After some effort, I finally got the comments counter (the little thing under this entry that probably says “Comments (0)” working. It used to be the case that it wouldn’t refresh unless I rebuilt the entire site, and I knew that other MT-driven sites (like Steven Johnson’s) had counters that updated themselves more easily.
It turns out that there was a patch to take care of the problem. More or less at random, I stumbled across it on the Movable Type Web site.
I’m glad I found it, but you pretty much have to be a regular poster to the Movable Type user discussion boards, and a member of the community, to figure out that this kind of thing exists, and is available. It’s certainly great that the technology exists to make it so easy for users to put their minds together, and for some technologies that’s become a very important thing: the Apple Newton is now sustained by its users, long after Apple itself pulled the plug. And since MT is basically a single room of people, so far as I can tell, it’s amazing that they get any programming done at all. But this takes the notion of “users as part of a community” a little too far, in my view, by devolving responsibility for keeping track of updates, patches, etc., onto the community. A discussion board and search engine become a substitute for a well-written manual with upgrades, when in fact it never can be.
There actually is a larger story that I hope one day to tell: about the rise and fall of technical writing. At the very least, I want to do a piece about how the growth of hypertext and CDs changed the way that technical documentation was written and read; I would also like to trace the technical writer community in Silicon Valley, as it’s had some pretty interesting people pass through it. I remember Caroline Rose, who was documentation head for the Macintosh project, tell me that hypertext had more or less completely changed the game of tech documentation, and I’ve always wanted to follow up on that. It also struck me that, more than any other literary genre, it was one that had been hit by a transformation that literary theorists say will affect all writing one day. Technical writing is one of those places where the future is already here.