Rethinking Movable Type and b2

Last Updated on September 30, 2010 by Dave Farquhar

A very interesting discussion today made me re-think the importance of a content management system such as Movable Type or b2.
I was talking with two people whom I expected would be among the last to even consider dropping their long-standing practice of creating their daily writings with FrontPage and moving to a CMS approach. (Saying their names would be name dropping and it’s irrelevant.) Their questions made me really question what the advantages to this system are. That’s good.

Products like Radio Userland and Trellix are really just a step beyond FrontPage, in my estimation. They’re designed for journals, rather than general purpose Web design, which probably makes them faster and easier to use and certainly cheaper. But you still get flat, static files. Radio will allow readers to navigate by date, so they can quickly get to last Tuesday’s entry–assuming that for some reason they already know they want to read last Tuesday’s entry. (Sometimes they will, sometimes they won’t.)

Manila and Blogger move all of Radio Userland’s work to the server and gives you an integrated search engine, which is one more step in the right direction.

But a true content management system takes a reader’s daily entries, stores them in a database, and then when a reader asks for the content, generates HTML to send them. Movable Type does this generation in advance; b2 does it on the fly. There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches; it’s not worth dwelling on.

What b2 and Movable Type give you over static pages is significant. Maybe you like what I wrote Thursday about video editing and you want to read more stuff like it. Well, I happen to have a category called video. Click on it and you get everything I’ve ever written and put into that category. When I post new content, I just tell the system what category to put it in, and it does the rest of the work for me.

Also, b2 and Movable Type make it significantly easier to gain traffic from search engines like Google. Once an entry falls off the current front page (usually set to show a week’s worth of entries), it gets its own page for time and eternity. One day’s entry is much easier for a visitor to make sense of than seven days’ worth. Individual entries can be titled appropriately, which makes Google rank it higher than pages that aren’t titled. Both of these make a reader more likely to visit.

Since b2 and Movable Type use databases, it’s easy to query the database for similar content. It’s easy to display current content. When someone visits this page, even if they grab a story that’s four years old, they get the same sidebar as my current page, which contains recent stories of note. If one of those stories grabs the visitor’s attention, I’m more likely to turn that visitor into a regular reader.

It’s also fairly easy to make b2 or Movable Type display links to the last few entries in the same category at the bottom of an entry. (I really need to implement this.) Imagine if someone likes my video editing story, gets to the end, and sees links to five more stories like it? Do you think the reader is more likely to click on one of those links than s/he is to go looking for something else like it? If the reader has to go looking on his or her own, I’m probably out of the picture. It’s easier to go back to Google. But if the reader reads another story or two of mine, I get more chances to get my hook in.

One advantage for me–this was a terrible turn-off for one of the others, as he keeps tight control on other people’s content on his site, and that’s one of the things his readers really like–is the comments system. I like leaving all of my content open to all for comment. I get very little e-mail and sometimes other people answer questions for me. That’s not necessarily a plus. At least it’s easy to turn off the feature entirely.

There are some less-obvious benefits as well. Both b2 and Movable Type offer newsfeeds–small, downloadable XML files that programs can download and use to display headlines off your site, complete with links to the full story. News aggregators are becoming popular among certain segments of the Internet community; already a significant portion of my traffic is newsfeed-related. This allows people to keep my newest stuff on their desktop or display it on their own Web pages–almost like the ill-fated PointCast, only this time likely to succeed just because there isn’t a necessary business model. This feature makes keeping up with my site, or a large number of sites like mine, trivial.

One advantage to me since I spent a weekend or so setting up a CMS for the first time has been that I don’t spend any time editing HTML anymore, short of inserting hyperlinks and inserting emphasis. I write, and that’s it. Some days I can write my entry in 15-20 minutes. On those days, I spend about 15-20 minutes on my site, unless it’s been a heavy comments day, because I just write in my preferred tool of the day, copy and paste it into b2, click a button, and within a few seconds, my new stuff is live.

Another advantage to me is traffic. Having entries small enough for people to link to and small enough to facilitate locating search terms quickly, Google treats me very well. This month, over 26% of my total traffic is coming from Google. (By comparison, 31% of my traffic comes from bookmarks.) And I’m not even doing everything I can–yet–to kiss up to Google. And since there are plenty of links on the sidebar to content that’s either fresh or compelling by some past measure, chances are someone will click on at least one other entry here, which gives me two chances–not just one–to turn that visitor into a regular reader.

If you’re currently using a tool like FrontPage or Trellix or Radio Userland to create your daily journal/blog/whatever you want to call it, you ought to give a full, complete, content management system-type program like Movable Type or b2 a look. Movable Type is easier to set up, but if you have programming ability, b2’s setup will allow you more flexibility on your site output.

Migrating a lot of existing content can be a pain. You can look at doing what I did–operating the sites in parallel, leaving the old content up and running but putting the new content in b2/Movable Type–or you can try to enlist some help in getting the old content moved in. Even if the old content stays put, it remains no less accessible than it is now. The new content just becomes much easier to navigate and cross-reference and mine for the juiciest bits.

But no matter how painful the changeover, I believe the categorization, the dynamic nature of the front page, and the ease in finding older content of interest will only increase your readership. It certainly has for me.

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10 thoughts on “Rethinking Movable Type and b2

  • January 11, 2003 at 6:03 pm

    I need to get around to this soonest. Sigh.

  • January 11, 2003 at 10:21 pm

    Hmm… here I am, using Greymatter at my site, and I’m happy with it… It does what I want it to do. Maybe I don’t want it to do as much? Maybe I haven’t touched on all the functionality that exists in Greymatter? The latter, I suppose, is the truth. I’d rather write than configure. That, and I liked the license.

    Dunno. May have to look at that again within the next few weeks.

  • January 12, 2003 at 8:20 am

    Greymatter’s a whole lot better than nothing, that’s for sure. My biggest complaint with Greymatter was that someone could post a comment on a really old entry and chances were good I’d never see it. Chances of anyone else seeing it were even slimmer. So building an active community was a challenge. There’s a lot more talk on this site now that I’m running b2 with a mod that shows recent comments on the front page.

    The good news is, b2 will quickly and happily import a Greymatter site. So the hardest part of a migration is getting PHP and MySQL going, which isn’t all that hard anymore–at least in Debian. I haven’t tried it in Red Hat or Mandrake. Of course, if you’re using a hosting service, that’s irrelevant.

    Greymatter’s licensing isn’t bad, but b2 is full-blown GPL. I like that even better.

  • January 13, 2003 at 10:32 am

    Any thoughts on putting your custom code somewhere on the site, so we can use it as well. I would be happy to give you and Steve the credit.

  • January 13, 2003 at 12:36 pm

    My biggest fear with doing that has been that some of what Steve and I did is akin to forking the code. At the time, b2 was so much better than Greymatter that I didn’t care if I was stuck with this version forever. Now I regret that attitude.

    If we can make the code comply with Michel Tikada’s best practices, and get it to work with a newer version, and if it’s all OK with Steve, I wouldn’t have a problem with doing that. Steve, you have any thoughts?

  • January 13, 2003 at 10:44 pm

    No problem publishing the code, but I’d like to get it working under 0.61 first. And being a “derived work”, I make no guarantees that it’ll work smoothly under a different version of b2. Most of the changes we’ve made are extensions to the database (new tables) and new self-contained functions. But we also tweaked a couple of things in the b2 “pump”. Basically, it should *mostly* just work.

  • January 15, 2003 at 10:12 am

    Yes, I know what you mean about old stuff, emails, etc. I still have to set up the email client on my server to notify me when someone says something on one of the archives… Priority deadlock! Waah!

    I can remember when all I did was code, and I was happy. Now I’m happy, but I always seem to be behind because I’m doing things outside of coding.

    I figure at this rate, I should start time travel by the year 2020. Eagle eyed hindsight, ya know…

  • January 15, 2003 at 4:17 pm

    I actually read it though, not because I want to though but because I am writing my own php forum. none techie people are hard to please – content is ever growing. more code, more code,

    have a nice day tommorow

  • January 17, 2003 at 4:40 pm

    Give me a shout if you do publish the code.

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