six colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

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movabletype
The Incomparable’s multi-blog system is complicated. The one running this site is pretty straightforward.

On this week’s episode of The Talk Show, John Gruber and I talked about—among many other topics—Movable Type. The venerable blogging platform was once the go-to tool for making your own blog, but the rise of WordPress along with some questionable product and company directions ended up leaving it largely1 by the side of the road.

This is notable not just because of the tech nostalgia—there’s a lot of that in the episode, too, which is what happens when you hang around an industry for 20 years—but because Gruber and I both run our websites on Movable Type. As John says in the episode, I may be the last person to launch a brand-new website on Movable Type 4. I doubt that, but point taken!

One of the things I hope to document on this site, in addition to my coverage of Apple stuff, is my own use of technology. So I might as well tackle what the site is built on. I used Movable Type for a few reasons, including the fact I’ve been using it for years and I know its template language backward and forward. While I’ve used WordPress a little bit, setting up a site using WordPress would have required hours, or days, or weeks of setup. I launched Six Colors less than a week after I left Macworld, so the lack of a learning curve was vitally important.

Then there’s my friend Greg Knauss, who administers this site. Last year we set up the new web site for The Incomparable, and we used Movable Type for that. Similar reasons applied: Greg and I know the software by heart, and even better, Greg is a Perl programmer who can edit the code and whip up Movable Type plugins when necessary. (Which he needed to do, because Movable Type 4 doesn’t really support podcasts, so he wrote a plugin to parse podcast files for their size and run time.) The Incomparable’s implementation of Movable Type is pretty wacky, with five separate blogs that interconnect to each other like a relational database.

Again, we used it because we had some very specific features we wanted that existing CMSes—including those used by 5by5 and Relay FM—just didn’t offer. And we knew we could implement that fairly easily in Movable Type. So we did it. That was the first project I had really used Movable Type for in years, but when the time came to deploy Six Colors myself, it was sitting right there.

If Six Colors doesn’t look like a Movable Type site, that’s because I didn’t use any of Movable Type 4’s included (and out of date) templates. I built site templates2 with the help of Panic’s app Coda 2—and, yes, by carefully considering what I liked and didn’t like about the sites that have been my inspiration for this entire thing, including Daring Fireball, MacStories, Very Nice Web Site, and The Loop—and then converted them into templates and template modules. I used to do that sort of job all the time in the 90s and early 2000s, but it’s been a while. My skills were rusty. They’re slowly coming back, but I am woefully behind the times on JavaScript and CSS.

So does it matter that I use Movable Type on this site? Probably not, since the entire point of the site is the content on the pages, not how it was made. It strikes me, though, that the analogy of software being like pop music is even more apt than I thought. In the App Store, we see apps that become hits and climb the charts. Is this because it’s a natural way to think of software, or because the iTunes infrastructure was built for music sales and then adapted to cover software too?

Regardless, it turns out that software can also be considered uncool, even if it still works. Not only is Movable Type uncool (the equivalent of ’80s hair metal), but the language it’s written in, Perl, is supremely uncool. Like, New Kids on the Block uncool. The razzing John Siracusa takes about being a Perl developer isn’t really because Perl is old, or bad, but because it’s just not what the cool kids are talking about. The world has moved on.

And yet, sometimes that old stuff still works, and is still the best tool for the job. And that’s why, at least for right now, this site is built on software that was initially released 14 years ago and given its last major update five years ago. We’ll use it until it doesn’t make sense to use it anymore.


  1. Version 6.0.5 is available and I believe still being actively developed.

  2. I am not a designer. What you see here is what I’d call “not designed.” I hope to hire a designer one day to make it a bit prettier.

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