February 24, 2014

What About Tumblr?

This is a follow-up to my The Allure Of Medium And Svbtle piece. You should go read that first, if you haven’t already.

Thinking about all the great things that make Medium and Svbtle so alluring makes it impossible to ignore Tumblr. If we, for just a moment, try to forget the fact that it’s ridden with GIFs, cats, and porn, this should present itself as a formidable alternative. I’ve got a soft spot for Tumblr, but it’s not so much for the social aspects of the platform as it is for the interface.

Look at that writing experience!
Look at that writing experience!

Tumblr on the desktop (we’re ignoring the app too, which is great by the way) is really slick. Writing a new post opens a pretty overlay and there is nothing distracting about the interface when in this mode. The same cannot be said about the dashboard and its flow of posts from Tumblr blogs you follow, but that’s a whole different story.

Or is it? The Tumblr dashboard is maintaining its old look and feel, adhering to its alternative roots. That may be well and good, but there’s nothing alternative with Tumblr today, it’s downright huge and mainstream. When talking about the allure of something, the dashboard and Tumblr’s constant flirting with the community might in fact be a reason why some people won’t see it as an alternative.

It’s weird, because Tumblr is very powerful. Not only is it easy to update and maintain a Tumblr blog (or site, it’s all in the presentation), you can even invite more users to post to your site. If the default theme doesn’t cut it for you, there are numerous alternatives that look great, and you can pay for more. Not having the alternative to choose something else can be liberating, as I stated previously, but compared to the plethora of ugly themes available for WordPress, Tumblr’s (official) offerings comes off as gorgeous. I think this is a positive thing, and I think Tumblr’s theme garden is pulling this stunt off. Some themes cost money, but not all of them, so either way you’ve got alternatives. Sure, you can kill quite a bit of time fiddling with themes, and it is indeed a possible hurdle in itself for your publishing, but it’s not without benefits. Personally, I like being able to tweak things, and theming for Tumblr is a simple affair.

Tumblr manages chalk up the theme ecosystem as a pro in my book, which is no small feat when we’re talking about the allure of minimalistic publishing platforms. There are lots of great themes, and yet Tumblr manages be simple enough, still.

The community is often listed as another pro. The particpants on Tumblr and the community they form can be daunting sometimes, often a bit daft, but that’s the case wherever there are huge numbers of people involved. There’s no denying that the community can make something snowball into massive proportions on Tumblr. The Humans of New York project is a great example of what the platform is capable of, and there are several book deals that’ve come out of Tumblr sites. Now, those might just as well happen on other platforms, but it’s a testament to the platform’s possibilities nonetheless.

I can’t shake the feeling that we’re talking up Medium, Svbtle and similar platforms, while we forget what’s already available. There’s a bit of the new shiny to it, I think, because a lot of people are happy with using WordPress, Squarespace, or Tumblr for that matter. Those numbers aren’t exactly shrinking either.

In a way, I think the reason I find Medium and Svbtle so alluring, despite the fact that I’m more than capable of building just about whatever I want in terms of publishing my words, is that it’s something new and exciting. I “know” WordPress and Tumblr after using them for years, but Medium is new – something like that. It’s much like my fascination with Jekyll when that was brand new. Perhaps Medium and Svbtle will fade in similar fashion, too.

The thesis stands though. Whatever platform you pick, wherever you publish, make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into.

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