Widgets are about competitive position

If you have a TypePad blog, ease of use just got easier with TypePad Widgets.

From Six Apart’s press release:

[Six Apart has] launched a new, open widget initiative to expand choice and functionality for TypePad subscribers and readers. Thirty-three widgets are ready today that put new interactive features into blogs, such as job searching, game playing, weather tracking, and photo sharing. Widget installation is a snap, taking no more than a few clicks. A complete widget directory is available at http://www.sixapart.com/typepad/widgets.

I can imagine TypePad users will be very pleased with this additional feature. If I still had my primary blog on TypePad, I certainly would be. Some subscribers won’t be, though – according to the Widgets FAQ, they won’t work if you use advanced templates:

Widgets are supported at Basic, Plus, Pro and Business Class accounts. However, Widgets are not supported on blogs that use Advanced Templates, nor are they supported on Mixed Media layouts.

Still, a terrific initiative from Six Apart.

Then we have WordPress Widgets introduced last month on the WordPress.com hosted blog service (TypePad’s direct competitor). Next, a widgets plugin for the WordPress platform was announced this week. WordPress is a direct competitor of Six Apart’s Movable Type, which doesn’t offer such functionality yet. introduced a sidebar manager when version 3.2 was launched last August.

Plenty of third party developers have created widgets for both platforms. Lots of choice already. And the APIs are freely available so anyone can develop widgets.

What do these moves mean? Well, the obvious one is real ease of use for bloggers when you’re designing and organizing your blog layout. The easier it is, the more likely it will be that you’ll go with a service or platform that makes it easy for you to enable and use such functionality especially if you don’t know how to fiddle with the underlying code or just aren’t interested in doing that.

I’m looking at it mainly from the overall competitive position, though, where such key ease-of-use functionality is a powerful selling point in broadening the reach of your offering, eg, to organizations who are considering using blogs, whether hosted or internally installed. Add cost to that picture, where both WordPress offerings are free with support from the broad user community.

Overall, I’d say that WordPress is out front at the moment.

[Technorati: wordpress, six apart, typepad]

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Anil

    A few corrections and clarifications. While I’d dispute that WordPress is a direct competitor for Movable Type, it’s inarguable that MT has had this functionality through the sidebar manager plugin for some time. As has been noted, this was an earlier implementation of the feature, and is distinguished by working with any theme or template for Movable Type.

    In addition, widgets on TypePad are powered by dozens of third parties — things like simply listing your categories or recent posts and being able to drag and drop them have been built into TypePad since it was announced three years ago. Most TypePad users who are savvy enough to use advanced templates are comfortable editing their HTML to add these sorts of things themselves. But the widgets work with every standard blog theme that’s built into the service, which is what matters to most average users.

    And as always, phrases like “free” and “community support” can mean a lot of diffent things. I’d say the many third parties who have already created widgets that are only available for TypePad amply displays a third party support that’s unique to our platform, at least for now. And as always, there’s a free version of Movable Type for people who want it, letting you publish an unlimited number of blogs.

    More to the point, “free” is only free if you don’t count your time in installing or configuring software, or in trying to procure support. All our paid offerings include direct ticket support, so you’re not Googling around on your own or poking around forums — you’re getting direct answers. For users who are savvy enough to not need widgets, hacking around in HTML on their own, that might not matter as much.

    For normal people who blog just to share their ideas, who want to integrate all the other services they use, like Technorati or FeedBurner or CafePress into their blog, I think we’ve got a better answer. And I certainly think you’re right — it’s a competitive advantage.

  2. neville

    Thanks for that detailed commentary, Anil, plus the correction re MT’s sidebar manager. I had tried that and wasn’t impressed at all. But that was at the time of the 3.2 release last year and there were real issues with it at that time. So perhaps I ought to try it again with the latest version.

    It’s a good point re the ability to include TypePad widgets in any TypePad theme, whereas with WordPress it’s currently dependent on the theme developer building in support for WP widgets for a particular theme. So that’s a plus for TypePad right now. I’m sure that perceived advantage won’t last too long, though.

    Re measuring the pros and cons of user-community support vs. vendor-provided support, this is the type of topic that could take up a lot of discussion time! You could argue a major pro for MT is that you get both.

    As for whether WP is a direct competitor of MT or not, I’d say it definitely is, especially from an enterprise point of view. If I were considering rolling out blogs within a company, I’d be evaluating both platforms (and maybe others as well). I know some people who are doing exactly that. Part of the evaluation would include support options. So it certainly isn’t just about a free vs. paid offering.

  3. Serge

    Thanks for letting us know about the widgets, Nev. Typepad sure hasn’t (yet)! How’s that for a chance of improving external communications…

  4. Anil

    Serge, you said we haven’t let TypePad users know about the widgets — right now, I see a graphic promoting the widgets on the TypePad homepage at typepad.com, A news post saying “introducing widgets” that appears on the homepage of TypePad as well on our homepage at sixapart.com and in both the Six Apart News and Everything TypePad feeds. And finally, on the TypePad welcome page at https://www.typepad.com/t/app I see a promotion saying “TypePad Widgets” that is right in the middle of the screen. And Mena wrote a post for Mena’s Corner about the feature as well.

    I’m very open to the idea we need to get the message out in more venues, but besides using all of these venues, we also got a ton of traditional press coverage, and posts on blogs ranging from Lifehacker to Micropersuasion to TechCrunch. Is there some other venue we’ve missed?

    Regarding the enterprise space, that’s probably the area where I spend the most time talking to customers, and I actually think my experience has been fairly different than you describe. People like using Movable Type for intranet blogs because it natively supports an unlimited number of blogs and is thoroughly tested. I think the options you’ve described either require running beta software or installing another copy of the application for each blog you want to create — to me, that seems a little like installing another copy of Microsoft Exchange every time you want to create another email address or mailing list. One of our customers said to me “if the database isn’t even normalized, I won’t even look at the code.”

    And that gets to the heart of it, I think. A lot of enterprises are concerned about open formats and open platform support, and when I was in IT, if you gave me the choice of only one database with 100& of your code under OSI licenses vs. half a dozen databases with only half of your code under OSI licenses, I’d choose the later.

    I also think basic things like being able to track all the blog posts created across your entire enterprise from one screen, or being able to create templates and designs without knowing any scripting are just some of the most immediate benefits to our platforms. I can obviously ramble on about this stuff at length, but I do welcome a comparison of tools from the lifecycle management perspective.

  5. neville

    Wood for the trees at times, Anil. When I log in to TypePad, it takes me straight to my blogs overview. Those news item links halfway down the page aren’t prominent enough.

    Yes you have missed a venue – an email to every subscriber. Even though I’ve moved to WordPress, I still have my paid-up TypePad account. Unless I missed it, or the email spam filters caught it, I’ve seen no recent subscriber info from Six Apart about any new TypePad feature.

    You make some good points about preferences for MT within the enterprise especially blogs connected with intranets. And while I think you’re right that running WP for multiple employee bloggers (as opposed to multiple authors of the same blog) means multiple WP installations, I don’t think that’s a top item in the ‘con’ side of the pros and cons list.

    What I hear from some companies I know who are considering blogs is that WP is easier to use. That’s usually not an IT view, though, it’s one from users. Plus it’s a pretty subjective perception, with no comparitive analysis to back that view up. Still, such things often are about perception.

    I’d love to see an authoritative comparison of blog platforms that goes into its analysis from all points of view – users and administrators. Do you know of a recent one?

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