Movable Type StyleCatcher: Broken Broken Broken

Allow me to take a detour from my all-Katrina-all-the-time ranting to vent about something annoying.

The blog software I use to power this site is Six Apart’s Movable Type. This software was recently updated to version 3.2, and I went ahead and updated my installation so I’d be current with the latest and greatest.

Everything worked great with 3.2 — except for one thing which has been frustrating and broken from the get-go. That thing is the new StyleCatcher plugin.

The idea behind StyleCatcher is that users should be able to download new themes for their blog quickly and easily. StyleCatcher (in theory, anyway) facilitates this by letting you browse “style repositories” directly from within the MT admin interface, and then, if you find a theme you like, download it and apply it with a couple of clicks. No more copying and pasting CSS back and forth.

This is functionality that I would love to be able to offer all the people who host blogs on my MT system, so I downloaded StyleCatcher 1.0 and eagerly looked inside. What I found was a mess: no documentation on how to install and use it, and an interface that was just plain confusing. Even after I followed the advice on the MT forums for how to get it going, it never worked right.

Many, many people posted complaints to the forums about StyleCatcher 1.0, so 6A responded a few days later by releasing a cleaned-up StyleCatcher 1.1. This release fixed the egregious bugs, added install documentation, and generally improved things.

Except for this: 1.1 still doesn’t work.

Here’s the problem. StyleCatcher now installs easily, and everything looks in order, but when you try to connect to a style repository you get… nothing. Zip. Bupkis. Just a blank screen where the list of templates in that repository should be.

Judging from the forums, I’m not the only person who’s run into this. And a web search turns up others who had the same experience. So it’s not just me being clueless — or if it is, nobody’s got an answer for exactly what the problem is that causes this.

Now, I’m not a freeloader who’s just living with the free, unsupported version of Movable Type; I have a paid-up license, and I’ve been sending them money for a long time (I even sent Ben and Mena $25 back when MT was freeware, in the 1.x days, just to say “thanks”). So I figured now would be a good time to use that technical support I was entitled to as a paying customer by putting in a support ticket.

The response I got back started:

The StyleCatcher plugin is a free Power Tool offered by the Six Apart Professional Network, rather than a feature of Movable Type itself. As such, it’s installation and support is beyond the scope of our services.

In other words, you’re on your own, buddy. Gee, thanks.

Well, I figured, since it’s “offered by the Six Apart Professional Network“, and I am a member of said network, I would turn there instead. I posted my experience to the ProNet mailing list hoping someone there could edify me. Sadly, I got zero response; I suppose the ProNet folks were too busy replying to all the “congratulations on shipping 3.2!!!” messages to help me out.

So now I — and some undefined-but-non-trivial number of other people — have reported a serious bug to 6A about this thing, and found that:

  • they’re not going to help us figure it out ourselves; and
  • they’re not going to fix it anytime soon (my assumption based on their silence and the lack of a 1.2 version in the weeks since the bug first cropped up).

So I responded back to the tech-support message I got blowing me off suggesting that, if this was just going to be chalked up as a “known issue” with StyleCatcher, they should update the download page and the documentation to that effect so that future users don’t waste hours and hours trying to get the thing to work properly, as I have. (Just to give you an idea, I have done everything up to and including replacing my upgraded installation of MT with a complete fresh install of MT 3.2 from scratch to see if I could get this thing to work. Nope.)

So far they haven’t gotten back to me about that suggestion, either. But the StyleCatcher pages haven’t changed, and 6A’s blogs haven’t mentioned the issue, so I’m assuming from their silence that this suggestion is going into the Memory Hole along with all my other correspondence to them about this.

Frustrating? You bet. But until some miracle occurs (maybe I can convince Jeff Jarvis to gripe about it, if they won’t listen to those of us who aren’t on the “A-list”) it would appear that, for some people, StyleCatcher is just gonna be broken and that’s all there is to that.

So — if you’re trying to figure out why it’s not working for you, and Google directed you here — hopefully you can take some comfort from knowing that at least you’re not alone!

UPDATE: A clever user has figured out a fix. Hooray!

UPDATE (10/14/2005): And now with some help from 6A, here’s how to solve the problem without modifying the plugin. All it takes is updating one Perl module!


Brad Choate

September 13, 2005
12:30 pm

Hi Jason. As one of the authors of the StyleCatcher plugin, I’d like to help.
It sounds like the plugin is loading up okay if you see the interface and all. But if it isn’t fetching the styles from the repository, here are a few things to check:
1. Are you getting any Javascript errors when you click the “Find Styles” button? If you are, please check that the plugin’s ‘mt-static’ files are installed properly.
2. Is your web server able to fetch content itself? One way to check for this is whether you are getting the “Movable Type News” items on the main menu or under the system overview menu screen. If no news items are displayed (or you’ve had to disable it because it fails to fetch them), that would be the problem.
If your web hosting company doesn’t permit the web server to fetch from other sites, that prevents StyleCatcher from working properly. It should perhaps reveal this in a more friendly way. In any event, I’m sorry for your frustration.

Jason Lefkowitz

September 13, 2005
12:41 pm

Hey Brad!
Thanks for your note, and the suggestions. Unfortunately neither of these is the issue, I think:
1) I’m not getting any JS errors in Firefox’s JavaScript console when I try to fetch styles.
2) I’m pulling down the Movable Type News items just fine.
If it helps, when I was trying to hash this out in the forums, I went through my apache error logs and found this suspicious-looking error sprinkled about:
“Use of uninitialized value in hash element at /home/[obscured for security]/moveabletype/plugins/StyleCatcher/../../extlib/ line 560.”
Dunno if it’s related or not, but given that it seems to be coming from StyleCatcher I thought it was worth noting.
Also, here’s a screenshot of what the plugin looks like when I try to use it:


September 28, 2005
11:58 am

Hi All,
I am brand new at Moveable Type, my website doesn’t even have its first entry yet. I discovered this forum trying to find other style repositories as I have the StyleCatcher working A-OK. It took me 3-4 days to get Moveable Type up and working correctly and about 1-2 hours to get the StyleCatcher plug-in working. I just downloaded it yesterday so perhaps something has been fixed or the problem is simpler then you think (hence a novice being able to figure it out) kind of of an Ocams Razor type of thing. Anyway if anyone wats to set up a temp pass to let me in I can take a look at your site and see what’s up (if this is even possible) best of luck to all and it’s great to be starting to become part of the Blogverse.

Earl Fogel

September 30, 2005
12:02 pm

I had the same problem, but managed to fix it
by hacking the StyleCatcher code. Since it
seems to be working for some people, the problem
may be an incompatibility in the Perl libraries
we use and the one Brad has.
Have a look at my notes on Fixing Movable Type StyleCatcher at