Interview with Mena Trott from Six Apart – Published in Digital Web Magazine

Here’s an of a recent interview I did with Mena Trott from Six Apart that was published today. She talks about the latest developments at Six Apart, including the growing team, sticking to their roots, the future of TypePad and Moveable Type 3.1’s hot new features. Thx Mena, Ben, and Jane for the time. Check out the Digital Web Magazine for more.

Digital Web: How many people are using your products these days, and how many sites/blogs does that represent?

Mena Trott: It’s pretty hard to tell right now, especially with blogs. Nobody can even figure out exactly how many blogs are out there really—especially with something like Moveable Type, where for so many years people would just download without registering or having any way of seeing if they were actually installing it after registering.

Now that we have registration, we see that there are a number of people who are using it and coming back. I’m hesitant to give a number because I really don’t know. But I would say there are hundreds of thousands of users, at least. Our estimates were lower before the licensing changes, when people said “I do have X number” or “I have 20 people on my one install.” So, I would say it’s in the hundred of thousands, definitely, for Moveable Type.

And one of the other things is that a lot of the popular blogs you’ll see happen to be Moveable Type, so that always influences its penetration and perception.

DW: So, now that you’re keeping track and looking at stats and registrations, what is the pace like? Do you feel like it is still growing and people are starting new blogs and doing new installs, or have we reached critical mass?

MT: I definitely feel like it’s still speeding up. With Moveable Type, we’re still on the dev release. The 3.1 release is … the first release where we’ve said publicly, “Now it’s for everybody to download.” And we’ve been very happy with the results of that. We’ve already exceeded every set of goals for downloads and revenue. Between pricing and the friction of requiring registration, downloads have slowed down, of course, but people want the product and they got the product, and I don’t see that slowing down. Also, TypePad continues to grow. We’ve actually had an influx of users because blogging has become more popular in the mainstream.

DW: As it continues to grow and become more mainstream, do you see products like Moveable Type being offered by the AOLs and Microsofts of the world? In the end, who’s going to end up offering blogging tools to consumers and how are they all going to be packaged up?

MT: I think there is going to be a mix. I mean, Moveable Type is the base for that kind of group—the people who want to tinker, who know the companies’ businesses. TypePad is intended to be our consumer mainstream product. We have licensing deals in Japan that bring it to a large number of users via ISPs.

A hosted service is most likely where those mainstream users are going to go to. They’re not going to want to install server software. But there is still a need for that and that’s why we have these two products which segment to different audiences. Some people who start on TypePad then go to Moveable Type, but some people who will try Moveable Type will go to TypePad because there is a better fit.

It’s becoming easier to see who chooses what tool. And it’s good. I’m glad that we offer two. I was always frustrated by the limitations of Moveable Type. Many users find it hard to install and, therefore, aren’t able to use all the tools we have available. At least with TypePad, people are [able to use the tools].

DW: You bring up Japan. Why you have chosen to distribute Moveable Type through ISPs in Japan as opposed to distributing it directly to individual bloggers?

MT: In Japan, we actually have a 100%-owned subsidiary that runs the operations. The licensing is based on demand. The largest ISPs want blogging solutions that are integrated with other services they offer their customers. They already have portals set up that are co-branded, so that’s just one avenue. We actually have TypePad Japan which is run by our Japanese team and geared for individual users, and actually sells Moveable Type, as well. We also have distribution deals with a number of companies. So, we are actively pursuing a lot of different routes in Japan. The ISPs just happen to be the most visible.

DW: Are you not seeing the same demand from ISPs to offer this through portals as a bundled service to customers in the U.S. and Europe?

MT: In Europe we are, and that’s why we have our European team working on that. In the U.S., it’s just different. We have bigger players and it’s often a “make or buy” decision—and they choose “make.” But it takes them longer to get it out. We are working with ISPs to allow distribution of Moveable Type on a smaller scale in the U.S. In Japan, there are huge providers, such as NTT and Nifty. The equivalents in the U.S. are pretty large and we think there is more of an in-between solution for this market.

DW: Have the American ISPs that have chosen the “make” route launched their own products? If so, how are you guys matching up against those?

MT: AOL launched AOL Journals and it didn’t seem to take off. But I think one of the reasons has to do with the fact that it’s within AOL, so there is always that sort of “walled garden” mentality. And we’ve seen Microsoft launch its Japanese product and MSN Japan try to play around with blogs in that country, but they haven’t done anything here. We haven’t seen the big moves from the big companies, other than Google purchasing Blogger.

DW: How do you characterize the nature of the competition between you and Blogger and WordPress, and some of the other folks out there? Is it collaborative, with everyone wanting to grow the whole industry in an effort to get a piece of a bigger pie, or is it becoming more competitive?

MT: It’s hard. We and Blogger are both very focused on what we’re doing. In terms of knowing people, we talk to the Blogger team a lot and are on very good terms with them. We both have such different markets. When you have a free product and a subscription product in the same market, there is overlap, but it’s not cutthroat. In terms of collaboration, there can be more.

Unfortunately, we’re given a rap because we are so dominant, I guess, in terms of use. People see us as this big guy who they want to bring down, oddly, when we really aren’t—we’re still a small company. That’s frustrating. We’re more than willing to work with people. Being big and corporate completely goes against the things the company is all about.

DW: How do you respond to high-profile, vocal people like Molly Holzschlag, who say you’re moving away from community bloggers and toward enterprise software and professional-level dev tools geared toward big companies?

MT: I think that they kind of forget that we have TypePad. There is this impression from a lot of people who are bloggers and who are early adopters that using TypePad isn’t really blogging. But it’s a pretty powerful tool itself, and it’s not going away from the mainstream at all; we really want a tool for people to use.

I think that we have all of our bases covered because you can also use Moveable Type—and it’s still affordable and free if you have one author and three blogs, which a lot of people have. You know, most people aren’t using the products extremely to the max. I’m not sure where the criticism comes from. I think people don’t recognize our whole portfolio of products. We put a lot of work into both TypePad and Moveable Type and we’re really proud of what we’ve done; we’re a two-product company right now.

DW: How are your development resources allocated right now? Are you devoting more resources to TypePad or to Moveable Type?

MT: I think in terms of how we divide our time, we have a lot of stuff we’re juggling and we’re wearing a lot of hats but everything is being addressed.

We’re basically staffing for two teams. A lot of people overlap. You have people working on TypePad one week and Moveable Type another. Right now we’re focusing on basically having both of the products complement each other. We want to merge the back-end and the core software so that if one change is made in one product, it’s easily integrated into the other.

We’re ramping up in terms of staffing. We’ve got a lot of great hires. I’m going to be announcing that Brad Choate is joining us. This is really great because he’s been with us since almost day one and he’s moving from the East Coast with his family. It’s a really great feeling for us that he wants to take a chance with this company. And he obviously is focused on Moveable Type. (More…)