Teaching Online Journalism

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 is now one of the top 25 websites in the U.S., according to data from Quancast, as reported in a new article at TechCrunch. It gets close to 5,000 pageviews per second.

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.

Have a look at how National Public Radio uses Tumblr, though, and you’ll start to get a clue. A post at ReadWriteWeb explains NPR’s rationale in launching a Tumblr site last year.

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.

* 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.

Categories: blogging


  1. Jeremy Head says:

    Hi Mindy
    This post by Steve Ruebel is also highly enlightening… though some don’t agree with his take on Tumblr it is very interesting reading – describing how he ditched WordPress and all his other web stuff and went 100% over to Tumblr
    Best wishes

  2. @Jeremy – Good link, thanks. I was stunned when I read the original post in which Steve Rubel announced he had destroyed all his blogs — such a loss to the rest of us! He’s a smart guy and I always like reading his thoughts about social media.

  3. Steve Rubel says:

    I may bring back the best as greatest hits. Ultimately, it came down to not being able to easily import. See Stowe Boyd’s journey – http://www.stoweboyd.com/post/772613407/why-i-am-going-to-leave-squarespace

  4. @Steve – All the more reason to use WordPress for blogging! :)

  5. [...] I’ve seen some great uses of Posterous lately, for example to support feedback on an event (UK Govcamp 2011) or as a notebook for interesting things (Andy Powell’s Aggregate).  I’d not hesitate to use it again. (Update, 29 June; great post on Taking another look at Tumblr.) [...]

  6. Mindy,

    Although I must admit that my Tumblr goes a bit unloved at times (chalk that up to being overly busy), I’d recommend Mars Edit to help any journalist manage a mix of blogs and Tumblr. It’s a great blogging tool, and it makes adding content to Drupal, WordPress or Tumblr as easy as falling off a bike. It also can be integrated with Flickr so you can easily add your Flickr photos to posts.

  7. Thanks, Kevin! Great tip! I have not seen Mars Edit, but I’ll give it a try.

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