Movabletype’s Documentation Boondoggle

In product documentation, the manual is the product. If a feature isn’t defined, it doesn’t exist as far as the user can tell. If a feature is described badly, the user will perceive the product to be a bad product. Thus, do not skimp on the documentation. Randal L. Schwartz, Perl author

With Sixapart’s Movabletype (MT) the lack of usable documentation is a feature. How else could you explain the lack of improvement despite a (shrinking) community of developers constantly complaining for years.
I’m currently upgrading a website that has been using MT since the software was publicly available. With such a long history there is a sense of loyalty and accumulated experience that made switching to Drupal or WordPress difficult. There were other concerns as well but thats not important here.
During this transition, the MT documentation has failed in almost every instance I have needed an answer to a question.
It’s not just their lack of written material, it’s the stupid mistakes with the material they have. The embedded links to ‘help’ within my MT install are a dead end and their search engine continuously times out.
We all plan our sites with the knowledge that Google search is likely how many will experience our sites but shouldn’t they, like the rest of us, at least try to design their site in such a fashion that data can actually be found? Nothing that is written seems to be connected — I found the old help forums through a Google search. There is a huge amount of user-contributed information that’s been available through these forums for years. They don’t bother to link to it nor provide a facility to search it.
Generally the best guide to MT is provided outside Six Apart but much of that is disappearing along with their user base.
Perhaps their latest effort will bare fruit but I’m not holding my breath.

Broadcast only

I’ve turned off the comments again due to the overwhelming amount of spam that floods my MT installation on a daily basis. With the extremely limited amount of ‘conversations’ that have ever occurred here it just doesn’t seem worth the time to manage all the noise.

Moveable Type Parent Category Display

I want to share this in the hopes that someone else who searches for an answer to the question I had earlier today might save some time. It’s very simple but the answer isn’t easy to find in the all too sparse Moveable Type documentation.
I wanted MT to return the name of the parent category when in a sub-category. So if we were in the “red” it would return the parent value “color”.
Here is what worked for me in a category template:


It took trial and error which is fun but always a time waster.

MTPaginate Template Example

I have been using MTPaginate on 35togo for quite some time now but I remember having some trouble in the past to get it to work on pages that are primarily text. I can’t remember why this caused so much trouble on that particular client project because it was remarkably easy to get it to work.
My purpose for using MTPaginate was simply to decrease the size of some of my archive pages and to allow for a longer list of entries on my index page ala Gizmodo (and a million other sites). For the archives the benefit is smaller more manageable pages, for the index page it reduces the need for people to enter the archives – those who don’t subscribe to all the feeds on the sight can still get a quick scan of all I have posted over the past 2 weeks.
Here are the tags I used, ignore all the fluffy div stuff:
<div id="content">
<MTPaginateContent max_sections="6">
<div class="date"><MTEnglishOrdinal number='[MTEntryDate format="%d"]'>
<br /><$MTEntryDate format="%b %Y"$></div></MTDateHeader>
<div id="entries">
<h3><a href="<$MTEntryPermalink$>"><$MTEntryTitle$></a></h3>
<p class="entry-more-link">
<a href="<$MTEntryPermalink$>#more">Continue reading: "<$MTEntryTitle$>" »</a>
<div id="tags">
<MTIfCommentsActive><a href="<$MTEntryPermalink$>#comments" class="clink">Comments (<$MTEntryCommentCount$>)</a></MTIfCommentsActive> <a href="<$MTEntryPermalink$>" class="plink">Perma-link</a> <span class="tlink"><MTEntryTags><a href="<MTTagArchiveLink>" title="<MTTagDescription>"><MTTagName></a>&nbsp &nbsp</span>
<div id="pages">
<a href="<$MTPaginateNextPageLink$>" class="emphasis">Next Page</a>
<a href="<$MTPaginatePreviousPageLink$>" class="emphasis">Previous Page</a>

Back at it

As I started to write this for some reason the Creek Nickel song (not to be confused with the band Nickel Creek) “Back in the Saddle Again” (.wmv) keeps repeating itself over and over again in my head. On top of that I have a bad headache today – which came first the song or the headache?
I’ve redesigned my weblog, yet again, for about the .. well I’d give it a number, but at this point, I’ve lost track of how many times I redesigned this site. No actually about 5 times. Every year, which is still too much. Primarily this redesign has meant I have time to write my thoughts here again and fine tuning what gets displayed and how.
Much has happened this past summer, including a trip to Charlottetown, diverting my attention away from the pleasures of babbling about the things that interest me. The time I did have I tended to devote to changing 35togo, my photo weblog, and a couple “money” projects.
In most of design for the screen I try to “keep it simple with personality” . Doing so in this redesign seemed far more difficult than I had hoped primarily because my cms tool of choice has become excessively difficult to use. I have this tendency to want to upgrade software and software publishers have a tendency to release features that make you think you need to upgrade. In the case of Moveabletype – never again. One thing positive came out of this, I want to be a programmer. The time I spent upgrading mt, troubleshooting, and developing templates could have been far better spent rolling my own simple system. That is if I had the skill. Perhaps I am naive in thinking it possible but I would rather devote my “mindshare” to my own product than someone else’s.
This time, in addition to spending an inordinate amount of time on the system, I focused on simplifying the site structure and updating the archives. I’ve neglected my archives in the past but after collecting 4 years worth of entries it’s worth spending some effort. My inspiration is certainly Peter Rukavina’s weblog – he has the best weblog archive I have seen. Many of us tend to forget that there are a whole sea of visitors who never see your front page or that some people might actually be interested enough in what you say to actually navigate through your site. Peter raises the bar.
I still have allot to finish and will write more about some of the difficulties I faced later.
The comment system is broken – nothing gets through. Moveabletype won’t let me install a new system comment template to fix part of the problem. Lovely.