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Strong opinions, weakly held

Movable Type so far

Thought I’d give a quick status update on how I’m doing with Movable Type, and talk about what I like, what I don’t like, and what my plans are for the site.

The good:

  • Movable Type has all of the features that I always wished I had written for my own blogging software. Comments, trackbacks, categories, the ability to schedule posts. I didn’t have any of that stuff, and it’s nice to have.
  • Typekey. I really like the fact that if users sign up for a Typekey identity and use it to post their comments, I can be pretty sure that they’re not sending me spam.
  • Polish. Movable Type is obviously a professionally written software package. The user interface is very nice, it has features galore.
  • Community. Whenever I run into problems with Movable Type, it seems easy to find solutions via Google or to just ask. There are a lot of people who’ve been working with Movable type for a long time. That’s a heck of a feature.

The bad:

  • It’s slow. I’m not sure Movable Type is at fault here. It could very well be the overhead from cgiwrap that’s gumming up the works. The bottom line is that it’s slower than I’d like. I also don’t know what effect having nearly 8000 entries is having. That could also be part of the problem.
  • I still get Internal Server Errors here and there. This may be a problem with running a beta version of the software, I’m not sure. I don’t have access to the error logs on this server (shared hosting has some downsides), so I am having trouble diagnosing the problems. I’d prefer not to have to hack on the Movable Type code to figure out what’s going on.
  • I still hate the model of publishing files. This may still be a deal breaker when it comes to me and Movable Type. I realize that Movable Type is a real content management system and most content management systems publish files, but I don’t think it’s necessary for a weblog package. I’m using dynamic publishing where I can, but even then Movable Type still wants to write out some files on its own.

What’s next:

  • Improve comment management. There’s more comment moderation overhead than I’d like right now. If you sign in with TypeKey, your comment is published immediately, but otherwise I have to publish it manually. There has to be a better way.
  • Gmail throws all my comment notifications into the Spam folder. That makes things even more difficult. I have to do something about that. (It’s tricky because the comment notifications are “from” the email address of the commenter. There’s probably a setting in Movable Type I could tweak to change that.)
  • The default templates suck. Why Six Apart thought that weblogs should be published with a miniscule body font (that everyone seems to hate) by default is anybody’s guess. I still haven’t updated the templates due to laziness and lack of motivation. (Your continued dissatisfaction hasn’t proved to be the kick in the pants I thought it would be.)

To be honest, one reason why I haven’t really started hacking on the templates is that I’m not sure Movable Type and I are in for a long term relationship. I want things to work out, but it’s a bit dicey. There’s that and the fact that hacking on the templates means learning something new. Right now, I’m statically publishing the home page and dynamically publishing the archive pages, and I think that means having to learn two new things. That seems like a lot to me right this second. So we’ll see.

13 Comments

  1. I’m glad you don’t like the small body font because I sure find it hard to read, like a few other Movable Type weblogs I read who have the default template. It probably wouldn’t take much to change “font-size: 10px” to “font-size: 12px” in the stylesheet.

  2. Thanks for the feedback, these are some really great points. Let me see if I can give you some good replies.

    Polish, community, and features are all really good things. 🙂 Glad you appreciate ’em, and they sure make my job a lot easier.

    We’re definitely not optimized for performance on the beta yet, especially on (relatively) unusual configs like cgiwrap. I’d wait until final release to judge that. I don’t know of the Internal Server Error issue, but we’d welcome any bug reports you want to file, and I’m sure our dev or qa or support team could track it down.

    I think the idea of never publishing anything is interesting. If you don’t want to publish any static files, why are you publishing the homepage statically? And the templating between both the static and dynamic options is exactly identical, so you shouldn’t have to learn anything different. In those situations, the only files MT is writing out is an .htaccess file, a core PHP logic file, and then cached files for frequently-accessed pages. (That’s just standard Smarty caching.)

    We’re definitely offering more comment management functionality soon, those will be plugins that integrate into the new framework.

    I agree on the default templates. I’ve sent you a fixed up stylesheet for your blog, but don’t worry, we’re not shipping the final 3.2 with these tired old styles. 🙂 Honestly, I wouldn’t bother learning the templates… just use a visual tool like GoLive or Dreamweaver and drop in the content from your blog wherever you want. Or use your old design and the MT Cheat Sheet to drop in your posts.

    In all, this is really great feedback, and I think the final release of MT 3.2 will resolve a lot of the legitimate issues you’ve brought up.

  3. You really ought to mention “comments” in every entry: I’ve got years of muscle memory built up from starting to click a link in an aggregator (seven or eight different aggregators by now) to tell you something, and then stopping myself.

    From the bottom: not two things to learn: this page is styled by /styles-site.css, the home page is styled by /styles-site.css. Edit that one template (or just tell it to stop publishing the template, and edit the file directly, I’ve never warmed up to CSS as a template) and you’re done.

    Moderation is a pain: you get spammed so we don’t have to. Instead, Jacques’ Forced Preview [1] will cut out all the bot-posted spam (since the bot authors are still too lazy to scrape a form) – I get maybe a half-dozen hand entered comment spams a week, despite having used all the sorts of words they search for repeatedly for years. It’s not an all-time solution, but you might as well enjoy it while it still works.

    If you search for something like “speeding up movable type” you should find two or three lists of tweaks (one from Jay Allen, as I remember) that will improve things mightily. There’s a few little things, like how you use category and archive tags, that can make a huge difference when you’ve got thousands of entries.

    I wouldn’t put too much faith in TypeKey: there’ve been a few spammers who’ve used it, and it doesn’t cost anything but a little time, something you’ve got plenty of when your spam is entered by people you pay 37 cents per day. It’s probably good for cutting down the spam, for now, but it’s another thing to just enjoy while it lasts.

    [1] http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/~distler/blog/archives/000383.html

  4. As Anil said, this is really great feedback, Rafe, and I appreciate it. To add and clarify a few points:

    • Look in your mt-config.cgi for a directive called EmailAddressMain. With that, you can set the from on your notification emails to anything you like.

    • You can switch every template to dynamically publish except for mt-view.php (and even that one MAY be okay, although I’ve never tried). After that, the only thing publishing statically is your .htaccess file, and that’s only done once. And, if you like, you can turn on caching and conditional requests for your indexes and your news feeds to speed things up for your visitors.

    • You should NOT be getting internal server errors. I think that this is something you should try to reproduce consistently and either take up with your host or file a bug with us (see the beta blog at http://www.sixapart.com/movabletype/beta/). Something is up and it’s not normal.

    • As Anil said, don’t even bother with the templates now. Just wait for a week or so. More on this later.

    • The “speeding up Movable Type” article that Phil mentioned is here.

    • When it comes to TypeKey, you should listen to people who use it exclusively. TypeKey works. And with 3.2, you can accept both but moderate anything not from a TypeKey commenter. That’s a huge win in addition to many of the other community management features that are only hinted at right now in the beta.

    • I know that you may have some invested time with your host and they may be really great in a number of ways that aren’t obvious from your posts, but you have to look very, very hard to find a host that forces you to use a homegrown cgiwrap setup (because MT has run fine for years on cgiwrap) and no access to your server’s error logs. Just something to consider… We can even make recommendations…

    • Lastly, I have to tell you, learning on a beta version of a product with no documentation is ballsy and shows that you’re dedicated. Stick with us for a week or so and you’ll be much happier when the production release comes out.

    Again, thanks a lot for the feedback.

  5. Okay, links stripped. Duly noted. And once again, the “Speeding up Publishing in Movable Type” article is at http://www.sixapart.com/pronet/articles/how_to_speed_up.html

  6. The size of the DB (number of entries) is a big issue for us, and we don’t have as many as you have spread across all the whiterose blogs. We don’t have to use cgiwrap either, but we’ve moved up to a G4 dual 450 for our MT installation and it definitely helped.

  7. The main 500 error I get from Movable Type occurs when I click on the name of a weblog from the main Movable Type page under “My Weblogs”. I’m not sure where that link is supposed to go, and I’ve been fine without using it, but it is odd that it doesn’t work. (I’ll file this bug somewhere more appropriate as well.)

    As far as dynamic publishing goes, I haven’t been able to get it to work for anything other than the archives. I’ll try to figure out more about it, since clearly it should work.

  8. I only ever see slow-downs in MT when the same CGI is being hit over and over again, which happens when spambots are hitting your site or you hav eunusually high traffic where numerous readers are trying to leave comments at the same time or within seconds of each other. The largest MT instalaltion I maintain is watchblog.com which has 2200+ posts, 120+ authors and 58,000+ comments. MT-Blacklist has blocked nearly 60,000 comment spams and moderated over 20,000 asn has 3479 unique blacklist strings. The entire MySQL database is 101 MB. The site is hosted on a 4+ year old Dell PowerEdge 350 (800Mhz Pentium III) rack server at a co-lo facility. the server currently hosts about 20 sites, about a third of which are MT-powered. Server load averages between 0.10 and 1.10 for a 24-hour period and only occasionally spikes when spambots are active or a blog post gets a lot of press.

  9. The preceding scalability endorsement was not paid for by Six Apart, Ltd. 🙂 Thanks, Cam.

  10. Well, Anil – I am a big fan of MT and use it for a lot of my sites (and my client’s sites). However, there are times when I realize that MT just does not scale high enough.

    For instance, the first blog I built for General Wesley Clark’s campaign in 2003 was on top of MT. We quickly realized that the amount of traffic to the blog was maxing out a dedicated server because mt-comments.cgi was being hit too often. Throwing more hardware at this problem would have solved it but we made the decision at the time to move the blog into a more community-centric site based on Scoop. MT, at the time, was not able to support the community features we were seeking.

    In speaking with some of the people at the Dean campaign, they also expressed that this was an issue with MT — and their blog was even more popular than the Clark campaign’s. Their solution was to add more hardware to handle the mix so that each time mt-comment.cgi was spawned by a user it would hit one of 3-4 different dedicated machines – using some kind of round-robin DNS or distributed http processing trick – with each mchine then writing the HTML files back to the same box. I think their machines were cgi1.deanforamerica.com, cgi2.deanforamerica.com, etc.

    So, in hindsight MT back then was not that scalable without throwing hardware at the problem. To be fair, we had some performance issues with Scoop as well and ended up dedicating two big boxes to it: one for Scoop and one for the MySQL database.

  11. try looking at drupal.org I am doing a switch from WordPress to it right now, It looks like it was designed to scale better

  12. If you need scalability with none of the MT issues and all of the WP advantages, check out LightPress, a a fast, template-based frontend for the popular WP that’s been designed to minimize database calls and comes with industrial strength cache system. It’s in fact a WP Pro, built from the ground up for high traffic sites.

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