted services based on WordPress, and so is used by blog system administrators. Akismet is a spam detection service, not limited to WordPress or even to blogs in terms of the software that can use it.

I have some more stuff along the same lines, including a table comparing timelines for the two firms. Let me know if you’d like me to tidy it up and post it here.

PR, Paper, and Pixels

You’re in Boston, and you find a card bearing the URI. Would you follow said URI? I don’t think I would. But when I read about these cards at Universal Hub, I did follow the link. I found the request: If you come to this blog via a card you found in the city please email me or comment.

I think that the blog will get more hits from the link at Universal Hub than from the cards themselves. In other words, the cards will work better indirectly (via the hub) than directly. But I guess it depends on the cards…

Automattic’s Gain, TextPattern’s ?

Automattic, Matt reveals, has another new employee: Alex Shiels. Alex is prominent in the TextPattern community. In news that may well be related, Team Textpattern reports a change of focus, details of which will be available soon.

I don’t know much about TextPattern, other than that it is:

Movable Type 4

mt4platform.pngSix Apart just announced Movable Type 4. 6A VP Anil Dash’s passionate post makes very interesting reading.

The image shows an arrow going to MT4 from each of 6A’s other three products. Anil explains the relationships as follows: “we can take their technology, and the lessons they’ve taught us, and bring them back to Movable Type.” It’s not clear to what extent this will be reflected in shared code. In particular, will there be a 6A platform on which all products are based?

What is clear to me is that MT4 is to a large extent about community:

  • Version 4 brings in to MT some of the things 6A has learned about community from the acquisition of LiveJournal and from the development and launch of Vox.
  • An open source version of MT4 will be released under the GPL later this year.
  • What begins today is “a real beta process that will collect your suggestions, improvements, feedback, and most of all the passion of all of you in our community.”
  • MT4 is an olive branch to those past and present members of the MT community who felt outraged by the enforced licensing of MT3.

Duncan Riley’s post at Techcrunch is particularly interesting in relation to the last of these points.

As a vocal critic previously I can now say in all honesty that a leopard can change its spots. The new version of MovableType looks wildly appealing to me as a blogger and the decision to open source the platform may well deliver broad numbers of WordPress converts back to the platform that started it all.

Read/Write Richard posts as a MT blogger who has “looked on rather enviously” at WordPress, and indeed is running new blogs in his network (e.g., last100) on WordPress. Of course, both Duncan and Richard devote more of their posts to objective analysis than to personal reflection.

I’ll look forward to detailed comparisons between MT4 and WordPress, particularly in terms of their relative attractiveness to third parties. My feeling is that MT has a lot of ground to make up, but that MT4 represents a determined effort.

Finally, 6A veteran Anil frames the new version in terms of the heritage of MT and 6A. But the manager in charge of MT is Chris Alden, who came on board nine months ago when 6A bought Rojo. At the time, Valleywag saw the $5M as the price for Chris, with the rest of Rojo being along for the ride.

37signals, 6 Products, 1 Blog

I’m glad to say that 37signals has decided to consolidate its many product-specific blogs into one product blog.

The posts are categorized by product, so that if I want to see posts on Backpack, I can do so. Posts spanning multiple products are assigned to multiple categories; an example of such a post is the one on Basecode, the Firefox extension that allows formatting of text inside 37s applications.

I don’t think that there is a separate RSS feed for each product. So I have to subscribe to the whole product blog, rather than being able to subscribe to the posts on Basecamp. Had 37s gone with WordPress, it would have been easy to provide a feed for each product.

The product blog seems to be running on TypePad. 37s’ Signal vs. Noise blog is, as far as I know, still running on Blog Cabin, which 37s developed but does not sell. I’ll ask about the choice of tool for the product blog in what I think is the appropriate place.

Update: in that appropriate place, and in a comment to this post, 37s points out that TypePad  would allow a feed for each product, but that the product blog doesn’t currently use that feature of TypePad.

Moleskine and Goose Eggs

A couple of posts ago, I singled out Moleskine as an excellent case study in branding, in product line extension, and in the power of the conversation on the web. My post was prompted by a Business Week article, and in turn prompted a comment that there was more on the story at moleskinerie, the widely-read Moleskine-focused blog.

Looking at the BW article (again), at comments at BW, and at comments at Moleskinerie, there is some suspicion that Moleskine City is a heavy-handed attempt by Moleskine to drown out the ongoing on-the-web conversation. There’s a rather cool reference to the fable of The Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs, with the implication that Molekine is killing its goose.

I think that the suspicion arose from the BW statement that “this points to an attempt by the company to take back control of its brand, or at least focus its consumers on a forum of its own creation.” The word “control” does not appear in any of the quotes from the Moleskine VP interviewed for the story. That person used more appropriate terms, such as “connect.”

Some of the comments reflect the view that Moleskinerie is authentic, and Moleskine City is not. But, as Armand, Mr Moleskinerie himself, pointed out, Moleskinerie is now owned by the US distributor of Moleskine.

The web which we weave, and from which golden eggs emerge, is indeed a tangled one.

River of Blogs

When on public transport, do you wonder about the books others are reading? I certainly do. Deborah B in Sydney does too, and blogs beautifully about the bus, the blond, the boy, and the book.

The book in question is River of Gods, which has been on my to-buy (not just my to-read) list for years now. I will buy the paperback when in England next month. My thanks go to England, where they find Niall, from whom I inherited the link.

Moleskine dot Blog

With all the talk of Web 2.0, digital culture, and so on, what hope is there for ultra-analog products? Helen Walters, in Business Week, poses that question, and follows it up with: what could be more defiantly analog than notepaper?

Contrary to what these questions imply, Moleskine notebooks are selling very well, especially among the young and trendy. Moleskine (I’ll call the firm that, although it’s officially Modo & Modo SpA) now has a product line going well beyond basic notebooks.

It recently launched a line of city notebooks. I bought my wife the one for Paris, but have yet to buy the plane tickets to go with it. I’ll get the one for Boston. In fact, I’ll probably get one for us and one for my parents. Moleskine also has a line of city blogs to go with the notebooks.

Its aim is for these blogs to be more than merely a branded Web presence of the Moleskine notebooks… while readers can currently only comment on the posts, the idea is that soon they will spin out into wiki-style pages of user-generated content, with travelers, visitors, and locals all contributing tips and information. Tapping into the notebooks’ target market of those with an interest in contemporary culture, the blogs talk up art, design, technology, and city life.

Now that I see the Molekinecity.com blog site, it seems like a logical move. Many bloggers have posted about Moleskines, as a look via tags at Technorati and at WordPress.com shows. Talking of WordPress, it provides the foundation for MoleskineCity.

Moleskine is an excellent case study in branding, in product line extension, and in the power of the conversation on the web. An interesting contrast is provided by another recent BW article on Hyundai. It provides another extreme case of branding, although not in a good way.

Art Cart on Tumblr

Among the thoughts that have bounced around my mind in the last couple of months are the following.

  • It would be good to set up a wishlist for art I’d like to own, and that is priced at a level that I might actually own.
  • I should actually use the tumblelog I have at Tumblr for something.

These two thoughts got together and had a baby: Andrew’s Art Cart. It is indeed very easy to post an image with a little text at Tumblr. I’ll continue to blog here about art I like, but the art cart (wishlist might be a better term) is where I’ll direct people wondering what to get me for my birthday come December.