Experimenting with Tumblr

I have recently hived off a few bits of posting that used to be in this blog to Tumblr, a startup that ValleyWag described as being, like Twitter, “unencumbered by revenue”. It’s been an interesting experience.

As this blog has become a bit more work-focussed and more formal I was feeling like writing about Doctor Who wasn’t quite the right thing to mix with the more esoteric tech stuff. I like WordPress a lot and I thought about starting up a second blog here. However I did feel that I wanted something that was a little bit lighter and light-hearted as the topics were going to be relatively trivial.

Signing up was easy (all very Web2.0: massive fonts, custom urls, etc.) but when I saw that you could use Markdown to write up posts rather than WSIWYG editors I was sold. Since I know it anyway it saves me a lot of time not frigging around with generated HTML. I also liked the AJAX UI that made it seem quite easy to just post a few thoughts.

In my mind Tumblr fits a kind of position between Twitter and WordPress. Where you have something to say that is more than a sentence but it isn’t a whole lot more than a paragraph. It is the kind of thing that Blogger should have become after it was clear that WordPress had completely whupped it on almost every front.

I have found Tumblr to be fun and also something that entices you into just jotting down a few thoughts. In terms of the experience it is all light, responsive and dynamic up front but you can dig around behind the scenes to take control of the visual aspects of your site via CSS and HTML (something that is paid for in WordPress) as well as get more options for posting.

So what do I miss from WordPress? Well the first thing is the Stats crack, obviously. WordPress has a killer feature in telling you exactly how many people are reading your articles and how they came to read them. There are also a lot of features that surround this like auto-promotion of articles to Google, the related articles list and the Blogs of the Day. Publishing something in WordPress feels like launching it into the world, by comparision Tumblr posts are a much more muted affair. It feels more like a secret club. I know Tumblr does the promotion as well but I guess WordPress does a better job of closing the feedback loop.

Not having comments on Tumblr is also part of that. Given that comments on your blog can be a very mixed bag I was surprised to find myself missing them. Somehow I must have gotten used to them and their lack now feels like silence. I know some people have used Intense Debate to add in comments but if I was really that bothered about it then I would probably have gone back to WordPress.

So I’m enjoying Tumblr but I am also hoping that they keep it simple and don’t get tempted to add every feature there is from other blogging software.


How many microblogging sites can there be?

Last time I was on I noticed that most of the messages were being posted from This means that people are effectively are broadcasting there but who is listening? Possibly no-one.

Tomorrow the Today Programme on Radio 4 is going to ask whether Twitter is replacing blogging. I know that because they Tweeted about it.

Twitter might not be the best service or the first but it certainly seems to have hit some critical mass where it is now crossing over into the mainstream and before long it seems likely that it will be synonymous with microblogging in the way that Flickr and online photos are.

I’m currently following Stephen Fry’s wildlife documentary making on Twitter and even John Cleese is on there. When you have that kind of penetration I think most of your rivals can run up the white flag and retreat to the niche areas where they excel.

Web Applications

Microblogging Sites: Got to catch them all!

So I am currently using Twitter, and Jaiku (ask for invites if you want them). Of course to get every microblogging site I probably also need accounts on Plurk and Pwonce; at least. In fact in the time I typed all this there are probably another two or three that started up and which I need to get accounts on.

The good news about all this fecundity is that each system actually has some distinctive features and there is a fair amount of innovation and imitation amongst the players. Twitter has pretty much defined the genre but its agonisingly slow progress towards stability has meant that its feature set is actually pretty sparse. It is real bare bones stuff. Only the recent election page gives an indication of what a future Twitter might look like.

Laconica is open source and is clear on the ownership of the material on the site. Collectively they represent the open source solution to microblogging. The service also has the idea of tags that create a new way of reading posts and actually encourage you to connect to people you do not already know. Tags are really Laconica’s special sauce and as people use hashtags anyway I am sure it will not be long before all sites recognise them (particularly as and the like broadcast the same message to all the sites). For the moment though I love tagging stuff in posts and then looking at who else has posts with that tag.

Jaiku is part of the Google umbrella of services and you really notice when the ads appear. It makes you think “How does Twitter get by from week to week?”. Jaiku’s take on microblogging includes two special features, comments and channels. Comments are simply the ability to reply to other’s posts. Ironically the comments have no message limit (unlike the original post) and therefore comments on a post can become more forum post like. It’s interesting because it allows you to expand on the original topic but it also feels like something that defeats the whole purpose of microblogging.

The other problem with Jaiku is that comments do not appear threaded in your personal timeline so your contact’s comments float there with no context and you have to explictly root out what the comment is responding to exactly. This is, officially, rubbish; comment threads should work just like Facebook’s new comment system with threads appearing in your timeline in order and regardless of who you are following.

Jaiku’s channels are also a mixed bag, they again allow you to connect to people who share interests with you but who you don’t yet know. Great, but currently there are simply not enough people on Jaiku, this will change when people can login to the service with their Google ids but until then a lot of channels are filled with RSS feeds which is technically nifty but also spammy and boring. Being able to comment on RSS feeds is only interesting if there is someone else reading your comments.

The other problem is that channels are much more formal than hashtagging. The nice thing about Hash Tags is that you can drop one into your post and see if there is anything else similar. With a channel you have to open and own one and the lack of people means you effectively create a channel with one person and no posts. At least the hashtags guarantee that there is always one post for each tag.

Right, that’s the technical side of things out of the way. One interesting thing about having multiple blogging accounts is the way you can now start to divide your posting. Previously I was probably over-posting to Twitter; I hate people who post their breakfast as much as anyone but it is easy to slip into trivial updates.

Now with multiple accounts I am starting to segregate stuff. Since Twitter was originally about keeping the pulse with the distributed beast that is The ThoughtWorks I am keeping technical/work stuff there. Weird observations about London and more esoteric stuff is going to Partly because I hope to find new cool people who like esoteric stuff via tagging.

Jaiku has struggled to find a niche in my microblogging ecosystem but I am starting to think that if we take discussion and conversation to be the primary thing Jaiku is about then the logical content is actually contentious stuff and posts about games.

I will be curious to see whether people begin using their accounts in different ways as well or whether they just spam all their accounts with the same stuff via a cross-posting application or website. If they do, then I think Twitter suffers most and Jaiku gains as you effectively gain the ability to annotate and enhance posts in Jaiku in a way that you cannot at the moment in Twitter.



I was annoyed at the Twitter outage last night (apparently caused by IM’ing) as I wanted to gripe about Play Greenhouse (they only allow passwords between 4 and 10 characters long, preventing me from using a passphrase style password). Of course that outage was followed by a database crash today. While I appreciate the good communication the Twitter folks have via their blog the service is extremely prone to outages.

I have only been using Twitter for a month (if that) and already it is already a really useful service for me. It’s handy for keeping up with what’s happening in a “distributed” (or perhaps just disorganised) company. But it also useful for publishing stuff too.

There are a lot of times where you want to make an observation or just note something interesting rather than getting into a detailed description of something. To date that kind of thing has gone into a note-taking program like Google Notebook, Sites or BasKet. Now with Twitter if something doesn’t seem personal or esoteric I might as well throw it out there. It also works the other way round, if something doesn’t fit into the Twitter limit then it probably is worth a paragraph in its own right in a “proper” blog post.

While Twitter was down I went to have a look at the alternatives: Jaiku has been bought by Google and is in one of those awful please wait while we spend months silently integrating modes. Pownce seems like a whole different service, the ability to transfer file links etc. strikes me as being more akin to Google Chat and certainly more than I need for microblogging.

If Jaiku had been available from my Google account at that moment I would have switched without question. Until then I guess I have to wait for Twitter to sort itself out.