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A b2 user looks longingly at Movable Type

This web site is in crisis mode.
I’ve been talking the past few days with a lot of people about blogging systems. I’ve worked with a lot of them. Since 1999, I’ve gone from static pages to Manilla to Greymatter to b2, and now, I’m thinking about another move, this time to Movable Type.

At the time I made each move, each of the solutions I chose made sense.

I really liked Manilla’s calendar and I really liked having something take care of the content management for me. I moved to Greymatter from Manilla after had one too many service outages. (I didn’t like its slow speed either. But for what I was paying for it, I couldn’t exactly complain.) Greymatter did everything Manilla would do for me, and it usually did it faster and better.

Greymatter was abandoned right around the time I started using it. But at the time it was the market leader, as far as blogs you ran on your own servers went. I kept on using it for a good while because it was certainly good enough for what I wanted to do, and because it was super-easy to set up. I was too chicken at the time to try anything that would require PHP and MySQL, because at the time, setting up Apache, PHP and MySQL wasn’t exactly child’s play. (It’s still not quite child’s play but it’s a whole lot easier now than it used to be.)

Greymatter remained good enough until one of my posts here got a hundred or so responses. Posting comments to that post became unbearably slow.

So I switched to b2. Fundamentally, b2 was pretty good. Since it wasn’t serving up static pages it wasn’t as fast as Greymatter, but when it came to handling comments, it processed the 219th comment just as quickly as it processed the first. And having a database backend opened up all sorts of new possibilities, like the Top 10 lists on the sidebar (courtesy of Steve DeLassus). And b2 had all the basics right (and still does).

When I switched to b2, a handful of people were using a new package called Movable Type. But b2 had the ability to import a Greymatter site. And Movable Type was written in Perl, like Greymatter, and didn’t appear to use a database backend, so it didn’t appear to be a solution to my problem.

Today, Movable Type does use a MySQL backend. And Movable Type can do all sorts of cool stuff, like pingbacks, and referrer autolinks. Those are cool. If someone writes about something I write and they link to it, as soon as someone follows the link, the link appears at the bottom of my entry. Sure, comments accomplish much the same thing, but this builds community and it gives prolific blogs lots of Googlejuice.

And there’s a six-part series that tells how to use Movable Type to implement absolutely every good idea I’ve ever had about a Weblog but usually couldn’t figure out how to do. There are also some ideas there I never conceived of.

In some cases, b2 just doesn’t have the functionality. In some cases (like the linkbacks), it’s so easy to add to b2 even I can do it. In other cases, like assigning multiple categories to a post, it’s difficult. I don’t doubt b2 will eventually get most of this functionality. But when someone else has the momentum, what to do? Do I want to forever be playing catch-up?

And that’s my struggle. Changing tools is always at least a little bit painful, because links and bookmarks go dead. So I do it only when it’s overwhelmingly worthwhile.

Movable Type will allow you to put links to related entries automatically. Movable Type will help you build meaningful metatags so search engines know what to do with you (MSN had no idea what to do with me for the longest time–I re-coded my page design a couple of weeks ago just to accomodate them). MT will allow you to tell it how much to put into your RSS feed (which I’m sure will draw cheers from the poor folks who are currently pulling down the entire story all the time).

MT doesn’t have karma voting, like Greymatter did (and I had Steve add to b2). I like it but I can live without it. I can probably get the same functionality from page reads. Or I can just code up a “best of” page by hand, using page reads, feedback, and gut feeling as my criteria.

The skinny: I’m torn on whether I should migrate. I stand to gain an awful lot. The main reason I have to stay with what I have is Steve’s custom code, which he worked awfully hard to produce, and some of it gives functionality that MT doesn’t currently have. Then again, for all I know it might not be all that hard to adapt his code to work with MT.

I know Charlie thought long and hard about switching. He’s one of the people I’ve been talking with. And I suspected he would be the first to switch. The biggest surprise to me when he did was that it took him until past 3 p.m. today to do it.

And I can tell you this. If I were starting from scratch, I’d use Movable Type. I doubt I’d even look at anything else.

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14 thoughts on “A b2 user looks longingly at Movable Type”

  1. The !$@#% CSS was the only thing that delayed the switch. I am just not a CSS wizard. I had the site imported and otherwise ready to go at 10 this morning, and I had only been working on it since 8. Oh, and I spent half an hour just waiting for the import. So, 90 minutes’ work on preparing the import and setting the preferences, an hour for lunch, an hour bathing a kitten and introducing her to her new cat family (always tricky), and around two hours figuring out how to get the right side-bar on the right, colored right. Oh, and an hour hand-importing my links (they were automated from a database in Zope), but I wasn’t committed to getting them on the page today.

  2. I read several sites that use MT, and honestly I think the design used is boring. Your site has a different look and feel, I hope if you do move that your site continues to have its own look, not the cookie cutter MT look.

  3. I love MT for the giant community around it. There are all kinds of plugins and add-ons. I’ve setup my personal sites and my work site in MT and they don’t look like other MT templates. The first time I used it, I hated it. I didn’t try again for a few months, but once I had it working I just liked using it instead of Blogger or NewsPro.

  4. Lots of good points, and you’re right that you’ll give up a few things (such as Karma) but gain even more. I looked at a lot of packages and decided it was MT all the way, both for my personal blog and for students at the Berkeley J-School. Lately I’ve been using it as a content management system for the students’ projects:

    Movable Type has always used a database back-end. If you don’t have MySQL available, it uses Berkeley DB – it can’t run without one db or the other.

    Another nice thing is that there are several desktop apps available for posting to MT, which is much nicer than posting through a web form (real text editing).

  5. The one down side to MT is that you have to completely “rebuild” your site sometimes, usually when making template changes or changing functionality. And with sites with lots of entries, the rebuild process can get painfully long. That’s not an issue with php/MySQL systems, which are serving up dynamic pages.

    Because of that issue, I’ve searched far and wide for MT alternatives (currently checking out pMachine). But I always come back to MT. There’s just too much functionality, too much flexibility to let it go. And once you figure it out, its tag system is real easy to work with. The installation can get tricky, but it hums along nicely once it’s going. And the message board community offers real strong support.

    In my view, it’s the most professional piece of blogware out there.

    As for the sameness of some MT blogs, MT can be integrated into virtually any kind of site design. The unoriginality of some MT blogs speaks to the lack of imagination (or interest in design) of those site owners, not limitations of MT.

    Good luck.

  6. While you might have to rebuild a whole site, it’s far more stressful to rebuild a page dynamically for each visit. Rebuilding is almost never an issue on the MySQL version of MT. I only rebuild a whole site when I make a change to the templates.

  7. I’ve around 1200 entries, and a rebuild of the entire site (as M.Kelley suggests, this only happens when templates are modified, ie. infrequently) takes no more than around 10 minutes. Having static HTML pages IMHO leads to less problems as you don’t need a terribly stable DB/lots of CPU time.

  8. Don’t get me wrong. I think MT is great. And the MySQL version *is* better. But twiddling your thumbs while the server takes 10 minutes to open each flat file is not exactly a feature. And to say it doesn’t chew up CPU time just isn’t true. I know of several hosting companies that have objected to MT installs because of the CPU overhead. That’s just not an issue with MySQL/PHP set-ups.

  9. The desktop apps isn’t really an MT thing; they will work with anything that supports the Blogger API, which a fair few weblogging systems do.

  10. I’ve got some beginner questions about MT, and the installation choices that one needs to make.

    I’ve got my own Linux server running Apache (duh! who doesn’t?), and I am wondering what the best place is to install MT. Do I want it at the top level of the DocumentRoot of Apache? If I do that, can I make the directories for individual blogs anywhere I want?

    As an alternate, pointers to this type of documentation (*not* how to use the MT system) would be appreciated

    — Ken

  11. When I set up MT, I put the binaries in the cgi-bin directory (location varies depending on the Linux distro you have) and I put the mt-static files inside the documentroot. Then I put two blogs in their own separate directories inside the documentroot.

    There are other approaches but since it worked for me I didn’t try any other method.

  12. Great insight into the b2 vs. MT dillema that I’ve had. I went with MT because of the community and momentum it has.

  13. Sorry, I ended up sticking with b2. For all the cool stuff MT does, things like my Top 10s and recent comments aren’t possible with MT. I will be migrating off b2 fairly soon, but not to MT. I need something that forces people to log in to post comments (mostly because I’ve been having problems with trolls), which neither b2 nor MT will do.

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