Yesterday, Pair Networks upgraded this Urban Semiotic blog — and RelationShaping.com and WordPunk.com — to the new Movable Type Pro 4.21 and yet, despite the hype from Six Apart, I am surprised to report Movable Type just as slow and ugly as it ever was. 
Should it really take an hour and 21 minutes to republish 1,400 blog articles and 30,000 comments?


Okay, so an hour and 21 minutes is ridiculous and when I checked my Activity log, it looked like the Yahoo! crawler had its Search Bot up this blog’s bum during the re-publish cycle, so I waited a wee bit, made some template changes, and did another full site re-publish that took 13 minutes.

Compared to an hour and 21 minutes, 13 minutes looks impressive and snappy — except that it isn’t, because before the upgrade to 4.21, Movable Type 4.1 was republishing my entire site in under nine minutes.  I did that 4.21 publish test after refreshing all Global Templates and each template for every blog.  No extra plugins were installed.

Publishing a comment now takes me 30 seconds instead of 16 — and both of those times to get a comment live are wholly atrocious and entirely harassing.

I have a very fast dedicated server and memcached and FastCGI are installed and
Movable Type Pro 4.21 is still super slow on the backend and ever ugly on the
front. 

So the hype that Movable Type Pro 4.21 is so much better and faster is lost on me as an ordinary blogger with five active blogs and eleven websites.  

I don’t understand why it is so difficult to have a robust and good looking blog under Movable Type.  The default templates are just old and ugly and the Style Catcher has never worked on this blog without changing the default font between the “Body” view and the “Extended” view upon publication.

Perhaps I was spoiled by WordPress with its easy drag-and-drop design mentality and its intentional “hands off the code” philosophy for authors that gives bloggers the freedom to write without having to think about caching, PHP Includes or worrying with template after template.

I also wonder why simple “Nav Bar” navigation isn’t embedded in every template by default.  Sure, you can try to add it yourself by following this incredibly long-winded tutorial — but who has the time or tide to futz around with raw code when that sort of feature should be, by default, included as a basic feature of your blog?

While we’re on the topic of design aesthetic and ease-of-use, I’m curious why the following, basic, features aren’t included in every Movable Type Pro template set as embedded defaults:

  • UserPics or Avatars for Comments
  • Related Entries with Snippet Preview
  • 100% Drag and Drop Design
  • Nested Comments

You can find workarounds to add those “features” to your blog — non-snippet “Related Entries” now appear with all blog posts — but why would any ordinary, mainstream, blog owner want to mess around with installing plugins, hacking code and republishing over and over again to get a blog looking good when the common expectation is that it should look good out of the box? 

I’m busy writing computer books and articles for a living — I don’t have time to babysit the backend of my blog to squeeze new functionality out of a hamstrung, default, design.

I thought Movable Type Pro 4.21 would be a spectacular and earth-shattering upgrade for my blogs, but I am sorry to report we’re stuck with the same lag time and delays that have plagued us since Movable Type 4.1.

Please take a moment to bang around here a bit.  Do some searches.  Post a few comments.  Let us know how the blog feels to you on an interactive basis by leaving a comment on this article.

We will keep on publishing and doing our Urban Semiotic thang — I do love how Movable Type Pro uses static publishing to keep a blog alive even if the database croaks — and we’ll hold thumbs Six Apart somehow finds a way to really take Movable Type to the next level far beyond the hype machine and the press releases that promise far more than they actually deliver. 

55 Comments

  1. Movable Type Pro 4.21: Still Slow, Still Ugly

    Yesterday, Pair Networks upgraded this Urban Semiotic blog — and RelationShaping.com and WordPunk.com — to the new Movable Type Pro 4.21 and yet, despite the hype from Six Apart, I am surprised to report Movable Type just as slow and…

  2. Yikes! David, somehow I liked the look – I agree it’s old…
    As an absolute greenhorn about blogging platforms I was curios and doing some seraches, I read the hype in SixApart and was really expecting to read something good about it…
    Sorry to hear the trouble David, hope it’s worth it!

  3. Hi Katha!
    Yes, I like the current look better than our cartoon NYC style — but this beige and blue design is more for a forum or CMS than a blog and you see it used on a lot of MT blogs.
    I, too, believed the hype, and I’m surprised so little has changed speed-wise. I don’t see any enhancements at all in the backend interface that make navigation quicker or cleaner.
    Oh, well. We’re updated. We’ll keep moving onward and hope MT can stay up with us. SMILE!

  4. Hi Katha —
    Yes, MTP 4.21 adds “sparkly social things” that don’t really interest me because they would be added extensions of this blog and not added directly to this blog.
    I’m not sure why we’d want a forum when we have a comments area unless we’d just make this blog a forum instead — I’ve seen examples of that and I’m not that impressed with the look or the feel of it.
    Sure, you could use MTP 4.21 as a CMS, but I’d much prefer Six Apart focused on making the blog stuff faster and looking better instead of drawing such a bright line between added features and keeping things looking ugly.
    I don’t think you can separate a design aesthetic from added higher function — they must rise and evolve together — and the risk you take in trying to pull apart those ideals to favor one over the other is in releasing something advertised as new and improved that acts and looks old and tired.

  5. Hi David,
    Things are looking good! The searches are working fine. A few links inside the articles are broken, but i think that happened with the port from wp.
    i’m not so sure about the header though. it’s a little too generic but maybe it just has to grow on you.

  6. Dananjay —
    Let me know which links in what articles are broken and I’ll look into it. We preserved our URL naming in the port over from WordPress, so that shouldn’t be the issue.
    I agree the header is bland — not much I can really do about it right now, though. Did you like the cartoon NYC skyline better?

  7. Right David!
    A few commenters clearly said they were facing problems while installing it…
    I was under the impression that you could customize the look, at least to me that would be one of the fun part while switching/ upgrading platforms!

  8. Dananjay —
    Thanks for the broken links! They’re fixed now.
    Okay. One vote for the skyline. SMILE! That design did at least anchor us in a place.
    I loved the rotating images, too, and I still have them all. I hoped to put them back and to use CUTLINE here as we did on WordPress but there’s that problem with the port to MT because the text fonts change between Base and Extended upon publication and it just looks awful. I’ll have to work on it a bit more.

  9. Dananjay —
    Yes, I don’t know where that font change is coming from, but it isn’t my doing. I’m not familiar enough with the way the Style Catcher works to wonk it out on my own. The bundled MT4 templates don’t exhibit that odd behavior. Sometimes the fonts are in the same family, but bigger. Other times you have a serif font starting the article and a sans-serif font finishing it. Ugly!

  10. Dananjay —
    There’s a whole slew of these “Cityscape” templates. We could have a new city every day celebrating a new spot in the world! That said, sometimes it’s best to stay with what works. When we first moved to MT from WordPress we had a problem with getting new styles to stick… so why tempt the design Gods with a daily city variety? SMILE!
    I’m sure there’s a way to play with the header — but I’m not exactly sure how or where to do that in MT and their support Wiki is still down and I don’t think my header images will fit in that header space… so we’ll live in a cartoon NYC skyline for now.

  11. Hi Gordon!
    Okay then! Glad to know you like the NYC skyline. I think it’s the color of the sky that bothers me. It isn’t quite right because that’s a Pacific Coast sky, not an East Coast view. Other cities in the scapes have much more interesting skies.
    I’m glad the site loads faster for you. Let us know how your comment timing turns out.

  12. I counted about six mississippis. Then I was suddenly logged out when I refreshed but when I clicked on the login button it automatically thanked me for signing in without taking me to the username and password page.

  13. Much better. It just happened again. I’m not actually logged out but it says I am and then when I try to log in, a little spinning asterisk appears for a second and then I am thanked for signing in. 🙂

  14. Gordon!
    Okay, I usually reply from inside the Admin interface and now I’m out here in public to see what happens when I reply to you from the front end.
    Clicking on the “reply” link next to your comment had nothing happen. Then I clicked on the “Sign In” link at the bottom of the page to find I was already signed in and a new “Reply to” box was checked.
    I think you might be seeing the new JavaScript Spam protection feature with that spinning asterisk. I’ll post this now and see if I get logged out.

  15. Hello again, my Gordon!
    Yes, I think that “Sign In” thing doesn’t mean you’re actually signed out… it’s just a check to see if you’re a real person or not because you have to “find” that link to click on it. That, I believe, lowers the negative behavior of auto-bots auto-spamming based on an open and empty comments area.

  16. Katha!
    Ha! Sorry about the majority rules — or is is Boys against Girl? SMILE!
    I have to click the “Sign In” link to post a comment, but I don’t ever get taken back to the main login screen.
    Keep me posted on how these things are happening for you!

  17. Brilliant anti-spam measures, movable type! I still get lots of compliments on my six apart hat (six apart being the company that makes movable type, for readers that don’t know it) 🙂

  18. Hi Gordon!
    Yes, that JavaScript thingy is pretty slick!
    Now I’ll turn off the comment confirmation thing and see if we get returned to the top of the page or back here where the comment should post.
    Remind us of the story of your 6A hat.

  19. Gadzooks!
    We get returned back to the top of the page instead of down here. Better turn on the confirmation page again or people won’t think their comment was posted.

  20. Dananjay —
    Yes, for some reason after you post a comment you get taken to the top of the article instead of the bottom where you comment is and it doesn’t matter if the comment confirmation page is on or off — are you seeing that behavior on your end?

  21. David —
    Yes. I think the link on the confirmation page has to reference the posted comment on the article page. right now, it points to the article page.

  22. There you are! Back in town, I see, eh Karvain? Thanks for the feedback. I’ve been playing around this afternoon with “module caching” on the backend to squeeze some speed out of the ole boy.
    NOTE: When you see the word “orthogonal” as part of the setup instruction for Server Side Includes — you know you are no longer in the realm of the fun and hugging. Ha!

  23. UPDATE:
    Whoo! Just turned off module caching and SSI across all blogs! Not ready for prime time! We’re getting comments from February 2008 loading on the main page! What a mess! Let’s hope yet another full site republish will make those old bones go away!

  24. Ah! That fixed the recent comments bug. That was pretty scary. I’m glad I was able to make it right. Stay simple. Don’t use the new stuff. Let others break their blogs, not you!

  25. Hi David –
    Glad to see that you’re still moving along with things on MT (though perhaps not as well as you’d like!).
    For what it’s worth, I’ll say that the overall publishing experience – both speed and features – in MT 4.2 is much better than in prior MT 4.x releases.
    That said, there are likely still places where it can be improved, and some of those might have to do with implementing features other than ones you have mentioned, such as the publish queue and SSI, both of which can help tremendously.
    Nonetheless, glad that you are well!

  26. Chad —
    As an MT consultant, I understand your want to promote MTP 4.21 as something better and faster than what has come before, but in my experience with my local install here over three blogs, 4.21 is not that big an improvement over 4.12.
    As you know, I have spent a lot of money hiring people to make MT work faster on a dedicated server I rent from Pair for $250 a month — just so I can give MT as many hardware resources as possible — and I have a purchased support agreement with 6A and Pair, so there can be no doubt that I am not just using MT to complain or badger, I am, and have been, betting my own money against it for becoming something faster and grander than its current promise.
    I have no vested monetary interest in seeing MT fail or succeed. I pay my own way and I report my experience. That said, I certainly would love to see MT continue to improve because I have invested so much on the backend. Nobody wants to send good money after bad.
    I’ve already found, and reported, at least three strange bugs in 4.21 with the Style Catcher, Template Previews and Module Caching — I just hope 6A aren’t releasing code too early and too untested in exchange for the “free licensing” use of their software.
    I don’t understand the benefit of using the Publishing Queue. I don’t want my entries or reader comments published at a later date. I want them published as soon as possible. To take a delay in publishing new content to try to get MTP 4.21 to respond faster is a devil’s barter that holds no benefit for me.
    I enabled SSI and turned it off — no benefits were discernible. I don’t want to just turn something on and hope it works. I want to see the benefit in action if I’m going to set an active flag.
    My recommendation to anyone installing or upgrading to MTP 4.21 is just to live with the base install — don’t get too eager for speed improvements that, in my experience, break more than they enhance.
    You shouldn’t have to hire someone or spend a lot of your own time hacking on templates to get the full benefits of MTP 4.21 because those benefits, I argue — in order to be effective and appreciated by the ordinary admin — must work right “out of the box’ instead of asking us to fine tune the shape of the box and mold the contents of its corners.

  27. Luke —
    I haven’t tried EE yet, but MT isn’t too bad. Yes, it’s ugly and unfriendly to configure additional functionality, but the the backend is actually pretty powerful. I’ve added six additional blogs for a total of 9 using a single MT install since that review was written.