SixApart Lost Its Way

VideoEgg is acquiring SixApart, maker of Movable Type and the hosted service TypePad. Normally I wouldn’t care about a small time buy like this one, if it wasn’t for the fact that TypePad was where I started blogging in 2004.

The TypePad hosted service was the best out there in 2004. Great features, good themes, and a rock solid infrastructure. But in most ways they didn’t keep pace with the capabilities of WordPress, the emergence of microblogging platforms like Tumblr and Posterous, and I know I often hammered on them to add features and even got engaged in emails with CEO Chris Alden, who promised many new things that never materialized. As an aside, Alden’s joining SixApart was announced by co-founder Mena Trott in this blog post—her most recent—from three years ago.

The original iPod

In my view, SixApart lost their way. TypePad was the service as blogging was exploding and they rested on their laurels and didn’t do much while others were innovating all around them. I got so fed up I exported all my content in 2009 and, with great effort to fix their goofy attempts to keep people from migrating away, did so with great delight since I was finally on a platform (WordPress) that gave me great flexibility (and yes, I see the irony with yesterday’s post).

As an analogy, imagine if Apple had introduced the first iPod and then didn’t make any material changes for several years. Or, like Alden pointed out to me many times when he mentioned how many wonderful things they’d introduced, it was if Apple added a bunch of features to an iPod that no one cared about (“Look at our new Notes functionality! Now you can listen to music and twirl your click wheel to select letters and type notes!“).

The other thing that always bugged me about SixApart was how opaque they were when they were in the business of transparency (i.e., blogging). When they had service outages they never talked to their customers publicly. When the heat got turned up they appeared to hide from view. Alden, the chief evangelist Anil Dash, Mena Trott (with whom I talked at Web 2.0 Summit) and others with whom I interacted over the years would initially engage and then shut down and go radio silent.

This behavior was polar opposite from other interactions I’ve had with companies whose leadership embrace and appreciate a customer trying to help and suggest ways to make their product better. SixApart folks always seemed to take customer feedback as a personal affront and go in to defensive mode instantly vs. seeing it as an opportunity to improve.

It’s no wonder they failed.

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