Six Apart is announcing today the beta release of Movable Type 4, a much anticipated upgrade to a blog platform that has two distinct user bases nowadays - consumer base (like R/WW, which uses MT) and Enterprise. Of equal interest is that Six Apart is also announcing the Movable Type Open Source Project, a move that will see the release of an open source version of Movable Type in Q3 of this year.
MT4 boasts over 50 new features and "a completely redesigned user interface", which includes a more advanced WYSIWYG editor and a system dashboard with dynamic graphic display. MT4 is also pushing itself as "a social media platform", which allows users to turn their audiences into communities. In effect this means that readers can become members of a website, with rights to post alongside authors - including sharing photos, videos, and audio. There is also a new ratings framework and later in the beta period more community features are promised.
MT4 also promises more down-to-earth functionality, like improvements in fighting blog spam. There will be a number of technical improvements, such as database caching through Memcached and authenticating of users with OpenID. MT4 also brings a new component-based architecture, which unifies its commercial and enterprise product lines "while enabling advanced capabilities with optional functionality packs". All in all, there is a lot of new and improved functionality in MT4 (more on how this will effect bloggers like me, below).
To understand why Six Apart is releasing an open source version of Movable Type, we need to briefly revisit its past. Movable Type was once the darling of the blogosphere, especially from its original launch in 2001 to about 2004 (when licensing issues upset many bloggers). Since 2004/05, many bloggers have migrated to the open source Wordpress - and perhaps of more concern, a lot of third party developers transferred their efforts from MT to Wordpress. However to make up for the loss of momentum in the consumer market, Movable Type began to sow some seeds in the Enterprise market. Back in October 2006 Read/WriteWeb reported on the release of Movable Type Enterprise 1.5. Movable Type at that point was being positioned as an advanced tool, suitable for enterprises and power bloggers alike. What's changed since then is that it now wants to be a social media platform, and the open sourcing will address some market concerns over licensing.
What MT4 will bring to current Movable Type users
Read/WriteWeb is powered by Movable Type. It's held up well over the years, particularly as the site has scaled a lot over the past 1-2 years. I do however have some minor issues with MT (and note we are using MT 3.2 currently, so we're not using the most recent version). The first is that I have looked on rather enviously at some of the plug-ins available to Wordpress users. For example, outputting tags for posts, integrating comments and trackbacks, and listing "related entries" - these things are a lot harder with MT than it is with Wordpress. In chatting with Anil Dash from Six Apart tonight, he assured me that almost all of the top 10 or 15 MT plugins have been integrated into MT4. This would certainly make things easier for me, as I am not a fan of fiddling around with Perl (when I could be writing blog posts with that time).
Another of my current peeves is that comments are far too slow on R/WW currently. I haven't been able to pinpoint the exact cause of this, but I am almost certain it's an MT issue (as my research has indicated other MT blogs have suffered similar problems with slow comments). Anil told me that there are a lot of scaling pieces that are new in 4.0, that come from Vox and LiveJournal and Typepad - and from that they've learned to handle commenting from tens of milions of users. It sounds like relief may be on the way for R/WW's commenters then!
It remains to be seen how the open source effort will be received by the blogging public, but certainly MT4 sounds like a big functionality and performance improvement over MT3. For purely selfish reasons I hope it can fix all the minor technical issues R/WW has had with scaling, but also of course it will be a huge boost for Six Apart if MT4 has indeed ramped up technically and can meet the needs of small businesses (like mine) and enterprises alike. The social media platform is exciting too, and I can certainly see ways R/WW can leverage that!
Here are some early screenshots. Let us know in the comments what you think of MT4.