Rambling Thoughts on Tumblr, WordPress, Posterous, Pinterest and Blogging

We just relaunched the Mixel blog yesterday along with a refresh of our main Web site. The main goal was to bring the look and feel of both in line with one another and, specifically for the blog, to create a more editorial-friendly presentation. As I explained in this post, the Mixel blog turned out to be a more text-intensive product than we anticipated, and so we needed a design that would accommodate that. We also needed to switch to a publishing tool that was more suitable for that kind of content. Tumblr wasn’t doing it for us.

I wrote about Tumblr a while ago with great admiration in this blog post, and I still think it’s an amazing company and one of the best social content products out there. As a ‘traditional’ blogging tool though, I’m more ambivalent about it.


The Writing Kind of Blogging

It’s true that many folks, like my friend Cameron Moll, use Tumblr to publish their text-heavy blogs and are very happy with it, and so I don’t argue that it can work great for this purpose. But we found it to be less reliable than we’d like; the editing interface is unpredictable, to put it politely.

To be fair, we were also using it in a way that wasn’t a truly good fit for what Tumblr is good at; the first rule of digital content is that it must be true to the native characteristics of its delivery channel, and we weren’t doing that. We’re not giving up on Tumblr though; its network effects are truly amazing, and we have some ideas for a different editorial product that will hopefully be a much better fit for that network.

In place of Tumblr, we’re now using a WordPress blog hosted over at Page.ly. The theme was developed by my friend and amazing WordPress guru Allan Cole. In spite of having developed a premium WordPress theme of my own (Basic Maths, which was designed and developed with Allan), I’ve never been a heavy WordPress user until now. I have to admit, its most recent version is full of the fun, geeky features that I like as a blogger, stuff that allows designer-editors to fully tweak the way content is output. It’s great.

Other Stuff Posted at Other Places

All this fooling around with hosted publishing solutions has reminded me that Subtraction.com is getting long in the tooth, and very much represents an old school way of thinking about blogs. (It’s published with ExpressionEngine, which is quite powerful but has been trying to rejuvenate itself after some recent stumbles.) In fact, I’ve always wanted to fold Tumblr-like features into this site, and have played on and off with both Tumblr and Posterous for several years to see what those modes of blogging feel like.

My Tumblr experiments have largely been for naught, but I took to Posterous pretty well and have kept two blogs there for some time, more or less privately. I’ve been writing a log of really short (and, be prepared, somewhat stuffy) reviews of movies I’ve recently viewed at delayedreaction.posterous.com. And I have an ongoing image blog at Subtraction.posterous.com, where I collect a bunch of somewhat Subtraction-y images that don’t quite fit into this main blog.

The latter blog has been really interesting to curate, because it bleeds over to the stuff I’ve been keeping at Pinterest too. My boards at Pinterest are not a form blogging, necessarily, but they’re very similar to the image collecting and curating that I do at Posterous, yet even further afield from what I would normally post on Subtraction.com. (By the way, we’re collecting lots of really amazing work from Mixel on these Pinterest boards.)

Of all of these third party services, I feel least inclined to bring the activity from Pinterest back under the Subtraction.com umbrella, mostly because it’s the least blog-like. But what I’m doing on my two Posterous blogs, as well as what I would theoretically do at Tumblr, is very much the stuff that I would like to integrate into this site, if I had the time. Ultimately, I think I’m just the kind of user who will always want everything blog-like to be clearly a part of this blog, hosted on my own server, customized just the way I want. It’s not the trend of things in the world at large now, I know, but even bloggers get old.

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13 Comments

  1. Really good summary of each platform. I think I agree with you mostly. I’m really interested in what you mean by:

    “I have to admit, its most recent version is full of the fun, geeky features that I like as a blogger, stuff that allows designer-editors to fully tweak the way content is output. It’s great.”

    As a longtime WordPress user/developer I would love to know what features you mean.

  2. Coincidental timing, for sure.

    What I said in a few other tweets: I don’t know if it’s the tech (Tumblr) so much as the format. I’d like to return to longer-form articles. You can certainly do that with Tumblr, but I chose Tumblr specifically with the intent of doing a Daring Fireball-style, short-link format.

    I don’t know what’s next, but I do know I’ll be thinking about what’s right for me at this point in my career —аirrespective of media platform.

  3. Matthew: I think I worded that poorly. What I meant to say was that WordPress offers a lot of fine-grained control over the templates and the way the content is produced. Shortcodes, for instance, are great and very useful for us on the Mixel blog. That’s how we add the frame around our mixels like in in this post.

    Cameron: I for one would like to see some longer-form posts from you again. As for whether it was the technology or the format that didn’t feel right to your at Tumblr, that’s sort of what I mean when I say that service is good at some things and not as good at others. The combination of the editing tools and the kind of content that flourishes on the network create subtle expectations that one’s content should conform to.

    Anyway, a question I have for you: did you ever have any problems with the technology? The editor drove me bats.

  4. I’m considering using ExpressionEngine for an upcoming project but I’ve yet to utilize it for its blogging capabilities. Can you share any caveats or ‘things to consider’?

  5. I recently re-built the backend of my site to make it more tumblelog-like, and it pulls in content from each of the services I use and want it to (Twitter, Flickr, Instagram, Foursquare, Pinboard, Delicious, etc.). Like you, I want to own and host everything myself, but I also want the tooling that comes with using these popular third-party services (for example, if I want to link to this post as I’m reading in Reeder on my iPad, all I have to do is hit the “send to Pinboard” button and it ends up on my site). And I, of course, can also post longer form articles to it, as well (which I’ve been trying to get back to doing more of).

    Blogging has definitely evolved, for better or wose. For me, this tumbelog format feels right, for now.

  6. I’m a satisfied tumblr-user, who manages several tumblelogs. Actually I just finished a “paper” on the tumblr platform (I’m studying Information Architecture), that I presented as a tumblelog here (as an example on long form writing). It’s in Danish, so none except the danes will understand anything.

    You wrote: “we found it [tumbr, ed.] to be less reliable than we’d like; the editing interface is unpredictable, to put it politely.”

    I assume, that you’re talking about the WYSIWYG-editor here? And, indeed, it’s horrible. But they’re all horrible. Don’t you find the WordPress WYSIWYG-editor bad too? These pretend to be Word-editors* is a necessity in a world where users don’t understand semantic editing. It’s a simulation without context. And we’ll have to live with it, and I’m perfectly fine doing that, as long as I can write in HTML or better MarkDown, which is the case at tumblr as well many other platforms.

    I can see why you could argue, that tumblr isn’t good for you, but I can’t see why the bad WYSIWYG-editor, could be one of those reasons.

    * Thomas Bradley wrote about this here: link

  7. All positive stuff here.
    I’ve been seeing Tumblr mostly used for imagery content (pictures, videos) blogging and sharing, while most of the people really use WordPress if they want, really to write.

    Tho, speaking of writing publishing services, a friend, Andreas PihlstrШm has released Scriptogr.am. It’s a very unique tool for publishing that uses your Dropbox and Markdown to organize and visualize text files in a very pleasant manner.

  8. An example one step beyond even this is James Lileks, who just abandoned WordPress to return to the straight-up HTML pages he’d been doing marvelously for over a decade.

    See his Forward to the Past.

    “I think I’m done with wordpress, or any other form of blogging software. Oh, it’s not that it wasn’t easy; it was. It’s not that I couldn’t make it look clean and simple: obviously, I can. But it just looks like everything else.”

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