Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Six Apart: Blogging was Born During a Recession - Interview with CEO Chris Alden

Posted by Tom Foremski - October 30, 2008

"Blogging grew out of recession and blogging will do well during a recession," says Chris Alden, CEO and Chairman of Six Apart, the software company best known for its Movable Type blogging application.

Movable Type celebrates its seventh year in October 2008, created by co-founder Mena Trott, an unemployed dotcomer. The application has come a long way from its humble roots as a way for laid-off developers to write about their day. Movable Type software is now used by many mainstream media publications and also by newstream media such as Huffington Post, Talking Points Memo, Kottke.org (and Silicon Valley Watcher).

ChrisAlden.jpgWhile Wordpress, the competing blogging platform, has taken over the "one man and his blog" market, Six Apart has moved firmly into the commercial world, providing a simple way for any organization to quickly set up a web site with many community features built-in.

"Publications today want to be able to engage their readers in many ways. With Movable Type you can set up your own private Facebook-like network and you'll see more of those types of features later this year," says Mr Alden.

Six Apart expects to do well in a down economy because corporations can use its software, or its hosted services, to replace home grown content management systems, some of which can cost millions of dollars to build and support. But working with corporations requires having a services group. "Companies want to be able to pick up the phone and know that they have support." Earlier this year Six Apart acquired Apperceptive in New York to beef up its design and development services.

Services is a lower margin business than being a software company and it requires additional people to scale, but Mr Alden says, "Sometimes the seasoning makes the food--it is a necessary thing."

Competing with Wordpress . . .

Six Apart used to own almost all the blogging software market but it fumbled its first moves to commercialize its software by charging a high license fee. Although it rectified that mistake, it triggered a revolt among the early bloggers towards the open source Wordpress, which now has a large and fanatical following. Lots of plugins are available for Wordpress while Six Apart has chosen to build features into its software application--an approach that can offer improved stability and security.

"The competition between Movable Type and Wordpress has been good for both and has made both products better," says Mr Alden. But he does regret the sometimes "snarky" comments that have been made by the rival camps about each other.

Both products offer an easy way to quickly publish web sites. Some key differences: Movable Type makes it easier to manage multiple blogs and its design has enabled it to avoid some of the security headaches that have plagued Wordpress by keeping its template code separated from its core code. "Security isn't much of an issue for most personal bloggers but it is an issue for large publishers."

Disruptive but not destructive . . .

Six Apart is trying to move ahead of its competition by moving up the stack, going beyond being a tools provider to "providing ways of wielding the tools." It also wants to integrate the qualities that a large social network such as Facebook or MySpace offers developers and advertisers. It launched its own ad network earlier this year, and later this year it will announce ways of creating "engaging experiences" for advertisers, and users.

Some of the new features in Movable Type and its hosted solutions, revolve around what is known as action syndication. When a user uploads some photos, or posts a blog post, or writes a comment, that information is broadcast to other platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, etc.

In a similar way that blogging helped to disrupt but not destroy, mainstream media, Mr Alden believes that today's big social networks will be disrupted by new types of social/blog networks. And Six Apart wants to help in that disruption.

Look for a series of big announcements in late November.

More info:

From Six Apart:

By Mena Trott, co-founder of Six Apart

The Beginning

In April of 2001, before Vox, Typepad, Movable Type and even Six Apart, I had a weblog called dollarshort.org. What began as a space online to tell stories about my childhood or daily adventures with my husband, Ben, dollarshort.org grew into something more — my introduction into an industry, the inspiration for a business and the source of meeting some of the most important people in our lives.

To make a better dollarshort.org, Ben and I wanted to make a better blogging tool and in October 2001, we released the first version of Movable Type. Intended to be a fun way to pass the time while we looked for jobs after the bust, supporting and developing Movable Type quickly became a full time job for the both of us. Working out of our spare San Francisco bedroom as we iterated and our customer base grew, we realized in July 2002 that Movable Type could become something big and, our company, Six Apart was born.

Blogging has many of the qualities companies need in a depressed economy: it’s a low cost, high-profile and effective way of engaging with customers. Whether it’s large companies – like Kenneth Cole, Wells Fargo and Starwood Hotel – gaining efficiencies by using social publishing as their web presence, or individuals marketing themselves via blogs – unknown interior designer found book publisher through her blog – Six Apart predicts that blogging will gain even more traction in the down economy that it has in boom times.

The transformation of social networks – just as blogging helped to reinvent traditional media, social publishing is poised to do the same to the mainstream social networks. Blogging is decentralizing social networking and creating micro-communities around content

2008 is a pivotal year for blogs - for the first time, more Internet users are reading blogs than not (according to eMarketer), professional media are embracing blogging as a strategy rather than experiment, name brands are fully participating, and everyday people have successful blogs

Social publishing is the next evolution of blogging – blogging has evolved from a personal to a social pursuit, further blurring lines between blogger, reader and community member.

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