As I wrote in a previous post, I have been testing Tumblr as a way of consolidating my web contributions in one place. After using the site for a couple of weeks, I’m ready to write a review of it. My review will come in two parts. In this, the first part, I will review the site regarding the intentions of the designers of the site and how well (or not) those intentions have been implemented. In the second (future) part of my review, I will explain what I wish the designers would change regarding how the site is supposed to work.
Tumblr bills itself as a micro-blogging site, which would make it a direct competitor of Twitter. Unlike Twitter, Tumblr provides two interfaces for each user. The first is the page on which the user can post short statements. This page is called a tumblog. This interface can be customized with a variety of themes that determine how the page is to be organized. Twitter has no interface that is equivalent to this so this portion of Tumblr is really more of a direct competitor to WordPress or Blogspot, a more traditional blogging platform. The second interface is a dashboard, similar to Twitter’s interface, providing a mechanism for the user to post items that will then appear in the newsfeed portion of the dashboard as well as on the user’s tumblog. The user also has the option of following other Tumblr users so their posted content will also appear in the user’s newsfeed, again in a manner very similar to Twitter.
One of the most obvious ways that Tumblr differs from Twitter (besides the use of a tumblog) is that in Tumblr, it is very easy to post content of all different types. In Twitter, for example, there is no easy way to post a photo while in Tumblr, it is quite easy to post a photo. This is a welcome development and the tumblog themes integrate the variety of content types quite nicely to create a nice-looking blog site. This means that people can follow you either through Tumblr, in which case your posts will show up in their newsfeeds on their dashboards, or by checking your tumblog, which is given a unique URL so it can be easily viewed outside of Tumblr. My tumblog, for example, has the address of http://cathieleblanc.tumblr.com.
The thing that excited me most about Tumblr when I first began my investigation is that a user can easily import RSS feeds into her tumblog. I immediately saw the potential for this feature for integrating my web contributions into one location. For example, I have a Flickr page for my photos and every Flickr page has an RSS feed. So I figured I could easily set up my Tumblr account to post any new photos from my Flickr RSS feed on my tumblog. In addition, Tumblr has built-in support for Twitter so that any tweets a user posts can automatically be also posted on her tumblog. I immediately set my Tumblr account up to post from this blog, from my Flickr account, and from my Twitter account. I then posted a blog entry here, posted some pictures on Flickr and wrote some tweets. And then I waited for those posts to appear on my tumblog so I could how everything looked. And I waited. And waited. And waited.
This is where my issues with Tumblr arise. It doesn’t work as advertised. I read the (pretty pathetic) help files on the site to discover that Tumblr tries to check the feeds from which it is supposed to update every hour or so. But, they go on to say, they recognize each feed’s “need to live.” And by the way, now that I go back to their help files to get an exact quote, I see that they’ve removed all references to their RSS feeds and how they are updated. I engaged in an extended email conversation with the tech support folks at Tumblr and found them to be pleasant but pretty useless in terms of giving me help. They had a lot of (illogical) suggestions for things for me to try to get the updating to happen in a timely manner. Eventually, when I pointed out that they were being very illogical, they admitted that there is a problem with the automatic updating of RSS feeds. In other words, it doesn’t work.
A second problem with Tumblr is that they say you can set things up so that your posts automatically appear on Twitter and Facebook. This also doesn’t work. So right now, Tumblr is having significant communication problems both coming into and going out of the application. As I did more research into this, it appears to have been a problem for at least a year. And still no resolution.
In my email conversation with tech support, I found out that Tumblr is designed so that if a user does not update within the application at least once a week, the automatic updating of RSS feeds will stop (if they ever get that working). In answer to my question about the rationale for that design decision, Danii (from tech support) told me that they want to make sure that people don’t just use Tumblr to recycle material that has been posted elsewhere. The problem with this answer is that their solution doesn’t ensure that original material will be posted on Tumblr. As long as I don’t use the RSS feeds to post the material to Tumblr, it will be seen as original material even if it is really a reposting of material from elsewhere. My guess is that the Tumblr folks want to make sure people sign into the application for some other reason, likely related to whatever plan they have for eventually making money.
My experience with Tumblr so far has been less than satisfactory but it has helped me to articulate for myself what my ideal application would look like. I’ll write about that in part 2 of my review of Tumblr.
I am currently Professor of Digital Media at Plymouth State University in Plymouth, NH. I am also the current Coordinator of General Education at the University. I am interested in astrophotography, game studies, digital literacies, open pedagogies, and generally how technology impacts our culture.