The Next Big Thing In Blogging Software

or: MovableType, WordPress, Textpattern, b2evolution, oh my!

John Hiler has an excellent article on blogware at Microcontent News that has some good information about the history of blogging software. It also talks about some of the different software packages that you can use for blogging. Unfortuatly it was written in 2002 and a lot has changed since then. I hope to do an update of sorts with a little narrower focus on tools for a personal site. Owen also has a breakdown of the features of many content management systems but this is a lot of information. It’s great for looking at features, not so great for making a final decision.

A little history of my own relationship to personal content management systems, now often known as blogging software. I’ve had a web presence of some kind since the mid 90s and in the late 90s a few friends and I set up a now defunct site where we expressed personal views, reviews and the news of the day. This was a forerunner to the blog. Back in those days we used a rudimentry piece of software called NewsPro which never made the leap into the bloging or CMS worlds. After we used NP for a while, we needed something a bit more scalable and I wanted something written in the language of the future, which, as I saw it in 1999, was PHP. What we did was upgrade to newsPHP which (at that time) was essentially a port of NewsPro to PHP. Content management systems were not really well known back then and newsPHP still just gave you a basic publishing console. You were on your own for integrating it in your site. At that point I learned some PHP and wrote integration scripts, some of which are still the basis for the MT integration on web sites I built. After some revisions of this code, without knowing it, what I had done was to write a rudimentry CMS for our site that would probably run phpNuke or postNuke these days. By the time mid 2000 rolled around I heard about Noah Grey’s Greymatter and converted our site to use it. Though I was concerned about the move back to a perl-based publishing agent, this entered us into the world of templates and other features that NewsPro and newsPHP didn’t support. This was also our jump from “news posting” software into the new world of “blogging software” which was still fairly new at the time. In January 2001 Noah released the last major version of Greymatter. This was right at the time when blogs were really begining to take off. To fill the void left by the discontinuation of GM, Ben and Mena released MovableType in October 2001. Being on the watch for new software similar to GM, I heard about MT and made the (painful) conversion from GM to MT that October. By the end of 2001 our site was defunct, but I had purchased the domain for my own use and was interested in continuing to blog. I installed MT and got started. As MT matured (2.0 was a big improvement!) I would install updates, I didn’t really look at new blog software anymore. It seemed like anyone who was anyone used MT. This spring that all changed in a heartbeat.

On May 13, 2004 Six Apart, the company behind MovableType, announced the long-awaited version 3.0. With this blog entry they also single handedly managed to start the demise of the MovableType monopoly. They took a donationware/freeware product and essentially forced the serious blogger to buy it at outrageous prices, yes they claim to have a free version but it’s so crippled that it’s practically useless to the serious blogger. Had they made the software availible for a reasonable price, say $20 for a fully functional non-commercial licence, they would have a taken a hit but probably survived as king of the blog software. What they did was ask for ludicrous licensing fees. Take my family website: we have six people in the family (authors) each with their own blog. This means we would have to buy the $100 version of MT 3.0 to retain the same functionality of MT 2.6x. Microsoft Word only costs $77 and it has many more uses than this blogging software! Thus began my search for a new alternative to MovableType.

The first product I heard about was WordPress, it sounded like a lot of the MT refugees were headed to WordPress. I took a look at the software in mid May, but it didn’t look ready for prime time to me. I was impressed that someone finally came up with PHP/mySQL based blogging software. I’d been waiting for that since the move to GreyMatter. The biggest thing missing for me was full support for multiple blogs. This is somewhere “in the pipes” for WP, but still not a feature. Yes, I know you can do multiple installs of WP, but I really need centralized control, I don’t have time to visit a bunch of admin interfaces. The UI for WordPress could use some work as well. The fantastic user community is certainly one of the more active ones. Some have even said it is too active. The learning curve is much steeper than MT was and the template editing leaves a lot to be desired. If you’re used to PHP coding it’s great to have all the control, but if you’re used to the simple tags in MT templates you’ve got some learning to do. At this point I just decided to stick with MT 2.x until a new version of WP with multiblog support came out.

After sitting on it for a month and hearing nothing more than multiblogs is “in the pipes” I decided to poke around some more to see what I could turn up. I looked at a lot of different blogging software programs, but the only other two I saw much promise in were Textpattern and b2evolution. If you’re looking for a drop in MT replacement and don’t need multiblog capability Textpattern is probably a good solution. I like the UI look and it still supports template tags in much the same way that MT did. I think this gives it a lead over the others for new bloggers who need a simple way to set up shop. Some of the people I’ve had testing these packages found the UI to look great but clunky in how it works. For me, the lack of multiple blog support is still a big sticking point. Again, it’s something in the works, but never promised in the next version.

This leads me to the future. As of right now I think that b2evolution is poised to become the next big thing in blogging software. Based on the same original code as WordPress (see this page) it shares much of the feel of WP. The author, Francois Planque, made some great improvements to the original b2/cafelog including multiblog support. Starting this process in April 2002 has given this product some more time to mature compared to both WP and TP. A more complete feature list is availible here. The template editing has some of the same problems as WP; however, it is quite scalable and nothing that can’t be fixed. The only real problem with b2evolution is that not enough people know about it, I’m going to try and change that. I think that the people developing b2evolution are smart and have the pulse of the blogging scene. With some promotion b2evolution is poised to become the next MovableType, the king of the blog. The only way this transformation could be any more sound is if the WP and b2e developers merged the codebases and came out with a unified product. There has been talk of this in the past and I, for one, would welcome it. You can demo many of the b2evolution features right on the b2e site by visiting their demo page. Take a drive, kick the tires, feel the leather, see how you like it.

A great thing about all of these tools is the simple installation. I was able to install each one of these in less that 5 minutes! They also all support importing from MT and some of the other blogging tools. One of the other great things about WordPress, Textpattern and b2evolution is that they are open source. What does this mean to you? It means they are community developed, they are able to respond to changes and integrate features in ways MT never could. Remember how long it took for MT to come up with a way to cut down on comment spam? That isn’t going ot happen with these as long as they have active communities and users. It also means that none of these will be pulling a MovableType, the code is free and availible to anyone. So pick one, make a donation (time or money) and support your tool of choice. Blog on.


  1. Very informative and well written article, Ben. Thanks for the insight into the future of blogging software. We were just looking to upgrade, let’s see where it takes us!

  2. Hmmm… well thought out and interesting. It was also a pleasure to have had the chance to kind of talk about these alternatives w/you; wow what timing!

  3. Nice article! I have to agree that MT 3.0 is priced ridiculously. As a student, I definitely do not have the money to spend in order to maintain a website. I’m blessed with f2o, for one thing. And I love to be current, but not if I have to waste money. Right now I’m still using MT 2.64 and I’ll continue to use it until I find something better that can be upgraded without wasting my money.

  4. Thanks for the great review! I happen to agree with your assessment of b2evo, but of course, being a contributor, I’m more than a little biased. 😉

    You’re definitely right about there not being enough people who know about it, but it seems like there’s new people on the forums every day, so that’s always a good thing.

  5. I think you’re unfairly biased against Movable Type 3.0 – it sounds as if you haven’t actually used it.

    Firstly, you say that they “claim” to have a free version, as if they say there is a free version but actually there isn’t. I think you know as well as I do that the free version does indeed exist.

    Secondly, you say it is “so crippled that it’s practically useless to the serious blogger.” It’s not crippled in any way – the free version is exactly the same as the paid-for version. The licensing is based on an honour system – you don’t *have* to pay although legally you should. Furthermore, I know plenty of serious bloggers using the free version of MT3. I think what you meant to say that you cannot set up blogging communities with multiple authors under the free license – you imply that it doesn’t suit ‘the serious blogger’ (singular) which it does.

    Once the final edition of MT3 (as opposed to the developer edition) comes out, I’m sure it will author much better value for money, putting it on a par with systems like pMachine’s Expression Engine which cost a similar amount.

  6. Hey, thanks for the link!

    One of the great things about these tools (WP & b2evo) is that they’re open source and have great community support. Without the community behind it, they wouldn’t be anything that they are today. One of the reasons I chose WordPress over b2evo is that the b2evo community – just as you say – isn’t as large.

    Another of the advantages of WP to me is that the developers have specifically acknowledged a desire to adhere to published standards over including new features as they emerge. I think that having a solid platform of development is very important, and I get the sense that these guys know what they’re after. I don’t mean to imply that the b2evo guys don’t, just that I’ve gotten a better feel from WP in terms of creating a solid base.

    On the other hand, that’ll come right back and bite you when you really need a feature (like multiblog) that the devs are not currently willing to add. Fortunately, I can live without multiblog (as I suspect many people can), and some of the changes in WP 1.3 have started moving the software in that direction.

    We aren’t by any means at the end of the evolution of blog software. We all need to keep an eye out for innovative new features yet on other platforms.