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Why We Tumblr

16 September 2010 One Million Watts 6,108 views One CommentPrint This Post Print This Post Email This Post Email This Post

I write and edit eight blogs, one of which is a Tumblr. I resisted Tumblr for a long time because I saw it as little more than a coffee-table blogging service — all style, with no context or substance. (And did I mention that I have seven other blogs to maintain? Seemed pointless to get an eighth.) But about two months ago, I changed my mind. I signed up for Tumblr and started making regular posts, and despite my early misgivings I’ve become an avid user.

Not everyone holds Tumblr in the same medium-high regard. “It’s LiveJournal for teenagers who aren’t smart enough to spell OMFG,” a friend said. (I also have a LiveJournal account — along with a TypePad account, several WordPress blogs, a Moveable Type blog and, for a limited time only, a Vox.) The perception of Tumblr among my web-savvy colleagues is that of a kind of Fisher-Price toy, a perception the service hasn’t helped by encouraging the creation of a preponderance of blogs called “F–k Yeah, (Fill in the Blank).”

But the things that make Tumblr an object of code-monkey contempt are the same things that make it such fun to play with: the ease of use, the limited functionality and so on. Tumblr is like a plastic toy camera — you can either dismiss it as being unworthy of your skill level, or you can use its limitations to challenge yourself. I’ve seen entire gallery shows taken with crappy $10 plastic cameras, and they’ve been remarkable almost without fail.

I’m not saying that Tumblr is as versatile as a Holga. If you come right down to it, there’s absolutely nothing a Tumblr can do that a WordPress blog can’t do better. But I enjoy using both, and recently I’ve felt the need to explain why three million users have chosen Tumblr when there are so many other feature-rich blogging services available. Since those three million users are currently busy lining their queues and responding to “ask me anything” questions, I’ll tell you why we Tumblr.

We Tumblr because it’s effortless. The user controls are almost childlike in their simplicity: all you need do to post an entry is push the relevant button. (There are seven: Text, Photo, Quote, Link, Chat, Audio, Video.) You don’t have to sweat the media links because Tumblr hosts the photos and sound files, and formats blog entries around videos. In the entire time I’ve been using Tumblr I think I’ve had to fiddle with HTML twice. And Tumblr’s scheduling feature — the “Queue” — enables you to post a week’s worth of entries in a half-hour. It’s like setting the timer on the sprinklers or coffeemaker.

We Tumblr because Twitter sometimes falls short of our needs.
Most writers can easily get a point across in 140 characters, but on some days you just don’t feel up to posting anything, or you need ten to twenty more characters to put the cherry on the cake. Tumblr can give you that little bit extra space to complete your thought, or simply allow you to hold your place with a link, photo or video. That said, it’s here that Tumblr shows its own limitations. You could post a long text entry to Tumblr, but it doesn’t look quite right. That’s because this is television, not periodicals.

We Tumblr because it’s an amazing smut-delivery system. I mean, that’s why they do it. You know who I’m talking about.

We Tumblr because it provides an ongoing, ever-changing visual map of our current tastes. As I said earlier, Tumblr is like a coffee table. Your bookshelves can give others a good idea of who you are, but the magazines on your coffee table reveal where you’re at. Those issues of Atlantic Monthly and ReadyMade, tossed carelessly atop that copy of “Tales Designed to Thrizzle” and your Taschen art books, speak to your current passions and hobbies, while the coffee table books underneath establish context around them. Maybe you’ve got a copy of Rolling Stone on the table, but that copy of “Bunny Yeager’s Pin Up Girls of the 1960s” says that you only bought the magazine because the cast of “Mad Men” is on the cover. Looking through someone’s Tumblr, you can see what someone likes and also why they like it.

We Tumblr because it’s going to teach the next generation how to credit the artist. Sure, there are tons of Tumblr blogs that re-post images without credits or context, and there are a bunch of non-Tumblr blogs that are like that, too. However, I’ve noticed that a good number of Tumblr users credit their sources. Perhaps they do this because they’ve been ripped off themselves; re-blogging user entries is a big part of using Tumblr, but stripping away the original poster’s credit is dirty pool and users will let you know it. But really, I think the reason that Tumblr users acknowledge their sources is that someone is bound to ask “hey, where did you get that?” — and another big part of using Tumblr is showing off what you know.

Ultimately, though, we Tumblr because it’s not a regular blog. Maintaining a blog is a freaking chore — you’ve got to deal with the daily updates, the SEO and the what-have-you. Sometimes, all we want to do is to get our friends and co-workers to Come Over Here and Look at This. It’s a fantastic plastic camera world, and Tumblr is the lens.

The author’s Tumblr is here, but you really want to see this one and this one.

Geoff Carter

PHOTO BY ARTY SMOKES

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One Comment »

  1. “We Tumblr because it’s going to teach the next generation how to credit the artist.” Yes! All the other reasons, but also, Tumblr may actually be making the world a better place.

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