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Interview: The Low Down On Six Apart (With Anil Dash)

Interview: The Low Down On Six Apart (With Anil Dash)

Unless you have been spending less than an hour a month online, you may have never heard of Six Apart, which owns several various blogging tools online, including Vox (half blog, half social network).

One can compare Six Apart to Microsoft–to some its slow, ugly and buggy, but to others it gets the job done without requiring one to speak geek.

Here is what Six Apart has to say about themselves, via an interview with Anil Dash (Vice President of Six Apart).

1) For starters, why did you decide to join Six Apart?

Heh, I’ve actually written a lot about why I joined Six Apart. (See
http://www.dashes.com/anil/2003/04/23/i_work_for_six_ )

For me, it was simple — I love blogging, and it had already changed
my life by the time I’d been doing it for a few years. I’d seen what
Ben and Mena had done with Movable Type, making something beautiful
and open, and really putting their hearts into getting more people to
express themselves on the web. We became friends, and then I helped
them informally just because I loved what they were doing.

When the time came that they were able to really start a company and
try to make something special, I was just amazed at the ambition and
thought they’d put into it — they had a vision for how to help the
most people start blogging, in a way that was still true to the ideals
of the tiny community of bloggers we started in. And they wanted me to
help show new people how to get the most out of blogging. That’s still
what I do today.

(See http://www.dashes.com/anil/2006/11/29/what_i_do_for_a )

2) How popular are Six Apart’s blog/web 2.0 services (Movable Type, Typepad, Vox, LiveJournal) worldwide?

I think they’re enormously popular; we’re certainly the biggest
independent blogging company in the world. Across all the services,
it’s something like 15 million people who use the tools, and tens of
millions, maybe hundreds of millions, who read the sites published
with them.

One of the most interesting parts for me is how much of the stuff we
do is invisible in the chatter-filled high-profile part of the
blogosphere. There’s these amazing little communities of hundreds of
people on LiveJournal, there’s groups of thousands of people on
Friendster blogs, there are new neighborhoods forming all the time on
Vox in France and Japan, there are companies where thousands of people
are blogging on Movable Type all day every day. I am still blown away
when I think about the impact it has — the *word* for “blog” in
Russian is “LiveJournal”.

3) Why did Six Apart originally decide to launch Vox? Any plans to expand it beyond its current state?

Vox was in a lot of ways a result of simply looking at how to get
everyone to see the benefits of blogging. All of us who love blogging,
or who write for audiences of hundreds or thousands of people had
somewhat forgotten that most people think that’s kind of, well,
*nuts*. :) I think Mena really led all of us at Six Apart in
understanding that people had a few simple objections to the A-Lister,
“I want to get linked on BoingBoing” kind of blogging.

Most people in my family weren’t blogging, most people *anywhere*
aren’t blogging yet. And the reasons were simple — not enough time,
not comfortable with talking to the whole world, and even if they
wanted to do it, what the heck would they talk about?

Vox starts to solve that, by being easy enough to get started with and
to read up on your friends that it doesn’t take a lot of time to keep
track of things; by offering really good privacy controls for the
items you don’t want to share with the whole world; and then by
providing you with fodder for your blog, either by asking you
questions to prompt your posts or by letting you bring in the content
from all your other services on the web as a starting point.

Vox is really only just getting started, it’s the kind of platform
that will constantly be expanding. Just as an example, we’ve been
updating the service every few weeks all year, and there will be
another update today, bringing people’s friends and family to a more
prominent place on the homepage when you log in. I love the constant
improvements, just as someone who uses Vox every day.

4) Do you think Six Apart is in shape to perform against the new Word Press enterprise edition and Google’s Blogger Beta? And if so, what are your reasons?

In shape? Sure! :) I think there’s a weird tendency in some parts of
the blogosphere to compare different tools or services like it’s a
religious war. Maybe it’s a leftover from the people who still like to
bicker about operating systems or something. But I’d say the number
one thing that distinguishes Six Apart is that we’re an independent
company focused exclusively on blogs, but committed to succeeding on a
large scale in blogging, in all its forms.

What that means is, maybe as far as free consumer blogging services
go, we’re nominally in the same space as Blogger. I have a huge
respect for the Blogger team, and I think we’ve all been friends with
the various people who’ve been on the Blogger team from the very
beginning. (As I write this, I think Mena is hanging out with one of
Blogger’s original co-founders. Our little industry is cool like
that.)

But given that Google’s a search and text ads company, mostly, are
they going to make a great free consumer blogging service like Vox? I
don’t think so. I think they’re going to focus on having a good tool,
but people who want a better experience that can connect to any
service (including from Google’s competitors) are going to come to
Vox. The good part is, al these services work together — I’m betting
lots of Blogger users end up using both Vox *and* Blogger.

As far as the enterprise blogging market goes, I think the only
competitors to Movable Type Enterprise that I even hear mentioned are
maybe Microsoft’s new version of SharePoint and IBM/Lotus’ blogging
add-on for Domino. And those two are so new that they’re basically
getting attention because they’re from the big companies.

That’s genuinely not a diss against anybody else that’s out there, I’m
sure they have fine products. And the truth is, these are all growing
markets — there should be business for everyone. But enterprise
software isn’t (merely) about who gets cool points from web geeks —
you have to have every single detail buttoned down, and we’ve just
been doing this a lot longer than anybody else. Whether it’s
distribution partners like Intel, Dell, and NEC (with the SuiteTwo
project), or these independent consultants who are doing great
business customizing and integrating Movable Type, or platform
partners like Oracle that are really standing behind our tools with
some serious technology, there’s the kind of commitment that makes a
big business or organization know they’re safe.

I think for us, the proof is in the results — Movable Type Enterprise
has been one of our most successful product launches ever. On a
personal level, I’m extremely proud of the quality of MTE, and I hope
to find some more time to show more people what it can do — there’s
dozens of things that are unique to MT Enterprise compared to every
other option out there. And we’ve also gone head-to-head against every
other company out there, including Microsoft, and had people choose
Movable Type Enterprise. That just makes me so proud of our team for
working so hard on it.

5) What would you say is the biggest weakness of Six Apart, and what is the company doing to resolve it?

I have some bias here, since this is really a criticism of the part
that I probably have the most impact on, but we don’t necessarily do a
good job of telling our own story. People don’t know that our number
one goal is get as many people to start blogging, start seeing how
blogs can help make their lives better. I think there’s a lot of
misperceptions out there about what drives us, and how sincere we all
are about our work.

I also think that people don’t know what our *products* can do.
There’s some truly unique things that get overshadowed by the usual
foolishness in the blogosphere. As with all technology, people
sometimes evaluate things on an emotional level (“I don’t like one of
these themes, and Anil is annoying, so Vox sucks!”) and I hope we can
just provide enough information to let the products shine on their
own.

Oh yeah, and we need to blog more! People don’t know about all the
blogs we update, and that we post several times every day across all
our blogs. :)

See Also

6) What would you say is Six Apart’s greatest strength, and what do you feel that your company has that its competitors lack?

I think we have this awesome combination of being independent while
also being of a big enough scale to really have an impact. A simple
example is in TypePad, where you can list your IM status on your
sidebar. The IM status shows AIM, Yahoo Messenger, MSN, Skype,
everybody! We can talk to everybody and work with them, but the big
companies that have blogging tools are stuck using only their own IM
services, which might not be the one you use.

It goes across all the parts of blogging, too. On Vox, I can include
videos from YouTube and books from Amazon and photos from Flickr, even
though Google, Amazon, and Yahoo are all separate companies. That’s
how the web’s *supposed* to be.

The other thing that really sets us apart, I have to say, is the
people. I’m just astounded every day at how smart and talented the
people are… there is literally not a single day that goes by that I
don’t learn something new from one of my coworkers that I would never
have found anywhere else. I was joking the other day that it’s
actually pretty easy to get hired at Six Apart, you just have to be
the best in the world at whatever it is that you do, and then find out
if that thing is something we need. :)

7) Is Six Apart planning on releasing any new social networking/blogging platforms in the near future? And if so, would you mind dropping us any hints?

Hmm, new as in brand-new-from-the-ground-up like Vox was? I don’t
think we’ve announced anything specific like that. But the hints I can
deliver is that November was our biggest month ever in terms of new
product and feature releases, with major updates to every one of our
products, and I bet that we’ll have even bigger releases across the
board in 2007.

Oh, and it never hurts to peek into the source code. ;)
http://code.sixapart.com/svn/livejournal/
http://code.sixapart.com/svn/movabletype/

8) Lastly, why on earth did you name Vox, Vox and who came up with the name for Six Apart’s newest kid on the block?

I think Mena explained Vox best in her blog:
http://mena.vox.com/library/post/behind-the-curtain-out-of-the-cupboard.html

I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure Vox is Latin for “this is good”.

For those of you who survived to the bottom of this interview (perhaps I’ll choose audio next time) Anil sent a quick follow up to the email interview, which in which he explains that Six Apart’s goal is simply to get as many people into the blogosphere, and they seem to be very successful in that regards (as they have everyone from the “Dalai Lama to Dilbert to Dow
Jones” on their system).

Although many Word Press fans have previously pointed out that Six Apart seems to lack innovation regarding their weblogs, Anil seems pretty confident that their products are competitive enough to not only survive the current market, but thrive as well.

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