Over the weekend I started following some more Tumblr accounts via their RSS feeds, and I reminded of the odd nature of blogging on that platform.
(As an aside, I’ve been active myself on Tumblr several times over the years, so I’ve seen both sides, creation and consumption.)
On the face of it, Tumblr has a lot of good things. It is quick and easy to set up and customise a blog, the editor works well, and it has built-in support for audio and video content. Plus, as I mentioned at the top, most blogs have an RSS feed that you can subscribe to from elsewhere, so you don’t necessarily have to join Tumblr in order to follow someone.
And that’s where the downsides start to appear. You’ll note that I said most blogs, not all blogs. While Tumblr is notionally an open service, it becomes considerably less open if you’re blogging anything remotely adult in nature. At that juncture, you’re encouraged to declare that your blog is ‘adult’, meaning that access to your content is constrained to logged-in Tumblr users and may not even be visible to search engines. (While these steps are voluntary, Tumblr reserves the right to take them for you if it so chooses.)
The other downsides are more subtle in nature. First and foremost, the nature of commenting on posts in Tumblr is very odd if you’re used to just about any other blogging platform. To comment, you must ‘reblog’ the post, which creates an onion-skin appearance around it with your comments as the outer layer. Multiple comments will lead to posts with so many layers that the original content may not even be viewable, it has been buried so deep.
Then there is the editor, which is great for writing a first draft but lousy for editing as — at least when I was using the service — it tends to convert everything into HTML code. I really hope that under the stewardship of Automattic this has improved.
Finally, the aforementioned RSS feeds usually display post content in full, but occasionally I’ve had to click through to the actual post to see everything. I’ve no idea why this happens, but it’s annoying when it does.
To conclude, I find Tumblr blogs to be odd beasts, halfway between a fully walled garden like Facebook and a more open system like WordPress. Make no mistake, if you’re writing there you are a tenant, not an owner. To some extent this is also true of Automattic’s other blogging platform, WordPress.com, although there you have more control if you move to a paid plan. While Tumblr does offer the ability to export your data, the nature of posting means that it would require more work to move that to a different platform.
It will be interesting to see what changes Automattic make to the Tumblr platform in the coming years. Sadly a lot of damage was done by the previous owners Yahoo and Verizon, both to the service and to those using it, which is why I left for good back in 2018. It’s unlikely that I’ll return any time soon, but I also believe that having lots of good options out there for people to get their ideas online outside of the social media silos can only be a good thing.