The results are in, and as befits any good crowd-sourcer, I wanted to share them.
Yesterday I asked TechCrunch readers for some advice. Having quit Twitter, I’m looking for a new blogging platform that will allow me to continue writing longer-form blog posts (as I do now on WordPress), but with the benefit of social sharing that Twitter used to give me. WordPress is great as a writer’s tool, but it’s lousy for maintaining a conversation. Twitter is great for sharing, but it was distracting me from updating my blog, which is a problem when it’s one of my primary ways to keep notes for future books.
One compromise, it had been suggested, was Tumblr, and so that’s how I framed my question: Should I Move my Blog to Tumblr?. Many of you responded in the comments with some great advice, and details of your own experiences with Tumblr and similar services. I also received a ton of email, IMs and face-to-face advice from friends. And it all lead me to one inescapable conclusion…
No. I shouldn’t use Tumblr as a platform for my blog. And perhaps you shouldn’t either. Here’s why…
Actually, before I get into what I learned about Tumblr, here’s another thing I learned: a lot of you really like Posterous. Even our very own Mike Arrington has a Posterous, which he uses mainly to post photos of his life, his dogs, and the TechCrunch jet. There’s certainly a them-vs-us rivalry between the two services – with many praising Posterous’s ease of use when it comes to writing long blogs (which the services encourages you to submit via email) while others criticized its comparative lack of ‘community’: certainly Tumblr is better designed for sharing and reblogging.
If I were looking for a brand new blogging platform to replace just the writing aspects of WordPress, I’d certainly give Posterous a try. But I’m not – and that’s good news for Tumblr: the more advice I read, the more I realised that replacing WordPress is not what Tumblr’s supposed to do. In fact, the service actively discourages users from porting their old blogs over, offering no import tools whatsoever for users of WordPress, Blogger and the rest.
As Tumblr’s Mark Coatney replied to my original post…
“Think about what you want to use this for. My feeling, after having used both Posterous and Tumblr for Newsweek in my previous incarnation, is that you should use Tumblr if your primary need… is to share (rather than simply publish) information. [Tumblr is] a sharing network; a place where people can easily, and in a conversational manner, quickly exchange words, pictures, ideas.”
A nice analogy came from Edelman PR’s Brittany Dow who wrote…
“I love WordPress and although lately (maybe because of Twitter) I haven’t utilized it to its fullest extent, I would never port my content. Why? Because in a way they are pages of history. Would you port a Rembrandt into a Picasso? Maybe that’s an odd analogy but I hope you see what I’m getting at.”
Indeed. The point is that Tumblr isn’t WordPress in the same way that Facebook status updates are not Twitter.
Now, of course, I’m stubborn and being told I can’t do something just makes me even more certain that I want to do it. So just to make a point I trawled around Google and found Tumblrize, a WordPress plugin that allows you to cross-post individual WordPress posts to Tumblr. It also works with old posts, automatically cross-posting them to Tumblr (with the correct date stamp) whenever they’re updated. All I had to do was install the plugin on my WordPress server, open every single one of my old posts and re-save them, thus cross-posting them to my new Tumblr account.
It took a while.
But it was worth it: as I browsed through my new Tumblr, full of old cross-posts from my WordPress blog, I realised that Mark and Brittany were right. They are completely different platforms, and my old long-form WordPress posts just looked weird on Tumblr. WordPress is still by far the best way to write long-form text-heavy posts, while Tumblr provides a great way to share those posts with a wider community.
Point taken, I deleted all my old WordPress posts from my new Tumblr.
It took a while.
Having figured out the point of Tumblr, I was still keen to give it a try. Even if not a blog replacement, it seemed like it might still be a great, low-impact, way to share TechCrunch posts, newspaper columns, book extracts and the rest with interested readers, while also consuming and re-sharing things that others have shared. All that I need to do is start following my friend’s Tumblrs and – hopefully – encourage them to start following mine – very soon I’d have an awesome two-way, annotatable RSS feed that would still allow me to dedicate most of my unpaid attention to my blog. Hurrah!
No, not Hurrah! That other thing.
You see, it turns out Tumblr makes it really, really difficult and time consuming to find and follow your friends. I’ve registered with dozens (hundreds?) of social services over the years and I can only remember one other (Last.fm) that didn’t offer an easy way to search, say, my Gmail contacts for other friends using the service. I’ve looked and I’ve looked and I’ve Googled and I’ve asked around and, no, it seems the only way to find friends to follow on Tumblr is to manually enter either their email address or username into a serach box. There’s no bulk way to do it. If Mark is right, and Tumblr is all about sharing and community then that’s an unforgivable – and frankly unfathomable – oversight.
Is it a user privacy thing? No – otherwise you wouldn’t be able to manually search by email. A question of priorities? Surely not – Tumblr has been around since 2007 and it’s not like it’s a difficult feature to implement. Posterous has it. Unless I’m missing a really good reason (or the feature is just really, really well hidden), the lack of a bulk friend-finder feature seems to be the single most idiotic omission on a service with ambitions to be the thinking man’s Twitter.
So, yes, I’d love to hear from someone at Tumblr what on earth their logic is for making it so difficult to follow friends. If I do, I’ll update this post with the answer, and perhaps reconsider Tumblr as my social sharing tool of choice. Until then, however, I guess I’m sticking with my WordPress blog and its trusty old RSS feed.