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Movable Type’s Workflow Plugin

Six Apart just announced a plugin for Movable Type called Workflow that adds much-needed functionality to this blogging product. But it’s not free: if you want a supported version–and if you’re a library, of course you do–it’s (sit down) $250. (Though you also get a chance to be listed on the developer’s website as a Workflow user, right up there with the opportunity to wear clothes emblazoned with the Nike swoosh.)

Two hundred and fifty dollars, to pay a separate developer for functionality already included in WordPress. If I read the licensing correctly–and has been typical of Six Apart products since they began charging, that’s hard to do–you can evaluate Workflow for thirty days, and perhaps after May 17, when I hand in my last work for the semester, I’ll do just that in a little FRL bake-off. Workflow I know from; MPOW is all about it.

Six Apart has a pretty good deal going on. It doesn’t have to develop its own product or promise its customers anything new; just get someone to write a plugin. I accept that for bells and whistles, but I find it specious for capabilities that most reasonable people would see as core to a product. That’s the current problem with Six Apart spam control, which has been primarily provided by a “free” plugin developed outside of Six Apart, MT-Blacklist, for which donations are “encouraged.” New spam software is in development, and donors are given “priority.” It’s very weird, and getting stranger by the minute (particularly as the developer of MT-Blacklist was hired by Six Apart–but apparently not to tackle spam control from within). You can “donate” to get support for a product that resolves a problem central to another licensed product, a problem so big Six Apart has talked about it on its own site, though not at length and not as part of an open discussion (which some of us might call “blogging,” a practice the company is oddly unfamiliar with). Ayn Rand colliding with Kumbaya.

Six Apart also has worked hard to develop its developer “community” who can now be seen as cottage enterpreneurs, seeking opportunities to turn Movable Type into the most expensive post-purchase consumer product since the Barbie Doll.

I don’t have an issue with free-market capitalism, and I’m not an open source cultic. I’m not even cheap; I will spend money for a good product. I paid for my Movable Type license and I’ve paid for other things I like, and if you ever want to hear a sob story, sit down with me and withthe voice of experience let me tell you about what it has cost MPOW to use “free” software.

But I am a consumer, and I’ve been on the ‘net a while. I see where this is going. Today it’s the Workflow plugin; tomorrow it’s RSS3 (note: I made that up!), or the Jumping Balogna plugin absolutely everyone is using, or features to facilitate blogging during weightless conditions, or whatever. Six Apart is starting to make Bill Gates look good. Microsoft may be the product of Beelzebub himself, but Old Scratch gives me the whole enchilada, not a tortilla and a quarter-cup of beans. And Satan does make good software, I’m aware, as I work with “track changes” in elaborate documents or sync my entire calendar with my Treo. By itself, without additional purchases–and particularly compared to the leading competition, WordPress and Blogger–Movable Type is looking increasingly primitive.

FRL doesn’t need workflow. I’m an Army of One. But if I were an army of two or more, and content delegation was important to me, before I spent $250 to bring Movable Type up to speed with WordPress, I’d see if I could make my own “donations” to help bring WordPress where it needs to be on a couple of features. (This includes the unbelievably annoying WordPress glitch where the entries and comments are delivered in separate RSS2 feeds. I’m aware FRL doesn’t print well–give me an F and slap my fanny with a ruler–but I’m heartily glad post comments do not flow in as non sequiturs, which to my bloggy, RSS-ified eyes simply looks clueless. Hint to new bloggers: eat your own dog food. Always subscribe to your own blog in every feed version it comes in.)

Once again, wearing my “library tech honcho” hat: If I were making an institutional purchase of blogging software–for example, for a library, or for that matter for MPOW–I’d make sure Movable Type had every feature I could expect to need within the budget year it was purchased. This is an impossible statement, of course, which is why I made it. You may well get what you want for now if you purchase a license for Movable Type–though I’m steeling myself for the day Six Apart charges for spam control (not directly, of course, but by pointing its users to a fee-based plugin)–but be prepared to pay for any new functionality that becomes important in the next year. I may pony up as needed, but only because I’m so busy these days that the idea of moving to a new blog makes me wince. That’s not a great endorsement of Movable Type.

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