Based on the first post I made on my first Tumblr, I’ve been using Tumblr in some form since May 2011. My initial thoughts still do hold true even after all these years:
I like the concept behind it, though. Not quite as limiting as Twitter (which only gets used as an auto updater anymore), not as nerve-wrackingly personal as Facebook (which keeps me from posting things there) and not quite as isolated as a stand alone blog.
I think Tumblr normalized the idea that it’s perfectly fine to have more than one blog to its users, something that obviously sticks with me as I develop my own projects.
Today I want to talk a little bit about Tumblr and how it’s a different sort of blogging from more traditional blogging platforms. If you have any interest in what Tumblr is and how it works, I hope this helps paint a picture for you!
Tumblr is considered a microblogging platform and a social media network.
Microblogging is an online broadcast medium that exists as a specific form of blogging. A micro-blog differs from a traditional blog in that its content is typically smaller in both actual and aggregated file size. Micro-blogs “allow users to exchange small elements of content such as short sentences, individual images, or video links”, which may be the major reason for their popularity. These small messages are sometimes called micro posts.Wikipedia
Its general use is similar to Twitter. You just have a lot more room to write an actual post if you want to.
For those who haven’t used Tumblr, the timeline (dashboard) itself is the main page for all that you do. It’s obvious that the social media aspect is the centerpiece, maybe even over the blogging aspect.
As a platform, Tumblr is extremely easy to use and customize. I think that’s one reason I keep coming back to it as a place to launch creative projects. Rolling up a new blog is instant. You have complete control over HTML customization, and there are tons of free (and paid) layouts to choose from. You can have several sideblogs for different projects all on one account.
If you want to get serious about it, you can hook a domain to your Tumblr and pretend it’s not a Tumblr. I’ve never done this, though.
Though it’s a microblogging platform, this isn’t to say that you can’t post long serious blog posts on your Tumblr. It certainly has the capability of blogging just like WordPress or Blogger.
Unlike a stand-alone blog, Tumblr focuses on the user becoming a part of a specific group (tribe) or fandom. Sure, you can get in there and just have a random personal Tumblr if you want. But folks who find success are ones that choose a specific group to speak to – be it those who love a specific kind of art, those who are writers, those who are gamers or those who are into a specific fandom.
Every Tumblr I’ve created, aside from my first personal Tumblr, has been associated with some sort of fandom. Back in the day, it was Guild Wars 2. Lately, it’s been FFXIV.
Tumblr and Reblogging
Reblogging is the highest form of compliment you can give someone else on Tumblr. It’s like retweeting someone on Twitter, and it helps increase their exposure – sometimes it’s called a “signal boost.”
Whereas, on WordPress.com, the very first thing I do is disable reblogging. There, I have a very different mindset where I don’t want someone else taking and redistributing the blog post I spent all that time and effort working on.
In fact, when someone “reblogs” from your traditional blogging platforms, it’s frowned upon and (usually rightfully) seen as content theft.
This is very different from the sharing mindset of Tumblr. In fact, you can’t turn off reblogging on Tumblr. Anything you post is free game for other people to reuse on their own blog (though it does keep the attribution to your blog within the post). So if you don’t want it passed around, don’t post it.
Tumblr and Tags
Tagging is hugely important to get exposure for your content on Tumblr. Like hashtags on Twitter, when you write a post and add tags to it, if these tags are used enough, your post will show up on an internal Tumblr tag page.
Here’s what the FFXIV tag page looks like (I take no responsibility for any inapproprate content posted here).
So if you’re not using tags on your posts, you’re not likely to get found.
Sadly, this makes starting a brand new Tumblr difficult to gain traction out of the gates. This is because new Tumblrs aren’t able to utilize tags (to prevent spam bot accounts) until they’ve proven they’re an actual person. This could be through following other blogs, interacting with other Tumblrs or being followed by others (which is difficult when you’re first starting out).
It’s kinda murky what’s required, but here’s the Tumblr help page on that.
I’ve also noticed that Tumblr doesn’t always post your content to tag pages if you’re linking to something outside of Tumblr. This includes my WordPress site (even though they’re owned by the same company). Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t and it’s rather frustrating because the posts that don’t get through to tag pages are missing out on views.
Tumblr and Security/Filtering
You’ve probably heard some things about the type of folks who use Tumblr. While this is not fully incorrect – there is a lot of content there I don’t want to see – not every user there is like this.
One of my biggest issues with Tumblr is the filtering and security area. Since it’s a social media site, these are things you have to take into consideration that you generally don’t on a normal blogging platform.
While Tumblr does have a built-in tag blocker that hides posts that are tagged with certain words, it’s just not enough. I have to install third party browser plugins that filter and hide posts based on the words the post itself contains.
For example, I don’t want to see posts dropping F-bombs on my dashboard (just as likely as you’d expect). People aren’t going to tag their post with that word, even though it’s used in the post, so Tumblr’s tag blocker is no help at all in this case.
There’s also a built-in Tumblr chat (that I really dislike) and there is no way to completely disable it. I’m a pretty private person, so I often don’t want folks throwing DMs at me. If I could completely turn it off, I would. The best you can do is turn off the activity tracker (so you don’t show as online) and set the DMs to only be open to people you follow.
This prevents me from following anyone I’m uncertain of because that opens up my DMs to strangers.
Also, if someone has ever DMed you, or if you’ve DMed them (sometimes I do for things like giveaways), they will forever be able to send you DMs, even if you don’t follow them. The only way to stop that is to block that account. This has happened to me. I don’t like being forced to block people just because I don’t want them sending me chat that I can’t turn off… and I feel like Tumblr should focus some efforts on revisiting the security of this system.
Twitter and even Pillowfort do a much better job on keeping your experience private if you want. I don’t mind things like Tumblr Asks (and even really like this idea), but chat wasn’t a feature that existed when I first started using Tumblr, and I’m just not a fan of how it works.
The Scroll Culture
One of the biggest things to contend with on Tumblr vs. a more traditional blogging platform is the scroll culture. Your blog post is just something sitting on someone’s dashboard (if they’ve followed you) that they consume while scrolling on through similar pieces of content other people have posted. Pretty much like Twitter and Facebook.
That’s why posts with images and short posts are more likely to get attention. Longer posts often get lost in the scroll. You can also never tell if a Like means someone has read and engaged with your stuff. Commenting on Tumblr content is in a small UI element, and feels convoluted compared to more robust bogging platforms.
Also keep in mind that when you’re creating content for Tumblr, the majority of your audience is going to be in a younger age group. I’ve seen a lot of stats thrown around, but one that keeps popping up says about 69% of the users are Millennials. So, I’m an outlier as a user on this site.
I could honestly write a bunch more about my years of experience on Tumblr, but I think this gives you the idea on how Tumblr as a blogging platform is pretty different from the others. Whether that fits your blogging style, or if writing directly to a social media site is a turn-off, is all in your preferences!