Over the past four years, I’ve probably set up over a dozen WordPress sites including those for myself, my friends and my family. I use WordPress on every single site I guest blog on and have read several books on the application. I’m not an expert by any stretch, but WordPress is definitely what I know best and use the most when it comes to blogging.
However, as I talked about last week, when I went to create my new blog Copyright Fail, I realized that WordPress was not the ideal tool. Copyright Fail is mostly a linkblog with quotes and embeds. Though WordPress can definitely manage such a blog, it would be slower more complicated. I wanted to make this something fast and easy to maintain.
With that in mind, I chose Tumblr as the platform to build the blog on. I had dabbled with a Tumblelog before and already had an account, but this was my first serious attempt at creating a blog with Tumblr. I ended up getting a crash course in Tumblr and learned five things things every WordPress user should be aware of before using Tumblr.
If you’re used to using self-hosted WordPress installs, you’re probably comfortable with pointing your domain to another server, managing your nameservers, etc. However, while Tumblr does allow you to use a custom domain name, it handles it in a slightly different way.
Rather than changing your name servers to your new host, users set the A name record on the domain to point to Tumblr’s IP address. While this is fairly easy to do and only takes a few moments, it’s confusing to those of us who are more used to editing nameservers and it is made worse by domain registrars that don’t make it obvious where you change this information.
All in all, it works well and only takes a few minutes, but there is a learning curve, even for experienced bloggers on other platforms.
WordPress has a well-known and understood template system that allows for a lot of complexity by breaking the template up into many different files. Tumblr takes a much more simple approach by using one single template page, more like Blogger.
This approach has its pluses and minuses. Though it means that there is only one file to edit, it can grow to be one very large file. The system is very flexible and can be used, with some skill, to make just about any kind of layout you want. But is going to seem alien to WordPress users adapted to a more structured system.
Also, Tumblr has a very different variable set and variable structure. Where WordPress uses fairly standard PHP, Tumblr has a different way of inserting variables into a template and the variables are also dependent on the kind of post that it is for.
One of my favorite things about self-hosted WordPress blogs is the plugin system. However, Tumblr doesn’t provide anything comparable. However, there are many systems that will still integrate with Tumblr, including Disqus.
However, the integration usually takes place through the design editing function, requirting the copying and pasting of code into key parts of the template. It can be a bit of a pain for someone who is used to just activating a plugin, but works tolerably well if you don’t plan to add too many functions.
Though you can log into Tumblr and do a “Text” post, which has much of the same functionality of a regular WordPress post, most of the functionality of Tumblr is in its bookmarklet, which allows you to create a post from any page you are visiting.
Though WordPress has a “Press This!” bookmarklet, it is an out of the way feature few make serious use of. Meanwhile, Tumblr’s bookmarklet is front and center, allowing you to post entries without ever visiting the actual administration panel of your Tumblelog.
Since most Tumblr posts are very short, usually just a link, a quote or an embedded video, this makes sense as the time it would take to log in and create a new post by hand would be too much. However, it is also very limiting in terms of formatting. Where the WordPress editor is robust and powerful, Tumblr’s is slim and fast.
This can be very frustrating to detail-oriented WordPress admins that miss having the ability to easily edit every little aspect of a post, but it makes posting a new entry only a few seconds of your day.
1. The Post Types
With WordPress, a post is a post is a post. Every post is the same as every other one and it is up to you to edit and style them the way you want to make them look different. However, with Tumblr, not all posts are created equal.
Tumblr has six different post kinds, text, which functions like a regular blog post, photo, quote, link, chat and video. Each of these post types are fundamentally different not just in the type of content they display, but how they are formatted and presented. Quote posts, for example, look different and have a different style than a link post or a photo post.
This makes it important to plan what kind of post you are uploading before hitting the “Share on Tumblr” button. However, there is some overlap. For example, a quote and a link post are very similar (especially if you add a description to a link post), the difference is how it is presented.
Though some are self-explanatory, such as the video and photo posts, it is important to play with all of the types of posts to see how they look in your theme and determine which is right for the kind of entry you want to post.
Tumblr isn’t easier or harder, but it is very different. For certain types of blogs, it is the right tool for the job though I still think most blogs will do better on WordPress.
However, Tumblr isn’t trying to compete with WordPress but instead is trying to fill a different niche, something it does very well.
My only true gripe is that the template system feels very awkward to me. Though I am comfortable editing HTML, the one-page template and the lack of a live preview (you can only preview on a stock site) makes it more difficult than it feels like it has to be.
On the flip side, once the Tumblelog is set up, posting to it and maintaining it is unbelievably easy. The time it takes to go from interesting link to Tumblr post is less than 30 seconds, making it effortless to maintain another blog.
In short, if you’re interested in an easy to maintain blog that focuses on linking, quoting and embedding other content. Tumblr is a great choice. Just give yourself a little time to ease into it if you are used to another blogging platform.