Responding to Mena Trott

Mena Trott stayed up until about 3 a.m. last night writing a long response to some of the issues raised by Jason Kottke and others about the current cycle of business activity and how companies may not be promoting open community involvement from its employees. Mena put a call out to the community for feedback about Six Apart and how to encourage creativity, and I have been thinking all day about some of the larger issues facing Six Apart and other emerging new media startups. I e-mailed Six Apart two weeks ago regarding some of these issues of assimilating creative members of the community but I have yet to receive a response.

A lot has changed at Six Apart over the past year. Six Apart now has 53 employees under its employ. TypePad, originally planned for about 3,000 users, is now hosting hundreds of thousands of weblogs. Approximately one year ago, on May 12, Six Apart announced its new licensing structure for Movable Type and began aggressively pursuing corporate sponsorships and deployments behind the firewall with large companies. It’s been busy and there have been a lot of changes as can be expected when trying to grow a company and make it work. At the root of Six Apart and everything it does is a community. The Movable Type community of developers and implementors introducing your brand and products to new customers and markets while continuously developing plugins and patches and generally pushing Movable Type to its limits. The TypePad community discovering the new medium of weblogs and always looking for a new way to publish the content they care about given the tool and service level they have purchased for a non-trivial amount of money. The LiveJournal community, unique in so many ways, but contributing so much to the general technical audience in server technologies and exposing the social constructs of weblogs in ways other services are just now beginning to understand. It is difficult to manage it all, but I do believe Six Apart has alienated it’s community in the past 8 months.

I was very happy with the process and transparency of Movable Type 3.1 released on August 31, 2004. There was a sense of pride releasing this new software only three months after version 3.0 and its licensing changes. Six Apart was under a lot of pressure to involve their community after many people left for WordPress and other projects. I installed each beta, logged in to Mantis to file bugs and contribute patches, and exchanged e-mails with some Six Apart developers about feature implementations or other issues. Developers received updates on new changes and what they might have to account for in their software or deployments before installing the upgrade. The Movable Type plugin contest provided some motivation for developers and some one-on-one help to get their code ready for a broader release.

[W]hen you’re competing with big guys like Microsoft, Yahoo and Google, I think we’d err on the side of opacity if keeping our product plan for 2005 closely guarded meant giving us an edge of these giants.

Involving your community in a two-way conversation might also give you an edge over these giants. The community you choose to involve could be a small group of active ProNet users. Host a focus group over dinner. You have a community in front of customers and patching your product every day. Engage that group of users.

Please publish the conferences you will attend on your weblog so users can meet you face-to-face. If you have a presenting at a conference posting that speech on your weblog beforehand is a great way to share your thoughts and your vision for different audiences. Adam Bosworth and Jonathan Schwartz have had a lot of success publishing these speeches online. It definitely makes an impact and builds a brand when you can tell a crowd your entire speech is available on your weblog if they would like to access it later.

Six Apart prides itself on being the indie label created by people who know and love weblogs and the community weblogs enable. In the world of weblogs people don’t buy software; they join the software. Weblog authors and developers become a part of the software and feel a sense of ownership over the platform. People criticize Six Apart partly because they have the ability to affect some change.

Thank you for opening the conversation; let’s keep it going.