Vox Shutting Down

Six Apart is shutting down their Vox blogging service at the end of September. I’m surprised it has taken this long…

I, like most people, never got why Vox even launched in the first place but it’s a great lesson in product portfolio management. Vox was originally pitched as a blogging platform that embraced video and images, was easy to use, and had a social layer, which is all great but I thought that these are attributes that their Typepad service, the flagship product, was supposed to embrace. In other words, they created a new product that highlighted how their flagship product was deficient, or at a minimum redundant.

This, like a lot of things that Six Apart did, were distractions that opened a very large door for WordPress to walk right on through. I say this as a frustrated former customer of Six Apart, my first blog was on Typepad and when I implemented blogs internally at SAP I used Movable Type but in the end these were both decisions I regretted and this blog has operated reliably and to my satisfaction on a self-hosted WordPress installation and SAP now uses Jive and other products behind the firewall.

Six Apart has some redeeming qualities, they do very well in select international regions and I understand that their ad strategy is paying off, but they are also a great example of a company that pioneered a market segment and became dominant only to lose their status, permanently at this point, to an upstart with a better product and clearer vision coupled with really good execution.

There’s been some deal buzz around Six Apart for the first time in a long time, it would not surprise me to see them get acquired at this point, they have been around a long time and their investors certainly will want to see something happen.

Going Directly At Your Competitor

When I read this post from Anil Dash suggesting that the right WordPress upgrade plan would be to convert to Movable Type I was surprised. Both Six Apart and Automattic have been pretty civil towards one another and while everyone knows they are competitors you would be hard pressed to determine that from their marketing activities, in other words they tend to ignore one another.

In re-reading Dash’s post it is clear that there is no bloody knife on the floor, in fact the entire post mentions WordPress a total of 8 times. It appears that Anil was doing is attempting to do was promote MT features in, aside from the title of the post, a non-inflammatory manner. Non-inflammatory but make no mistake about it, Dash was targeting WordPress.

It appears that Matt Mullenweg didn’t take kindly to the aggressive marketing and a blogosphere pissing match was underway.

I noodled on this for a while thinking about the optics and protocols of directly marketing against a competitor. Generally speaking, leading companies tend to avoid even acknowledging competitors while those a few places back aggressively market against the de facto leader in any given space, but I’m not sure that is what is happening here.

I think the First Law of Marketing Thermodynamics in technology would suggest that the change in company energy is the sum of marketplace momentum and actual customer deployments, which suggests that there is an imperative to take as many customers away from a competitor as acquire new customers who have not yet chosen a platform.

Markets that are young tend to have a big tent approach to competitors, which reflects the fact that growth is easily achieved in hyper-growth macro markets and given the early stage of development you tend to have personal relationships with competitors and operate in close proximity. The blogging market is no longer early, it’s a mature market with a handful of companies who are split between enterprise and consumer markets. Automattic and Six Apart are carbon copies, both offering single and multi-user blogging platforms, a developer ecosystem, and hosted services. Both have a focus on media companies, “new media”, and consumers.

With that in mind, why shouldn’t these companies be marketing against each other? The fact remains that when someone chooses WordPress they are not choosing Movable Type, and vice versa.

The one thing that I would have done differently is to not have someone as senior as Anil Dash blog this but rather launch it as a program. As I was reading it I thought that Anil should remain focused on forward momentum in the market rather than competitive dynamics, and indeed, the exchange ended up being less about the details and more about the personalities involved. Likewise, Mullenweg should have shown some maturity and not resorted to name calling as a competitive response, that just made him look petty to the broader marketplace.