Why I’m Still Disappointed with Movable Type, 4.0 Beta version

ridiculous rant. You can see the original rant below the fold.
I am, apparently, really stupid. And quite wrong. And Jerame is quite right. Never mind. I’ll just be over here, making new category templates. Don’t mind me.
UPDATE: Okay, I’m not quite that wrong. I can make a specialized template work for a single category, but when I start filtering for multiple categories, things go wonky, and I’m having to dive into documentation to figure out why. This works:
<MTEntries sort_by=”title” category=”Poems”>
but this produces blank category pages:
<MTEntries sort_by=”title” category=”Poems AND Appetizers AND Beverages AND Breads AND Breakfasts AND Cookies AND Entrees AND Low Carb Dishes AND Sandwiches AND Side Dishes AND Slow Cooking”>
and their documentation says this:

category – Filters the entries by the given category label. Multiple categories can be defined in the value of the attribute and can include boolean “AND” and “OR” logic. Boolean logic may not be mixed. For instance “Foo AND Bar OR Baz” is not permitted.

I should probably know more about boolean searching to get that string right, but I don’t. Should I enclose the multiple words in single quotes?
<MTEntries sort_by=”title” category=”Poems AND Appetizers AND Beverages AND Breads AND Breakfasts AND ‘Cakes and Desserts’ AND Cookies AND Entrees AND ‘Low Carb Dishes’ AND Sandwiches AND ‘Side Dishes’ AND ‘Slow Cooking'”>
Nope, the MT doesn’t even want to rebuild that.
Errrrrr!. Hulk Smash! Ahem.
I vaguely recall getting to this point about a year and a half ago, and them posting the above to the support forums, and never getting a response from anyone, so I gave up, because I should probably read more to figure out why that filter string is wrong, but I had to do other stuff, like kiss my girlfriend, and take a shower and play with my dog.
Update: Actually that first string doesn’t seem to work, either. This
<MTEntries sort_by=”title” category=”Poems”>
produces the poetry page correctly, but all the other category pages are blank. That probably has something to do with the order that the publishing settings are in. I’d have to look at the documentation to see if there’s an particular order the two different category pages should be published in. But there only seems to be a radio button toggle for the president order, so I if I have three or four specialized templates, I can’t force them all to load before the generic one.
Having the category filtering happen in the database based on a selection set when the category was created would be much easier than filtering it in the MTEntries tag within a template. As it is, it seems backwards; you set up the templates and movable type starts building category pages, then has to filter which template to use on the fly?
And if you look through the forums, this is a very common question – I know I’ve asked about it several times, and I’ve never received an answer that was anywhere near as coherent as Jerame’s description – something I could figure out by looking at the template tags reference. Which I can never seem to find.


This is my original rant – which I thought might not be all that valid after Jerame pointed out some template tags, but which I now think is probably still valid, after all, because I think I did all this before to arrive at the same spot.
After installing Movable Type 4.0 Beta 2 on my portfolio site and playing around with in for a while, and playing a lot with WordPress recently, I have to say I’m still disappointed with Movable Type.
First and foremost, they haven’t implemented the number one thing that I and thousands of other users have been asking for in the forums for years – being able to assign different templates to category archive pages. This is the number one feature that would take this from being a blog tool to a real content managment system, and they haven’t done it. STILL.
The have provided lots of new ways for “archive” pages to be displayed, but still, all the categories have to display the same way, and they still thing of them as “archives” – as in, things you wrote in the past, that no one will look at again. Where as, I want the category listings to be ways to browse easily through content, some of which is still fresh and interesting.
People who want a content management system care more about categories than about dates.
Back in 1996, when my site was flat html, it was easy. I could make “category” pages fit the content that contained them, because I did whatever I wanted by hand. But now, I’m locked into a rigid system.
There should be something on this page to let me assign different “archive” types to categories:

Using my own site as an example of the problem:
Example One: my “Favorite Poems” index page:
http://www.commonplacebook.com/culture/poems/
What this page SHOULD look like – a simple linked list of all the poem pages in this category, sorted alphabetically by poem title, without descriptions or meta data.
What it DOES look like – a bunch of journal entries, sorted by date.
Example Two: my “Recipe Box” page:
http://www.commonplacebook.com/recipe_box/
What this page SHOULD look like – a simple linked list of all the recipe categories (Appetizers, Beverages, Breads, Breakfasts, Cakes and Desserts, Cookies, Entrees, Low Carb Dishes, Sandwiches, Side Dishes, Slow Cooking) under this category, with descriptions of each section, but no metadata.
What it DOES look like – a bunch of journal entries, sorted by date.
Example Three: my Jokes page
http://www.commonplacebook.com/jokes/
What this page SHOULD look like – a simple linked list of all the categories under this category, with descriptions of each section, along with some links to general jokes that don’t fit under any of the other categories, withe metadata, but no descriptions.
What it DOES look like – a bunch of journal entries, sorted by date.
Example Four: my Journal pages
http://www.commonplacebook.com/journal/
What this page SHOULD look like – a bunch of journal entries, sorted by date, but including all the journal entries of the sub categories below this level.
What it DOES look like – a bunch of journal entries, sorted by date, missing entries that are of the sub categories below this level.
Example Five: my Big Things Photo Pages
http://www.commonplacebook.com/photos/big_things/
What this page SHOULD look like – A large block of content as the top, explaining what my “big things” photos are, with links to all the different types of photos and individual photo pages underneath.
What it DOES look like – what it should, but only because I’ve left this entire section out of Movable Type, because it’s too important (read generates too much traffic and ad money) to try to cram it into their index pages in a way that won’t be browsable.
More Generally
Their new interface is nice, and things are getting placed better on it, but there’s still quite a bit of hunting around. There seems to be some sort of bug that throws me to blog-level plug-ins when I’m supposed to be at system-level plug-ins. Or at least it appears that way; I may be at the system-level plug-ins, but I can’t tell because the interface isn’t clear on what level I’m at.
The Style Catcher plugin seems to be b0rked, because it kept the configuration settings from my initial install, even after I moved the mt-static folder outside of the cgi-bin. And no matter how often I change the settings, it reverts back. I think I have to dig into the actual config file to make the change. Nice going, there.
In all, I should have looked for and implemented a real content management system on my site instead of Movable Type. Expression Engine does what I want, as does drupal, from what I have seen on others sites, and from what I’ve read. Both of them have a steep learning curve and a time investment that I don’t know I have right now.

Posted in Blogging, Journal Tagged with: , , ,
5 comments on “Why I’m Still Disappointed with Movable Type, 4.0 Beta version
  1. Jerame says:

    I’m going to seem like an MT fanboy, but that’s not the case. Nonetheless, I am gonna defend MT again here.
    I can think of a couple of ways to do what you’re wanting to do, Steph. It’s not that they aren’t adding some feature that you think they need. It’s that the solution has always existed. You don’t have to use the built-in MT archive pages to publish your archives. You can create new ones. And since MT allows you to filter categories in the MTEntries tag, you can create an archive for each and every category separately, put your own style to each page, and voila, you’re able to have a different style on different archive pages. It’s really quite easy.
    I don’t know that it makes sense to add a feature that has a complete and expected alternative way of getting the same result. In either case, you have to build a new archive page for each style that you want to implement. So whether you do it yourself or MT makes it slightly easier by pre-building some alternative templates, the functionality is there and has been there at least through all of MT 3.
    MT is so customizable that it boggles the mind to think that there is something with templates that can’t be done. The only way I could see them making it easier is to add a button that allows you to automatically apply that template rather than manually having to do so…However, since I don’t imagine that too many people need such a feature, I’m not sure of the utility of adding it. I think what you’re talking about makes sense for what you want to do, but I don’t think the majority of folks that use MT will ever need to have different styles in different places all of their same site.
    And as for your other complaints, like StyleCatcher not working…RTFM!! Right there in the “known issues” it says Style Catcher is borked. It also talks about just about everything you have bitched about as a known issue.
    And even better, let me quote you from the MT4 Beta blog:

    Here’s what a real beta means: (emphasis mine)

    • You will find Actual Bugs. You may even hose your blog! Trust us, seriously. Bugs.
    • You will actually have a chance to contribute ideas, suggestions, and fixes. We’re not pulling a “here, we’re almost done, but we wanted to start promoting it now”-style beta.
    • Someday (soon!) the beta testing period will end. We love our friends at Google, but their worst innovation is plastering “Beta” on stuff for a few years until they get around to actually shipping. Don’t fret, after the beta, guess what — we’ll start working on the next version!
    • We will honestly be listening to feedback. The beta isn’t limited to a cabal of our closest friends, or some secret Illuminati-style circle of privilege. We’ve been on the wrong side of projects that claim to have open betas but don’t actually want to hear from the world. As long as you’re relatively polite (no physical violence, please!) with the requests, we’ll factor them in.
    • We’re not going to say yes to everything everyone requests. We have to mention this here because otherwise the crazy people will try to make us do stupid things. (Not you, your ideas are great.)
    • We’ll be updating frequently during the beta. Did the first beta make you cry when you tried to upgrade? Don’t worry, there will be another build available soon, and maybe your bug is fixed!

    So, Steph. Tell them what you want. Have you written to MT’s feedback or bug line and told them what you think? Have you tried to get the features you want added? Just griping about it on your own MT blog is just rather passive aggressive when they’re begging for the input of people just like you.
    They have a beta blog up with open comments that they’re combing for ideas. They have a bug and feedback email address taking ideas, complaints, and kudos. There isn’t much they can do to help YOU if YOU don’t help them. That’s just how the world works. You have an opportunity to shape the outcome of MT4, so take advantage of it. Ask for your features. Ask for your changes. Tell them what you think, Steph. They’re not going to come read your blog – especially when it says “I hate MT”.
    The blog: http://www.movabletype.org
    Feedback page: http://www.movabletype.org/feedback.html
    Known issues (VERY long list!!):http://www.movabletype.org/beta/known_issues.html

  2. Jerame,

    I’ve been a web developer for 10 years. I know what the fuck the word beta means.

    I have indeed filled out the bug feedback forms, and noted the particular problem I had with the Style Catcher – that wasn’t part of the know bug issues listed. I did indeed read the manual. That doesn’t mean I can’t mention it here on my blog, too.

    I’ve also made the feature request for easily implemented separate category templates a dozen times over the years, including 6 months ago when they were thinking about 4.0, and again today. As I noted, this is a common request on the forums, and I and thousands of other people have requested that it be implemented loudly and often to them.

    I know that I can build separate archive templates and implement them. I can do that all day. Applying different templates to different categories is not easy to do, and I shouldn’t have to monkey around to do it. I shouldn’t have to work around the way the category pages are built right now, and the documentation about how to do this is really bad, enough that I’ve worked on it and given up on more than one occasion.

    The fact that lots of people have requested it suggests that it should indeed have a template selector on the Category page, as well as more robust text add features than a simple description text box that doesn’t allow html.

    In all, I’ve given them lots of feedback, both recently and in the past, so your comment is way out of line.

  3. Jerame says:

    OK, so maybe it’s more requested than I would think. I just never really thought of a true need for that feature. As I said previously, I think it’s unusual to want to have radically different styles across the same site.
    Now, I understand that you have a very different way of doing things…You have distinct sections of your site that are very different from the other parts (like the Big Things archive.)
    To me, logically, they are separate and maybe should have their own blog. It’s not that difficult to setup MT with a second blog that publishes to the /bigthings directory for example. Then it does become a little harder to include that content on your main page, but that is also very doable.
    I agree with you that MT isn’t a full blown CMS like you’re looking for. There are plenty of things with MT that I bitch about too. You can go see my rant to MT on their blog on the same “Real Ass Beta” page that I left in my previous comment. But I’ve found workarounds for just about everything I’ve wanted to do. Not always elegant, but there is a functional equivalent to most things.
    The thing about the template tags is partially valid. When you filter the categories in the tag, the actual filter happens at the DB level still. Those tags are used to build the SQL queries on the backend. So when you put a tag filter into the MTEntries tag, that filter does happen at the DB end. I agree, it could be better implemented. Personally, I’d like to be able to filter on tags and categories much easier. I have some ideas about filtering specific content out to it’s own sections on a front page that I want to do. It’s a real pain in the ass in this setup, but it’s totally doable and once it’s done it’s done. I don’t foresee the need to regularly change it, so I don’t mind that I don’t have a button that makes it easy as long as I can do it via the template tags.
    And Steph, I didn’t mean to be insulting, so I apologize if that’s how you took it. I know you’ve been a web developer for years. I just wanted to point out that this is an old-school beta, not like today’s betas that are feature complete and just need the last few bugs shaken out of them. You could almost call this Alpha code, but no one uses that terminology anymore.
    The changes between MT4 beta 1 and MT4 beta 2 tell me that they’re really trying to get as much covered in this release as possible. It also tells me that they’re working at a pretty good clip to get this done in a reasonable amount of time too. I was going to abandon MT until I saw the announcement for 4.0 and installed the beta software. It’s actually given me a little hope that MT is going to be much better and finally do everything I need it to do. Until about 2 weeks ago, I was planning on switching over to WordPress. I had even installed it on my test site and had started learning how to do that template system.
    So, all of that to say, if you need help, I’m pretty well versed in MT and how to make things work. I’d be happy to help you with anything you’re having trouble with. Just drop me an email and I’ll help anytime.

  4. The thing is, Expression Engine works exactly the way I described; I’ve looked over someone’s shoulder while they were working on their site and seen how the category building works. And from what I’ve read, drupal does this, too, with the category template setting happening within the database, based on a selection you set when creating the category itself, and you can change templates on the category edit page if you decide you want something different; slick, easy, no angry hulk making.

  5. Bluelena69 says:

    I don’t have a whole lot of experience with Movable Type, but it really doesn’t look all that different (from a conceptual, taggings and relational standpoint) from Expression Engine. You look like you have a pretty good handle on the workings and concepts of Movable Type. What I am trying to say is, you should not shy away from EE because of the “learning curve” especially if you are familiar with MT. It really isn’t that much of a learning curve and I think you might thank yourself for reconsidering EE. I have been especially pleased with its handling of categories myself. See if you can find someone with experience with both systems and they could probably steer you in the right direction.
    Cheers–

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