Things to Consider When Using Movable Type as a CMS
Thord’s post on using WordPress as a CMS got me to thinking about all the times I’ve used Movable Type for that purpose. I use MT for the same reason he uses WP — I know it well enough I can make it do anything I want. It also helps that Six Apart has been steadily adding more CMS features.
So what do you need to know if you’re going to use MT as your CMS? Thord’s article covered a lot of things that should be considered when selecting any CMS software, so I’m going to concentrate on some of the pros, cons, and quirks involved in working with MT.
- Templating – MT’s templating system really does let you publish your data in any way you want. Depending on the needs of your website, you can setup MT to generate anything from a simple web page to a complex CSV file to a proprietary feed format. For many things you don’t need a plugin, you just need to know the structure of the final output. One practical example is creating an email newsletter from your recent blog posts. I once created a template that included excerpts from recent blog posts in a format that could be fed directly to sendmail (or some other mail transfer agent) to send to my subscribers. Worked great, and made it easy to reuse my blog content.
- Custom Fields – Custom fields in MT are very powerful, and easy to create. “Blog entries” can have fields appropriate to the actual content, such as an address field for an event or a rating field for a movie review.
- Multiple blogs – It’s easy to setup multiple blogs so that each can maintain a different section of a site. You might want one blog for your photo gallery and another for your product catalog, for example. And, both can make use of global templates, so you don’t have to duplicate work.
- Roles – MT gives you fine-grained access control over what users can do. This allows you to setup a hierarchy of authors, editors, designers, and admins that control different aspects of the site.
- Custom App – The application itself is built using the same templating system used for blog templates, so you can customize the interface. You could do anything from replacing the header with your client’s logo to completely reskinning the admin to match their site.
- Publishing – Movable Type’s concept of publishing — and republishing everything when you make a design change — can be difficult for users. Static publishing does not give you quite the same instant gratification that dynamic publishing does.
- Plugins – There are a lot of great MT plugins, but the development community is small when compared to Drupal or WordPress. There’s also very few “big feature” plugins. If you’re looking for ecommerce or event calendar plugins, you’re not going to find them.
- Themes – As with plugins, the variety of MT themes is rather limited.
- Image uploads – Tying images or other files to a page or post is still complicated. Plugins help, but it could be easier.
- Templating – At this point, the templating system is almost its own programming language, which may put off some designers. And if you do something wrong, the error message can be difficult to interpret.
- Organizing – Organizing an MT-based site takes some advanced planning. Can you arrange a single blog the way you want with categories and tags, or do you need to use multiple blogs to control the site? If you change your mind later on, it’s not going to be an easy switch.
- Multiple Domains – It is possible for MT to power multiple domains from a single install, but setting it up properly takes some work. If you’re considering doing this, you might want to read how I got my system working.
Which software you choose for your CMS depends largely on your needs and what you’re familiar with. Personally, when I consider what software to use to run a website, my first question is, “How easy will it be for me to customize this?” In that regard, MT has met my needs for a lot of projects.
Have you ever used MT as a CMS? Tell us about your experience in the comments.