During the recent Twitter outages, I checked the Twitter Status Blog a few times. I noticed that it was running on a platform called Tumblr, so I investigated a little further. Here, I plan to explain what Tumblr is, why its creators think it's useful, what you can do with it, and what I've decided to use it for.
The creators of Tumblr think that there is a niche between Blogging and Twitter. Blog posts, according to them, are supposed to be long-winded multi-paragraph monstrosities. They obviously don't know my friends. And Twitter posts are, often frustratingly, limited to a maximum of 140 characters. Tumblr is for all the stuff you want to say that is too much for Twitter and not big enough to justify a blog post.
There are seven types of posts.
Those icons are pretty self explanitory. Quotes are for posting quotations, single phrases from someone else you heard or read. Chats are to post conversations you've had or heard. The rest are just what they say they are. The text posts are really the equivalent of a full blog post on any other blogging platform. You can embed images and do anything any other blog can do.
First of all, let me explain what a feed aggregator is. RSS feeds are small, compact files available from websites, like this one, that allow your computer to check if there is new content. A feed aggregator will take RSS feeds from various sites and merge them together into just one feed. So if you wanted just one feed of all new blog posts from several bloggers in Spain, you could give all the feeds for those blogs to a feed aggregator, and it would combine them.
Most bloggers use several online services that provide feeds for content that they product. I, for instance, have my blog feed, my Flickr feed, my Twitter feed, my Revver feed, and countless other video sharing websites that I've started using lately through TubeMogul.
Tumblr will check your various feeds for new content, and then post that content on your Tumblr page automatically!
I have lots of content on my Tumblog, and I have yet to make a direct post on Tumblr. All of it has been read from my various other feeds.
This is how I have been using Tumblr. My tumblog is an aggregation of all my feeds:
Tumblr also allows for group blogging. You can define a group, either public or private, and then invite other members (Tumblrs?) to allow them posting to the group blog. The same feed aggregation features apply. As an experiment, I have created iwus.tumblr.com that will pull the photos from the Flickr group of the same name.
Although Tumblr does not allow comments natively, there are 3rd party plugins, like Disqus, that will allow plugins. In 2 minutes, before starting this paragraph, I have enabled comments on iwus.tumblr.com using Disqus.
One niche I can see Tumblr filling in my internet life is as an extention of what a Flickr group is. On Flickr, you can post photos to a group and people interesting in that type of photo (e.g. dachshund puppies) can join and follow the group. With Tumblr, that group could spill over to allowing posting of video, web links, stories, etc., while at the same time sucking in all the content from the preexisting Flickr group.
I often send and receive url-sharing emails to and from fellow IWUS members about websites that are particularly, well, "IWUS". If any of you IWUSers feel up to trying to use a Tumblr group for that, let me know and I'll invite you to the one I've already created.