Tumblr and the Immersive Internet

For some people it's hootch or craps or Lifetime movies. Lately for me it's these nifty web 2.0 apps. I can't hear even the vaguest hint of hype about a single one of these things without signing myself up. I was already neck deep in blog, flickr, and del.icio.us and that seemed like quite enough. Turns out Silicon Valley was just getting started with me. I started editing Wikipedia pages when I found things that needed work. I've already linked here to my documents on Scribd. I became dabbler in Digg, I've been known to Stumble, and there is a Facebook page with a goofy picture of me on it, search if you must. I have a MySpace though there's nothing there and the only MySpacers who friend me are girls who seem to think I might be interested in, you know. And there's YouTube. I shot some home videos and posted them there. I'm not going to link to them because my sister was embarrassed enough when her third-graders discovered them and she's not looking for more exposure.

And what about RSS? Most earthlings seem to manage without, but these days I'm using three separate RSS apps. NetNewsWire Lite is the one I use most often at home on my desktop computer because it's fastest. (I am subscribed to 285 feeds, which seems like too many.) Netvibes is another I like because it shows me so much in one place and it's just so awesome and cool. And Google Reader works well when I'm on a computer away from home and want to scan just a few feeds in a short period of time (Netvibes takes a little longer to fire up).

Twitter! How did I ever manage without twitter! I love it so much I signed up my mom! Now she twitters too. Friend her if you like. She does lots of interesting stuff, as you will find out.

Now there's this new web app that I just started playing with called Tumblr. A Tumblelog is a kind of stripped down blog--more like a scrapbook than an essayistic or diaristic blog--and it's a form that's been around awhile. One of its distinctive features is that it has different formatting styles for different types of entries: posts, links, quotes, conversations, pictures, videos. When you find something on the web that you want to share, you add it to your tumblelog, so this makes it similar to a linklog like Kottke or Fimoculous. Tumblr is a new, free, Blogger-style service that allows you easily to create a tumblelog using premade templates. (To view examples, see Tumblr Radar, which aggregates recently updated Tumbls.) And like Twitter and del.icio.us, posting to Tumblr is much easier than creating a blog entry using Blogger (or WordPress or other alternatives). You click "post to Tumbl" on a toolbar button and up comes a window that allows for quick entry. Like Twitter, Tumblr makes posting things to the web very easy, easier than a typical blog. But unlike a blog, a Tumbl lacks many social features like a default setting for a blogroll, comments, trackbacks, profiles, etc. It's easy to use in part because it has a small number of features. But a small number of features is actually a virtue, because it allows you to focus on certain things but not others.

I can foresee the term "blog" fading away or shifting meaning as these new forms like Tumblr and Twitter emerge. Lately so many blogs seem to offer magazine-style content, articles and essays in polished prose. I have written some such entries here. Maybe this very entry. But another form of self-publishing online is more about collecting or curating or tracking an ongoing experience than it is like expository writing or punditry. I want to participate in all of these things, but the blog as it is now may not be the best option for the fast, ongoing, process-oriented web publishing. When I find something online that I want to save or share, I may not have much to say about it aside from, "look at this." The form of the blog and the means of posting to it put pressure on the content to be of a certain quality, to be significant and relatively thorough, and to fit the blog's theme. If you're going to take the trouble to blog it, it had better be good. Often I just want to post things I find, though, that don't rise to this level. Often I want to save or share something about which I have no big point to make, and I feel that pointless (or, more like it, point-poor) blog entries are lame.

So I have been playing around with the Tumblr interface and testing its possibilities. I think it's potentially incredibly useful and fun. I don't know that I want to keep doing it for the long term. Maybe it will get tiring. Who knows. The site I created just yesterday is called Fraktastic in homage to Battlestar Galactica (which just jumped the shark, unfortch). It's nothing much, but it suggests what sort of thing one might do with the tool.

The problem, of course, is that I have too many of these things running at once and I'm going to have trouble keeping track of them all. I can't imagine you want to keep track of them all, either. Maybe what I really need is an integrated personal data stream, a consolidated RSS feed that combines all my stuff. But not all of my stuff really belongs together. My pictures and videos, my Wikipedia work, my scholarly work, my non-scholarly writing (e.g., twitter), etc., don't seem to me to all belong in one omnibus Michael Newman place. I'm not sure why, it just doesn't seem appropriate. Making sense of the relative integration or fragmentation of the personal web experience might be a challenge facing those at work on web apps of the future.

Additional reading:

Emily Chang on the personal data stream, with lots of links.

Kottke on tumblelogs in 2005.

Lifehacker review of Tumblr.

Another Tumblr review, at heyblog, with this intriguing design-y passage:
I’m sure you’ll agree that the world hardly needs another blogging or meta-blogging service, but it’s worth signing up for Tumblr just to check out its design. Like online portfolio service Carbonmade, it nails some current design trends—big fonts, gradients, “simplicity”, clever writing—in really thoughtful and appropriate ways, without looking merely trendy. In both applications, stuff you do once is big and easy, and stuff you do often is accessible and quick. Even the sign-up confirmation email is lovely. It’s also nice that Tumblr’s not overly Ajax-y, too, except where it’s really useful (like previewing your design changes).

1 comment:

Reinaldo Bravo said...

I also have a personal blog and a tumblr account. I find that when I am writing a new post for my blog, some time is spent on preparation for the article, and then more time is spent afterward on spellchecking and editing over and over.

Tumblr is the quickest way to get your message across. Sometimes you can't convey a message in something as short as a tweet and tumblr fits perfectly with this need. Not too long, not too short.