|Tumblr has gradually, well, tumbled into a position of respect, even awe, among people who use blogging tools such as WordPress and Blogger, microblogging tools such as Twitter, and online destinations such as Facebook. Tumblr is a hot site and a new service that has steadily grown in usage and reputation. It’s a solution to problems you only gradually realize that you have as you use the new communication tools.
Tumblr serves as a vital intermediary and connecting point between tweets, blog posts, and multimedia presentations, combining the immediacy of Twitter (or an in-person conversation) and the permanence of a well-managed blog. The rules for using Tumblr to its best advantage are still evolving; this book shows you how to get around Tumblr and make the most of it in just a few minutes at a time. By the end, you’ll have a tumblog you can be proud of!
About This Book
As part of the Sams Teach Yourself in 10 Minutes guides, this book aims to teach you the ins and outs of using Tumblr without using a lot of precious time. Divided into easy-to-follow lessons that you can tackle in about 10 minutes each, you learn the following Tumblr tasks and topics:
How to easily set up a Tumblr account
How to create and manage a simple tumblog
How to choose a theme for your tumblog
How to select and use a custom domain name
How to keep your tumblog within the Tumblr Terms of Service
Finding useful tumblogs
How to post text to Tumblr
How to use links in your posts
How to use HTML code in your posts
How to quote other online sources in your tumblog
How to post photos and video in your tumblog
How to post audio clips
How to post by email and from your cell phone
How to reshape the look and feel of your tumblog
How to add commenting capability to Tumblr
How to use Tumblr and Twitter together
How to tie Tumblr to your blog
After you finish these lessons, and the others in this book, you’ll know all you need to know to take your tumblog(s) with you as far as you want to go.
Who This Book Is For
This book is for anyone interested in learning to use Tumblr effectively. Whether you’ve never seen a tumblog or have maintained one for a long time, this book shows you how to use each major feature of the site. For example, have you always wanted a home for your Twitter tweets? A place where you can blog freely and easily and readily share content from your own online experiences? How about a kind of staging area for all sorts of media content, which you can then add to a standard blog when you want to? You’ll learn how to accomplish all this and more.
Each lesson focuses on one specific topic, such as getting your initial tumblog up or posting video to Tumblr. You can skip around between one topic and another or read the book through from start to finish.
What Do I Need to Use This Book?
Using this book is easy; you just need to be curious and interested in what you can do with Tumblr. To use Tumblr, all you need is a computer, a web browser, and an Internet connection—even a smartphone has enough computing power to do the job. That’s all. Tumblr is free to use, so if you have these three things, you’re ready to go.
Conventions Used in This Book
Whenever you need to click a particular button or link in Tumblr or one of the other sites described in this book, you’ll find the label or name for that item bolded in the text, such as “click the Photo button.” In addition to the text and figures in this book, you also encounter some special boxes labeled Tip, Note, or Caution.
Tips offer helpful shortcuts or easier ways to do something.
Notes are extra bits of information related to the text that might help you expand your knowledge or understanding.
Cautions are warnings or other important information you need to know about consequences of using a feature or executing a task.
The figures captured for this book are mainly from the Internet Explorer web browser (version 8.0). If you use a different browser, your screens might look slightly different.
Also, keep in mind that the developers of Tumblr and other tools shown in this book are constantly working to improve their websites and the services offered on them. Owners of tumblogs and other blogs are likely to be improving and adding to their sites as well. New features are added regularly to Tumblr and other web services, and old ones change or disappear. This means the pages change often, including the elements found on each, so your own screens might differ from the ones shown in this book. Don’t be too alarmed, however. The basics, though they are tweaked in appearance from time to time, stay mostly the same in principle and usage.
Lesson 1. Introduction to Tumblr
In this lesson, you learn about the rapid growth of Tumblr, where it came from, and what you can do with it.
What Is Tumblr?
Tumblr is a blogging website. To elaborate, it’s a blogging site intended for short text posts, brief extracts from other blogs and websites, and bits and pieces of media, such as single photos, brief video clips, and short sound clips. Blogging via short posts is called microblogging; a blog that encourages multimedia interspersed with text entries and quotes is called a tumblog. Tumblr was given that name as a signal of its intent to be the best site for tumblogs. Although naming the “best” tumblog can start an argument, Tumblr is the most popular and best-known such site.
Tumblr has been tremendously successful partly because, at least up to this point, it’s free to use. It has quickly acquired millions of dedicated users and claimed more than 50 million unique visitors in one month in mid-2009. Tumblr has also tended to keep its users much better than either traditional blogging sites or Twitter, claiming that 85% of its users post regularly, which is much more than the others. This is not to put these alternatives down. Tumblr, in fact, “plays well with others,” as I describe in Lesson 14, “Liking, Reblogging, and Following Posts,” and Lesson 15, “Posting by Email, Phone, and Audio.” Tumblr has a strong and enduring appeal to the many people who try it. The purpose of tumblogs in general, and Tumblr in particular, is to break free of the tendency of traditional blogs to consist almost entirely of torrents of words. There’s a reason the leading traditional blogging platform is called WordPress; traditional blog posts tend to be long and wordy, sometimes not even broken up by a photograph. This makes blog posts similar to newspaper and magazine articles, and newspaper and magazine websites increasingly include blogs of this type.
Tumblogs were invented to take greater advantage of the accessibility and flexibility of the Internet compared to the traditional press. Tumblogs seem to have emerged in 2005 when the term was invented. Tumblogs anticipated Twitter, by far the best-known incarnation of this desire for brevity and flexibility. (Twitter is the online site and communications service that only allows text messages limited to 160 characters to be sent. These brief messages are called “tweets”.)
Why are people rushing to use Tumblr? Tumblr is very easy to use. The site works hard to live up to its tagline, “The easiest way to blog.” Part of the ease of use is because of good software engineering on the site, with many tasks accomplished by clicking a few big, bold buttons. It’s also because Tumblr encourages brief posts, so keeping a Tumblr tumblog updated is much easier. Yet the posts are interesting because Tumblr makes it easy to use a variety of media.
Tumblr is also interactive. Tumblr makes it very easy to re-post others’ Tumblr posts or other web content. (In the Tumblr world, this is seen as a compliment to the original creator of the content, not as stealing.) It’s easy to show approval of others’ content through the Like button, explained in Lesson 3, “Customizing Info Settings for Your Tumblog.” Tumblr encourages a sense of community, with quick, casual conversations over the backyard fence, and makes the feeling of being connected to others much easier to achieve than the somewhat arduous maintenance of blogrolls and other forms of homage in traditional blogs.
The benefit of posting on Tumblr is greatly increased by the ease of tying Tumblr to other tools and other social networking sites. It’s easy to post by email or via purpose-built iPhone and Android apps, as I’ll explain in Lesson 11, “Creating a Chat Post.” Tumblr can take input from a user’s Twitter account or send output to a Twitter account, or both, if you’d like. It’s also great for using as input to Facebook or traditional blogging platforms such as WordPress, as I explain in Lesson 14 and Lesson 15. In an online presentation delivered late in 2009, Tumblr personnel estimated that more than half of Tumblr bloggers connected their account to Facebook and/or Twitter.
Given Tumblr’s growth and its “stickiness” with users—that is, the fact that users keep coming back to Tumblr over and over—why isn’t it as well-known as other social networking sites, such as Twitter and Facebook? It’s still smaller than these better-known sites, and it’s a bit harder to sum up in a single sentence than Twitter is, for example. Twitter also appeals to journalists, who therefore write about it; Tumblr appeals a bit more to the technically savvy, who don’t have the same access to newspaper front pages. (Don’t worry about that “technically savvy” part; this book explains it all for you.)
The use of Tumblr with Facebook and Twitter indicates that it might grow along with these other popular sites. There also seems to be a lot of room for Tumblr to grow internationally, because it’s mostly in North America and in English so far.
Because Tumblr is so easy to use, it might continue to steal thunder—and users—from traditional blogging sites such as WordPress and Blogger. As you’ll find in building your own Tumblr tumblog, using the lessons in this book, there’s power in brevity, in sharing, and in flexibly using all kinds of content and media.
Blog or Tumblog?
The term “tumblog” means two things: any blog that has a strong mix of short posts, media content, and reference to new information that appears online; and any blog created in Tumblr, which is a service created specifically for this type of blogging. The word “tumble” here refers to this sense of ongoing change coming from all directions.
In this book, I use the term “tumblog” in the second sense, a blog created in Tumblr. I assume that your blog also is likely to be a tumblog in the first sense, with lots of short posts and different kinds of media embedded. (It doesn’t have to be, but this is what Tumblr does best.)
Although tumblogs have been around for a few years, Tumblr itself is somewhat new. The company went live in early 2007. It was founded by David Karp, who still runs Tumblr today and maintains a tumblog you can access. Lead developer Marco Arment was the driving force behind the Tumblr launch and has been involved in other interesting development efforts as well, according to his tumblog. He helped Jeff Rock create the original app for the iPhone, a key to Tumblr’s early success.
Tumblr quickly attracted tens of thousands of tumblogs from other blogging platforms, many updated via the then-new Tumblr iPhone app. Early users included musicians Katy Perry and Lenny Kravitz, followed by several music labels. The ability that Tumblr gives users to customize their tumblogs, explained in Lesson 12, “Posting Audio Clips,” also helped. (Tumblr’s tag line includes the words, “Post anything. Customize everything.”) Tumblr has grown rapidly ever since.
Why was Tumblr created? David Karp is quoted in a May 2009 FastCompany article by Chris Dannen: “Tumblogs don’t need all the context of a written post,” Karp says. “The context is the blog itself, or the person writing it.” The idea is that you read the stream of brief posts, along with the interaction with other tumblogs and borrowings of other web content, and get context from that. It’s like a mosaic; each piece, whether it’s text, a picture, or a re-post, provides a part of the whole.
Although Tumblr grew rapidly in users, its staff has stayed small—still only 10 people as of the beginning of 2010. This was true even after the company received more than $5 million in investment in late 2009, with two of its investors being shared with Twitter. (That might sound like the sites could end up being combined, but the investors are more likely to want to keep them separate, to get the most value out of their investment dollars.) The growth, investment, and connections—businesswise and functional—with other successful web properties seem to indicate a bright future for Tumblr.
The next challenge for the company is how to become a mainstream property rather than a cult favorite. The company keeps adding features and plotting how to reach a much broader base of users.
Uses for Tumblr
Like most blogging platforms, you can do a lot with Tumblr. However, the following are a few uses that Tumblr seems especially well suited for:
Simple and easy blogging— This is what might make Tumblr’s popularity take off. Keeping up a tumblog is easier than blogging with long, wordy posts, and is more varied and interesting.
Interactive blogging— It’s easy to subscribe to other tumblogs, bringing their input into your own. This is a bit limited because Tumblr is not yet that widely used, but that also creates a nice feeling of community among users.
Flexible blogging— Tumblr users frequently modify their tumblogs, giving them a unique personality. There are also many add-ins for Tumblr, some of which are highlighted in Lesson 13, “Posting Videos,” which allow you to further extend your tumblog.
Private blogging— You can keep your tumblog private, and only available to users you name—either as a protective measure while you get it up to speed, or permanently, so it can be shared by a group without outsiders butting in.
Showing personality— Tumblr users try hard to show personality through their relatively brief posts and snippets of content. Tumblr is a fun, personal medium.
Standing out from the crowd— Tumblr is in a nice position, well-established enough to be easy to use and full of interesting content, but not yet the most popular thing on the block. This insider status appeals to a lot of people.
Staying up to date— Tumblr is a great way to keep up with anyone you like, whether famous or just a friend who also happens to be a Tumblr user. It’s also a great way to help people, not just Tumblr users, keep up with you.
Updating Facebook— As Lesson 15 explains, you can tie your Tumblr account into Facebook. After you set it up, it’s actually easier to post to Facebook via Tumblr than by entering things directly into Facebook. Updating Facebook via Tumblr is extremely popular among Tumblr users.
Updating Twitter— You can tie your Tumblr account into Twitter. This gives you more power and flexibility than with most Twitter tools. Also, the liveliness and interactivity of Tumblr can then be reflected in your tweets, helping them stand out from the crowd.
Storing your tweets— You can use Twitter as an input into your tumblog; you can even use your tumblog entirely as a place to aggregate your tweets. It’s actually easier to get at your tweets as a stream and do interesting things with them in Tumblr than in Twitter itself.
Why Everyone Loves Tumblr
Tumblr has a list of reasons that people like Tumblr. You can see it atwww.tumblr.com/why-tumblr.
Of course, I can’t just let a list like that stand without commenting. The following are some highlights from Tumblr’s list and some thoughts on whether they really seem to be as good as Tumblr thinks they are:
It’s free— Can’t argue with this one: Nothing on Tumblr costs money. There aren’t any ads, banners, and so on. By contrast, even WordPress.com, the easy-to-use WordPress service that offers a remarkable array of things for free, forces you to pay if you don’t want ads. It also charges you to change the source code of your blog or host a custom domain name and for audio and video storage. Tumblr doesn’t.
Hundreds of themes for free— Another bull’s-eye. The competing site, WordPress.com, for instance, limits you to about 70 free themes and even the slightest tweak to a theme costs you.
Dozens of apps for free— Tumblr does have a strong collection of apps, including cell phone apps, apps for your computer, and browser plug-ins. This compares favorably to the widgets available for WordPress.com, for instance, but not to the very wide range of plug-ins available for self-hosted WordPress blogs. (WordPress.com widgets are like plug-ins for full WordPress, except they’re not as powerful.)
Use any analytics for free— Tumblr is not so great on this point. For example,WordPress.com has strong built-in analytics—tools for analyzing how many users have visited—and allows you to use the leading package, Google Analytics, for free. Tumblr has weaker built-in analytics, so you need Google Analytics, which is indeed powerful but quite complicated.
Incoming and outgoing traffic— There’s nothing like Tumblr for serving as a destination or a staging area for tweets, multimedia content, posts to various blogs and sites, stuff you’re looking at on the Web, stuff you phone in (seriously), stuff people email you, and more. It’s often easier to send content to Tumblr, which adds it to your tumblog, and then feed it into another site or service, than to send the content straight to the other site or service.
Responsive help— Tumblr is new and simple, so help is less complex than with other platforms. In addition, Tumblr has a strong Help Center, and their community ambassador, currently Marc LaFountain, usually answers questions quickly.
None of this is meant to disparage WordPress, nor to promote it as a better solution than Tumblr. Tumblr is easier and more flexible; WordPress is more powerful and more complex. The two also work well together.
I can make a recommendation, though. If you’re just getting started in blogging, and you have a bit of time to experiment before committing to a long-term solution, start with Tumblr. It’s easier and more fun. A tumblog also works well as a kind of bucket for bits and pieces that are interesting to the blogger, who can then use those bits and pieces on other blogs. Tumblr might be enough for your long-term needs, and if not, you can always use WordPress, having earned your spurs in Tumblr.
Another winner in the same unofficial vote that recognized the Garfield Minus Garfield site, Magic Molly is a simple, text-led tumblog that somehow strikes a similar chord. Molly Young, the blogger, is a published writer who lives in Manhattan. The blog, shown in Figure 1.1, has a wistful quality, almost a feeling of longing or nostalgia, which is surprising to find from such a young author.
Figure 1.1. Magic Molly is a classic tumblog in a simple Tumblr theme, featuring short but somehow weighty posts.
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Somewhat unusual for tumblogs, the distinguishing characteristic of Magic Molly is the quality of the writing, achieved in notably short posts—almost a kind of haiku found more often on Tumblr than elsewhere.
Magic Molly is also a good example of how much can be achieved without customizing a Tumblr theme, in contrast to the next example.
An example of what can be accomplished by modifying a Tumblr theme can be found at chrisdannen.com, shown in Figure 1.2: the tumblog of freelance writer Chris Dannen. Chris’s site is a good example because of the quality of content and because of the ambition of the Tumblr theme changes, which yield a unique result—interesting but not intimidatingly polished.
Figure 1.2. Chris Dannen modified a Tumblr theme to create his own unique web presence.
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Chris’s site incorporates a Google map of his location, the ability to chat with him live on Google Chat when he’s available, and a regular tumblog, with music videos, photos, and text posts mixed together. However, the number of blogs that follow a clip of failed Presidential candidate Ron Paul with quotes from writer and philosopher Jose Luis Borges is almost certain to be few.
IBM Smarter Planet
Companies have to make use of social media to reach people today, just as they had to advertise on television years ago, because it’s where a big part of their target audience is.
IBM’s Smarter Planet tumblog, shown in Figure 1.3, is dedicated to a specific initiative of the technology giant: its effort to find solutions for social and sustainability problems.
Figure 1.3. IBM has gotten smart about its Tumblr presence.
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Many of the posts are simply re-posts of newspaper articles on these themes. The Tumblr theme isn’t complicated—not as fancy, for instance, as Chris Dannen’s in the previous example. The light touch IBM uses has gotten a good reception on Tumblr.
The point of the Smarter Planet tumblog isn’t to shove every marketing message from IBM’s worldwide presence through the Tumblr site. It’s to pick a specific thing that IBM is doing that fits Tumblr and use the tumblog in the way that best fits this inherently suitable initiative.
This kind of light touch can be hard to come up with in a marketing meeting; it’s more likely to be the result of letting some bright person, whether young or old, go off on their own. Personality, creativity, and consistency are important elements for a successful Tumblr presence, even a corporate one.