Why not MT?

I read over some blogs tonight to see a broad reaction to MT’s new, still fluid, pricing scheme. Lago notes that he is not surprised that “people are surprised that people are surprised.” I was. This should not have been a surprise to anyone; while making money may not have been the primary intention of the creation of MT, it hardly seems unfair to ask users to support the ongoing efforts needed to make MT happen. I am certainly surprised that people are surprised. It seems to me that attaching a price tag to MT was almost inevitable, or as I said a few weeks before the announcement: “While I am very thankful to the Trotts for bringing forward MT, and making it available to a growing community, I am concerned that it is a proprietary system.”

I didn’t explain why this was a concern. I don’t, as a general rule, like paying for software, even when I like programmers to be paid. I know that sounds strange, and perhaps contradictory. I generally agree with Oren: the Trotts spent a good portion of their lives making this software, and I have no problem with them raking in some cash for that effort. But even before the current blip of pricing discomfort, I had planned a move from MT. Why?

One of the issues I have is one of lock-in. I don’t want to be beholden to MT if they are not pursuing an open development process. It’s great that mena is asking how MT is used, but shouldn’t this question have been asked earlier? If it had been, I could have told her why I — as not the average MT user — am making the switch.

The biggest part of that is a feeling that if it is proprietary software, it should do what I want it to do. On the other hand, if I’m going to be contributing significantly to a piece of software (or, more broadly, a social technology), it should be as open to use as possible. My sales pitch for MT has always ended with “and it’s free.” That shouldn’t be the end-all, but it does figure in.

The biggest problem for me is that while this blog is single-user, single-blog, that’s not how I am most interested in using it. The Informatics blogs server will be growing to several hundred blogs over the next year. I’ve had to cobble together my own administrative tools to make this work, as has the University of Minnesota, Reuters New Media, and probably dozens of others. I am guessing that, like me, they were waiting for the Typepad dividend–a MT Pro that incorporated lessons learned in implementing Typepad and made them available at a swallowable cost to educational institutions. Most of my blogs, from those with a handful of authors to those with several dozen, serve a particularly educational function, and one of the principal benefits of MT has been its flexibility. As such, version 3.0 effectively cripples one of the systems main advantages.

Now, I am looking at WordPress side-by-side with MT, and realizing that this is the time to cross over. Bill Gates’ recent interest in blogging, as Steve Rubel notes, raises the specter of a homogenous blogging environment. Universities have a responsibility for the long view, and for ensuring access to communicative and collaborative tools for as many people as possible. When approached in this way, it seems almost immoral to spend time working on an educational tool that is going to limit access. Indeed, since I’ve asked my university to help support development of a blogging tool, I feel especially obligated to make sure that this becomes a public good. Sure, I could keep using and developing for pre-3.0 versions of MT, as has been suggested, but personal experience in other venues suggests that this kind of propping up of moribund software is self-defeating.

So, frankly, even if MT moves its price point for educational licensing, I am switching–for many of the reasons I was switching before the announcement. My hope is that students at all levels will have a free blogging tool available to them over the next few years. MT had a shot (and may still have a shot) to use educational institutions as a driver for moving their product into the business world. But they are going to have difficulty doing this if schools cannot afford their product, or if their competition offers better features for free.

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  1. Posted 5/21/2004 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    Where did I say that I was surprised?

    The elephant in the room that no one is talking about is still the fact that the most blog-aware company in the world dropped the ball on communication, and that this might say something qualitative about the communicative value of blogs.

  2. Alex
    Posted 5/21/2004 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

    Oops, I got caught in the circle–I meant to say that you were *not* surprised by the surprise over the surprise. I, on the other hand am. So: glad that’s clear :). [I’ve added a negator to the post.]

    Blogs have no communicative value, people do. The technology enables things, but there are limits to how much affect it will have. Clearly, if the CIA starts blogging (and, really, now that Microsoft is, can the CIA be far behind), their culture and institutions are not going to change.

    Also, blogs are a publishing tool. In some ways, it may be the transparency of blogging–that is a “by the way we’ve just decided to make this change” instead of buying a Beatles song and announcing an MT3.0-official-orgy-day–that made this a problem. Public relations becomes a different beast when more of what you do is done in public to start with.

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