Tumblr – users want more control

This was a comment on Rob’s blog that I decided to turn into a post…

Good products are simple for the majority of users with more complex features for those who need it. I’ve always believed this.

And in this I see the fundamental drawback with Tumblr.

It has a wonderful UI and is easy to use. But it is so because of the limits they have put on it. Adding widgets is hard. Plugins couldn’t exist till recently. Good in some ways… but truly good UI is the ability for the user to customize. Simple is the default, but you have to be able to make it more customized (or complex) as needed. And this last part is what Tumblr is missing. Big time. It is a huge issue (for me, anyway).

Reblogging is such a great idea. But it is only available within Tumblr blogs. Could Tumblr figure out a way to let you reblog from any blog? Sure they could – they are smart folks. But it wouldn’t be as easy or as pretty. So no one can have it. That’s an issue. Why not make the standard reblog easy and as it is and then why not offer an option in the dashboard that more advanced users can turn on that will allow reblogging from anywhere?

The exact same thing is true with your suggestion, Rob – the ability to see any blog in your dashboard rather than just Tumblr blogs. Is it possible? Sure it is – just grab the site’s RSS and present it nicely in the dashboard. For the basic user, they can only see Tumblr blogs they follow, for the advanced user, an option should exist to see other blogs.

Tumblr’s biggest drawback is that it mandates how users will use it. Dictating how your users can use something by not enabling customization is not a great way to ensure simplicity. Open does not have to be complex and ugly. And the smart people at Tumblr can figure it out.

These are just two examples of how users would like to see more out of Tumblr. Other users will have their own pet requests. For each of these examples, I know Tumblr can give us a great reason why they don’t enable it. But… their users want it – isn’t that what’s important? Tumblr needs to allow the users to have more control in how they use the platform.

I’ve been wanting to write this post on Tumblr for a while and your post prompted this long comment!

Originally posted as a comment by Shripriya on Why Didn’t I Think of That? using Disqus.

Blog redesign – better than a spa day!

I’ve had the same basic WordPress K2 theme since I started this blog. It always felt basic, but I was fine with that. In contrast, Tatvam, designed by uber-designer George, was beautiful and elegant.

For the past few months though I started wanting a new, fresh look. I looked at the WordPress themes that were out there, but none of them really grabbed me. Then one day I saw a really unique illustration done by someone called MayG (Mahjabeen Umar). I dug a little deeper and found that MayG designs websites and has just started styling blogs.

MayG and I got to work. She asked me a whole bunch of questions to figure out who I was, what mattered to me and what kind of design aesthetic I wanted. She then cranked away and about four days later sprung what I consider an incredible illustration on me. It’s the multi-handed image that you see on the top left of the new blog design and it was love at first sight. The concept was cool and she did such a great job on the execution (in the process making my online avatar look better than reality!) And it really felt like even if I had a most basic theme, this illustration would set it apart.

But she was just getting started. Far from producing a basic theme, she designed something elegant and unique with style elements that are uncommon in blogs. At the same time she stuck to my requests for classy, elegant, clean and non-cutesy.

And voila! We have here Shripriya’s Post-It theme. It’s a theme that can change with me and morph as my life does. It makes me smile.

As MayG promised me early in the process – a blog redesign, when done right, can be better than a spa day. The past few weeks have been incredibly rough on the personal front and I need not just a spa day, but a full spa month! In fact, I actively sought distractions to help me get through things. Well this little redesign was definitely a step in the right direction.

I can’t say enough good things about working with MayG. She has the right balance of her own creativity and giving the client what she wants. She is incredibly talented and very responsive. She’s up on all the latest design trends and has informed opinions on what works and what doesn’t. And she hits the timelines she promises.

If you are thinking of redesigning your blog or just want a new avatar, MayG is your gal. I could not recommend her more highly.

In addition to having a new blog, I also have a new friend. What could be better?

Lifestream data and plugins

As I tried to collect my “lifestream” data for my In The Moment tab, I first investigated the incredible land of WordPress plugins. This is one of the core reasons I use WordPress – the open platform means that there’s probably a plugin for pretty much anything you can think of.

There are several plugins that promise to collect all  your data from around the web. The primary issue with these is that they are just RSS feeds themselves. That means none of the data is duplicated onto your database. That’s fine if all you want to do is showcase the latest, but I actually wanted to duplicate it and have a copy myself.

1. Lifestream seems like the oldest one out there. But the plugin seemed complex and would require me to write a class file etc. Er… right. Also, given the date it was created, I wasn’t sure it would work with WP 2.6. Gave it a pass.

2. SimpleLife is display only, no archive. I understand why some people want display only. I just want more.

3. Lifestream (yes, another with the same name) is the newest and seems to work for a lot of people. When I tried it, the formatting was very messed up and I couldn’t figure out where to change it. And it still had the issue of not being in my db.

Twitter Import

4. WP-o-matic is a plugin that pulls RSS feeds from anywhere and imports it into the database. This seemed perfect and I use it for other things on this blog, but it has two issues. One, it is highly temperamental and second, it populates the header and the body with the same content. So the content of a tweet would be the header and the body. Ugh-ly. I guess I could have figured out a way to change the template of a post based on whether it was in the category “In The Moment”, but it felt like complex code and I didn’t venture there.

5. Twitter Tools by Alex King does do a database import. However, it only works for Twitter and it also had the “tweet as header and body” issue.

Besides these plugins there are others that do the same thing including MyBlogLog’s “new with me” feature and the Profilactic WP plugin. I looked at them, but seeing they are all just RSS feeds, I skipped them for the same reason.

If you are looking for a plugin that will display the last 20 tweets or last couple of days of activity, one of these plugins is sure to meet your needs.

Since I was looking for database import (and backup of my dispered data), and a reasonably good presentation of the results, none of the plugins I could find met my needs. I gave up and decided to use Tumblr instead. More to come on the pros and cons of that decision.

To move to Tumblr…

It seems like the whole world is blogging. But that’s hardly the case1. When blogs first started, only the technically equipped could blog. Blogger changed that. But the interface was limited and once Google bought it, innovation on that platform slowed down for a long time. WordPress2 offered people who were slightly technical flexibility. The fact that it is open source meant that user needs quickly drove feature development by the army of users. The power of WordPress and the open source platform is truly brilliant and is something I’ve noted before. But many (me included) are finding that maintenance is a fair amount of work. And the complexity ratchets up with every plugin that’s installed.

I blogged privately on Blogger for years before I decided to switch to WordPress and blog publicly. I chose WordPress because of the flexibility, the ability to host it on my own url and because it was completely free. But over time, it has become a pain to manage the various plugins and the upgrades. In addition, something as simple as a template change is real work because things break. So I’ve stuck with what I have even if I don’t love it.

Tumblr is the new face of simplicity and elegance and is a great platform for blogging. It is quick, it is easy, it is clean and the UI – both for the poster and for the reader – is a sheer joy to work with. It has no sidebar and no plugins (that I know of). The blogger can change templates and colors on a daily basis if she wants – it is a much better alternative to the population that would otherwise choose Blogger.

The lack of thousands of widgets – really, the lack of choice and therefore the lack of complexity – is what makes Tumblr great. It forces you to be simple and focus on the content.

Let’s say that I am sold. Let’s even say that I am willing to give up plugins I like (such as Subscribe To Comments) in order to make my life easier. Can I switch to Tumblr?

The answer is a resounding NO. For one big reason – I cannot migrate my content to Tumblr.

I want my blog to contain all my posts – the content and the comments. This would require the ability to “import” my WordPress blog into tumblr, something almost every other blogging platform allows. Should it be doable? Yes. Is it doable? No. Or not yet. I have no idea whether this is on the roadmap or not, but until it is, I, and others like me who desperately want to, can’t move to Tumblr even though we want to.

Tumblr is late to the game in terms of blogging software. And while they may get a large percentage of those who are just starting3,  a lot of people have blogs already. A few will be willing to cut over in order to avoid the hassle, but most, even those with little traffic, will want all their posts and comments moved over. Tumblr should bring their “easy, clean, and beautiful” approach to this problem and solve it. I am sure it will have a big impact on adoption. I’ll be the first in line.

  1. In fact, just this week, I told three very smart eBay colleagues that they should be blogging 

  2. I’m ignoring TypePad in this discussion since it won’t affect the discussion 

  3. I recommended that all three folks use Tumblr 

Tumbling on WordPress

Tumblr has an incredibly easy user interface. Right from the signup process on, things are very simple . In addition to working great, it looks wonderful – clean and elegant. And there are a number of cool features that make re-blogging something very easy.

For example, the “Share on Tumblr” bookmarklet allows you to quickly share a photo, a quote, a link, chat or a video. And all from the page you are on, without having to log in to your blog at all.

This is a big deal for me. I often see something I’d like to share quickly with a comment attached, but the thought of having to log into my blog, compose, copy and paste the link etc. makes the bar too high for a quick post.

I could move to a Tumblr blog to get this feature, but I really like a lot of the WordPress plugins that I use (and want to keep). So I did a quick search for Tumblr and WordPress and what do I find? A plugin that does the exact same thing as the “Share on” bookmarklet.  Called QuickPost, the plugin looks and works great.

Another reason I love WordPress.