The Usability of Movable Type

Preface: I have registered Movable Type at the $45 level.

Here are my usability notes on Movable Type. Some or all of this will not make sense to people who don't use movable type. So don't get all learned helplessness on me, look it up or don't read it. :-)

1. When you're editing a template , you have two buttons. Save, and Rebuild. Save does what you'd expect, which is to save the entry into the database. But Rebuild does just that: rebuild. It does NOT save the changes you just made. You have to hit Save and THEN Rebuild. Why not make Rebuild have an implicit Save of whatever changes made on the current screen?

2. Speaking of Rebuild button at the bottom: why not call it "Rebuild just this entry"? It took me some time to realize the rebuild button at the bottom rebuilds just that template or entry, which is faster. Why hide this cool functionality behind a name that is not specific enough.

3. Why doesn't clicking in the image upload field pick the radio button? A graphic:
Upload needs refinement
Granted, I'm odd because I fill in the path before I pick the file name, but I don't think that affects the point.

4. Installs and upgrades are gratuitously hard, mainly because directories are not in the right place, not even to match the default set up. Things that need to end up in the static directory are not there when you uncompress it. Even granting that Movable Type is not trying to complete with blogger, it's still not as easy as it could be. Make the defaults to where everything works, and does not require mass moving of files.

5. Better defaults: Why not make title-based filenames the default style for individual entry archives? In other words, the default looks like: /archives/000053.html, instead of /archives/like_my_life_is_so_like_boring.html.
It took me a lot of googling to get the right format: annoyingly enough, this feature is mentioned prominently, but I could not find how to actually do it from the Movable Type site itself.

Speaking of which, here is the gory details of how, it's actually relatively simple:

Once you're in your blog, click into Blog Config, and select the Archiving section. Then, in the empty text box next to "Individual Entry Archive" paste this code:

<$MTEntryTitle dirify="1" $>.html

"dirify" means change files names from "Like%20whatever.html" to "like_whatever.html" Good functionality, wrong default. Why do you need to add the dirify tag at all? Why would you ever want nasty filenames with spaces in them?

7. The date is set once, when you first create a post. It is not automatically updated as you work on it. I often edit my posts over days rather than hours. I don't require my posts to be completely polished, but I like them a bit shiny. So the posting dated December 11th was indeed started on December 11th, but was not posted on the 11th as you might expect, but only a few days before this post (where I have updated the date).

And, to end on a positive note, good points:

1. Use of accessible templates starting with version 2.5. Accessibility is not usability, but it goes together well.
2. XHTML/CSS setup from the get-go.
3. The cost.
4. The ability to easily donate via PayPal, but no high pressure tactics, just a nice request.
5. The automatic re-building of archives, frees you to focus on the content.
6. With newer version of Movable Type, TrackBack auto-pinging. This means that you don't have to remember to do TrackBacking: it attempts to ping a site automatically. Trackbacking itself is a cool idea that I feel could have been explained better in the beginning.

Some of the changes I'm suggesting are Javascript, so I may well write them and post for people to use.

This posting came out dated as December 16th the first time I posted it. Another data point for the need to update the date point.

Posted by Chad Lundgren on Wednesday, December 18, 2002 (Link)


Posted by Blaine Hilton Wednesday, December 18, 2002 at 08:32 PM

I found your "review" nice to let me know what I might get into. I've been thinking about starting my own blog, but haven't got around to it yet. I don't think I could update it enough for it to be too good though. But, I do believe I could come up with a daily rant ;-)

Posted by Joshua Kaufman Friday, December 20, 2002 at 07:39 AM

I agree with most all of your criticisms. A few exceptions:

4. Yes, installs are hard, but right now I don't know if there's an easier way that keeps everything working as well as it does. Users of Movable Type shouldn't take for granted that it's a web-based application and not client software. I reckon that for most MT users, MT is the first web-based application that they've installed, so it's understandable that it's not the easiest thing to install. It's easy to criticize something like this without understanding all the constraints of web apps and a user group that's so diverse.

5. Yes, the defaults should be changed - to a combination of dates and title based file names. Title-based files names are not enough because they only allow the title to be used once. does the date/title combination very well.

Overall, this was a good usability review that I hope Ben and Mena take into consideration for the next version.

Posted by Chad Lundgren Friday, December 20, 2002 at 09:06 AM

Well Joshua, I've installed many applications, both web-based or not. I've debugged mod_perl installs. C/C++ programs, not generally known for their trivial complexity or power, have Configure programs. Some are smart and create a Makefile that needs few or no changes to compile the program, and some need a lot of banging.

I'd like better defaults for web users, the majority. I think the install/upgrades should not be *gratuitously* hard.

Glad to hear you liked most of what I had to say.

Posted by Ryan Monday, December 23, 2002 at 10:21 AM

Well, I just installed MT for the first time last thursday, to show my current employers that a web log could be usefull to them. I program php, mysql and a little perl (changing extensions) and though the the installation was a little rough (messed up a few times getting the mysql support to work), i had little complaints. I thought the installation had a good balance of speed, options and ease of use. I in no way thought about end-user usability because I really diddn't think it was an end-user program. If it was how could it be free? That's just the nature of open-server-based software right? The two have to make a little cash, they do so on installations. Also, makefiles SUCK. Talk about a usability problem.

Make install > find out about all the other programs i have to go get > make install > go get more programs to install the program i need to install the program i want, and so on. How many times have you needed at least three other programs to get the one you wanted? What happens if it fails? Sometimes you dont even get a good error if it fails. (at least in redhat)

Anyway, thanks for the excellent review, I hope the cute couple that made MT can use it to their advantage.

Posted by Manuel Razzari Tuesday, December 24, 2002 at 11:39 AM

Joshua: I agree with most issues. I fear upgrading, install was relatively easy. It took some more time to change the templates.

The need for good defaults, I agree with you. (To the MT friends, this means asking the community for input)

Regarding title-based filenames, I'm not sure if it's the right default. Some people would get too long URLs... altought with better search engine positioning and easier guessing of what's in the page... I don't know.

Posted by Joshua Kaufman Tuesday, December 31, 2002 at 07:53 AM


Have you posted this to the Movable Type Support Forum?

There is a forum specifically for feature requests. I'm sure this topic would generate useful discusssion there.

Posted by Chad Lundgren Tuesday, December 31, 2002 at 11:51 AM


Good point.

I've posted a slightly different version:;act=ST;f=12;t=12275