Six Apart: Lessons in how NOT to blog and serve customers

When I advise my clients — especially my senior executive ones — about how to blog and do so strategically, there are a few basic requirements: be authentic; handle the tough issues in a transparent fashion; open comments and leave up even the bad ones; and enjoy this self-publishing medium that can communicate like no other. Also, make certain that if you publish your email address you deploy an auto-responder so that you have time to get back to people instead of just leaving them hanging.

I therefore find it incredibly ironic that Six Apart, the parent company of the blog host engine I use for this blog (Typepad) and several other properties (LiveJournal, Vox and the Movable Type software) and the most successful company in blogging doesn’t adhere to the most basic tenets of blogging!

Three examples:

  • Co-founder, Mena Trott, has a blog without comments turned on so no one can engage in conversation under one of her posts and it’s been this way for as long as I can recall
  • New CEO, Chris Alden, sends out an email blast to all Typepad customers on 1,30/08 that ends with, “We’d love to hear what you think is most important for TypePad’s future, which features and functionality you’ve been wishing for, and what you need to be successful as your audience grows. Here are a few ways to give us your feedback and get involved: Email me personally at

So I email Chris with a forward of an email with suggestions and comments I’d sent a few days earlier to Six Apart VP and evangelist, Anil Dash. Neither Dash or Alden have bothered to respond (though this post has comments and is directly related to the email)

  • Moments ago I receive an email with a “Tell Us What You Think” (see above) and a request to participate in a survey. Instead, I reply to the sender,, but the email is instantly returned….”user unknown”.

Now let’s compare-n-contrast that with another example…a competitor of Six Apart: Automattic (WordPress and other projects).

UPDATE: Received an email this evening from Chris Alden, appreciative of my comments, chastising me for my lay psychoanalysis of Ben and Mena (and he vigorously defended them and I consider myself deserving of the bitch-slap) and it gave me the opportunity to send him a reply that hopefully adds some value to they Typepad-cats he’s herding as the new sheriff in town.

I’ve interacted with Matt Mullenweg at conferences and read his blog…which has very active comments. I’ve recently engaged in a meaningful email dialogue with CEO Toni Schneider, someone who also has open comments on his blog.

In fact, everyone associated with the company who blogs has open comments.

My impression of Ben and Mena Trott (founders of Six Apart) is that he’s the introvert, she’s kinda, sorta an extrovert, and because of the instant celebrity and limelight experienced in the early stages of the blogosphere the values of the company (which always start at the top) are perhaps now risk averse and gun-shy.

The ethos of Automattic is, by its very nature, open (as in open source…which their software is). They understand that being fully engaged in the community, the developer ecosystem and anyone showing a hint of evangelism (read my post, “Why I’ve Become a WordPress Fanboy“) is how to ensure long-term success and momentum.

So what does all this mean and who cares besides you, Borsch?

Due to my multi-year perception of an organization that seems timid and unwilling to engage current paying customers, I’ve been recommending WordPress over Typepad to my smaller clients 10:1 and have four sites, either deployed or soon to be online, using WordPress. I’ve got this one blog, my wife has her blog on Typepad, but that’s the extent of my involvement going forward with Typepad.

For enterprise-class clients I do recommend Movable Type (MT) Enterprise since Six Apart has in place the software, services and partnerships that enterprise customers need and are willing to pay for handsomely. But there are content management system extensions that most enterprise clients would use rather than deploy a dedicated blogging engine, so my personal jury is still out on whether or not this is the right engine for my bigger clients.

In an effort to stave off the momentum of WordPress, Six Apart did throw MT into open source…but I personally know of no one that’s using it.

Typepad is getting pretty long-in-the-tooth and the ability to modify themes, having decent themes, top-level navigation, ecommerce and any “pro” level tools is making me strongly consider installing WordPress on my own servers and migrating my blog there.

Now that there is a new sheriff in town (Chris Alden) and there are hints that Six Apart might be interested in stepping up their game and making much needed improvements, I’ll be interested to see if that extends to, you know, replying to a customer email?

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  1. PXLated on February 5, 2008 at 4:55 pm

    You’ve probably just taken the quickest route to a Six Apart response, posting something critical. Every time I have, Anil has been all over it 🙂

  2. Scott_S on February 7, 2008 at 2:53 am


    I hear what you say about Six Apart’s openness and culture. Could you explain elaborate a bit on why to avoid the platform though?

    I’ve read your “Why I’m a WordPress Fanboy” post and this comment easily could have gone there. This post reminded me of my questions, and since I’m setting up several blogs/sites right now, it’s timely too.

    I’m well aware of all the gorgeous WP themes. TypePad isn’t even close. They should be embarrassed. But I just want something that works.

    I don’t want to mess with GoDaddy .htaccess issues. I don’t want to mess with security holes exploited at Christmas on so many WP sites. I can’t call IT consultants and try to weed out spammy scripts.

    I too am more of a suit and I don’t want to mess with php, mysql, and CSS.

    I logged into my WP site yesterday and I see the upgrade message. I shouldn’t have to mess with this. I don’t know how–I’m a suit! I can’t reinstall it without wiping out my databases at GD can I? Ideally the hosting company would make this transparent but I see Yahoo hasn’t upgraded their MovableType install a couple of years.

    I just want something that works without all the IT headaches. I want upgrades to happen behind the scenes. I want a simple e-commerce option (E-Junkie & PayPal widgets). I want to drop some html code into a widget and have it display. I want to embed a YouTube or Flash file in a post (I can’t do that at And while I’d like a nice horizontal nav bar, I’ll skip it for simple TypePad list navigation.

    Am I making a mistake by going with TypePad on these new projects? Do you think Chris Alden’s promise of innovation this year is hollow? I don’t want to regret my decision but I’d rather focus on content than code.

    Any of your insight is most appreciated.

  3. Steve Borsch on February 7, 2008 at 8:03 am

    @Scott_S: Quite to the contrary, I didn’t think I implied to stay away from the platform. Instead, this was about their responsiveness (or the lack thereof) and I’ve now had interactions with the CEO.

    What’s clear now is that their intent to “step up their game” is solid. This encompasses both customer service and features (like templates, ecommerce and more). Will they execute? I don’t think they have a choice and no, I don’t think the promises are hollow.

    You make it clear, Scott, that you don’t want to twiddle bits (i.e., php, mysql, CSS, et al) and thus a hosted solution is absolutely what you want. In that case, Typepad or (WP’s hosted version) would be my two, clear choices, especially with the embeds that are easier to do with Typepad (IMHO).

    Typepad costs money and is free and — if I’m betting my business on someone — I usually choose the one to whom I’m giving money (more leverage usually). There is also slightly more control with Typepad but in many ways these two are neck-in-neck so the promise of what might come with Typepad is worth noting.

    Good luck…

  4. Scott_S on February 9, 2008 at 5:45 am


    Thanks so much for your reply. You’ve given selflessly and I appreciate your candor.

    I think that is why so many us (strangers in many cases) trust you.

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Strategist. Learner. Idea Guy. Salesman. Connector of Dots. Friend. Husband & Dad. CEO. Janitor. More here.

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Podcasting hit the mainstream in July of 2005 when Apple added podcast show support within iTunes. I'd seen this coming so started podcasting in May of 2005 and kept going until August of 2007. Unfortunately was never 'discovered' by national broadcasters, but made a delightfully large number of connections with people all over the world because of these shows. Click here to view the archive of my podcast posts.