Posted on June 28, 2011
Journalists, take another look at Tumblr
For a long time I had trouble appreciating Tumblr, but I think I finally understand its strengths — and I must not be the only one.
Tumblr can be used for traditional blogging, but that’s something of a misuse of the platform — if you understand blogging as a combination of thoughtful text posts on which readers can make comments to which authors can respond. Commenting, in particular, is very weak on Tumblr.
A misconception about Tumblr comes, I think, from looking at it as a blogging platform. In that light, it seems hobbled, clumsy, even painful to use. Managing posts and tags, for example, is ridiculously awkward when compared with WordPress. Managing pages is no less painful.
Tumblr is not a replacement for a traditional blog, and it’s not a substitute for Twitter. Tumblr is something else — part bookmarking tool, part FriendFeed, part scrapbook, part serendipitous newsfeed. Parts of its utility are the “heart” and Reblog features, which make it ridiculously easy to note that you like a post (instantly adding a Note to that effect to the post in question) and to instantly “retweet” with the ability to replicate photos, videos, quotes, links, etc. — while perfectly preserving the original source. Tumblr is thus more socially oriented than a traditional blogging platform.
For an excellent, lavishly illustrated guide to getting started, see Smashing Magazine’s Complete Guide to Tumblr (July 2010). Just this month, Tumblr made a few changes to its dashboard (your central base for using Tumblr) — for me, these changes were welcome improvements (but not all Tumblr users were happy).
If you haven’t yet given Tumblr a try — or if you looked once and then left — take a few minutes now to check it out.
- Explore tags on Tumblr. Try, for example, the tag Libya.
- Construct a search term with plus signs. For example, search for posts containing the phrase Committee to Protect Journalists like this: http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/committee+to+protect+journalists (it does not search only for tags — it searches full text).
- Sign up for Tumblr (read this first — IMPORTANT)* and choose a few carefully selected sources to follow. Then browse the posts on your dashboard once a day for three days in a row. You might find it addicting! (See the link list at the bottom of this post for news organizations on Tumblr.)
- Read the transcript of a recent Poynter chat with with Matthew Keys, an online producer at a TV station in the San Francisco Bay area. Keys offers some great tips for how journalists can use Tumblr effectively.
- Read this list of five reasons why Tumblr won over someone who initially disliked it.
* Note that your FIRST Tumblr blog (known as your primary blog) is less flexible than all the subsequent blogs you create under the same username. So think of that one as a personal blog — don’t make that one outward-facing. (It is very easy to make multiple blogs on Tumblr.)
Even if you decide not to use Tumblr in an outward-facing way (e.g., publishing and making yourself visible through a tumblelog), you might find it very useful for following topics (via tags) and/or for logging sites, videos, or other online items for your own use.
Extra: See what Nieman Journalism Lab has to say about Tumblr (several good articles!).
Update (12:48 p.m.): I forgot to mention how much I like the browse-ability of the Archive page for a Tumblr blog. See an example.