Over the last few weeks we have been reviewing some of the less known blog sites out there. Time now to review one of the best known. Tumblr.com came to many people’s attention back in 2009 when they closed down a number of blogs criticising David Karp’s (the owner of Tumblr) friend Julia Allison and is today one of the largest blog sites in the world – although still hugely overshadowed by such giants as WordPress and Blogger.
By the way, if you don’t know who Julia Allison is, then you are not missing much. She is one of those people who were first in the queue when God gave out looks, but then got so fascinated with her own reflection in the mirror she forgot to queue up for a brain. The current slogan on her blog is “I wish I had a British accent so everything I said would sound smart”. You would sound even smarter if you wished for a brain.
It is not the first time we are trying out Tumblr. But to give you a proper review we have surgically removed any previous knowledge from our brain and we start from scratch – a little dumber and a little lighter.
So, the Tumblr home screen. What is it all about? That would normally have been a hypothetical question. Not so this time. You see, we are among the many who have abandoned bad weather and high taxes. Not being too keen on revealing our own secret location (a small French speaking country close to Nice) it suffices to say that the Tumblr home page came up in French. Oui, it did indeed, and that was a bit of an Oh là là for us. So we started to look for the language drop down menu. Which wasn’t there. Surely, Tumblr would have taken into consideration that it is possible that someone may be on an IP address outside their home country? People do go on holiday after all – even Americans. But nothing remotely resembling a button to change language was found anywhere. We didn’t really think it would be “connexion” as that did somehow sound a bit like connect or log in. “Inscription” didn’t seem too likely either. That surely would be to order some sort of inscription – a uniquely French feature of Tumblr. My wife suggested that “inscription” could in fact be “sign up”, but she is hardly a master of Latin languages so I told her to leave this to the professionals. Conclusion; no language button on the top part of the page. Surely they have put it in the footer. So I scrolled down. And scrolled down. And down. Down, down, down. Until 15 minutes later I realized that Tumblr is using one of these funny ajax scripts that keep adding to the page as you scroll down. Eventually I clicked a small link that said “Explorez Tumblr” (by this time I was getting pretty annoyed and thought it meant “blow up Tumblr”). And got to a page that actually had an end, where I did indeed in the footer find a link saying “English”. Oh, the hours of fun the guy who thought of putting the language selection tool in the footer of a bottomless front page must have had. I am sure he is still laughing. And I am sure most views on Tumblr is generated by people looking to change the language setting.
Anyway, considerably older and a bit less favourably disposed towards Tumblr, we pressed on. And from here on signing up was easy. Username, email, password – and “how old are you” to which the answer seemed to be “yes, I agree to the terms of service” until you actually clicked on the words “how old are you”. We entered 999,999,999 with which the server seemed to be happy, and perhaps a bit impressed.
The Tumblr dashboard, like the rest of the site, looks and feels very good. Things scroll in and out and change dynamically all the time – without being overly distracting. Big buttons and easy navigation (language selection excluded) seem to have been the mantra.
On top of the dashboard you can click to post texts, images, quotes and links. We clicked “texts” and got a very simple and easy to understand form with a title field, a button to add images and a content field. I would have called it absurdly simple, but that would leave no suitable adjectives to describe posterous.com which we reviewed earlier this week.
Just like Posterous, though, Tumblr takes you on a wild goose chase if you try to use the tab key to get from title to content, the next field in the form. The focus instead goes on to “images”, up to the main menu, disappear off the screen altogether and eventually reappears some time later on the title field carrying many cheap souvenirs and a T-shirt saying “I love Bali”.
I said in my Posterous review that, though seemingly not a big thing, it does say a lot about the audience you are targeting if you spend millions on design and still don’t bother to set the right tab order. Both sites are clearly not targeting users who know what the tab key is for. To me this is the sort of thing that separates a “simple blog for the people” from a “blog for simple people”.
So already we see that Tumblr is competing for the lower end of the blog market – the endless masses who really know very little about web design and HTML code. But there are some significant differences between Posterous and Tumblr. Tumblr lets you easily change the alignment of your blog images, for example, and you can set your own image description and modify the image dimensions. While Posterous is for retarded people, Tumblr seems to be for normal people who just doesn’t know so much.
Tumblr is by no means perfect, though, even if this is your first blog. The messed up tab order has already been pointed out, but it gets worse. When you preview your blog post, for example, it pops up in a separate tab. There is no “approve” button so you actually have to close down the new tab to publish it. And if you, like us, didn’t realize that a new tab popped up, you may be rather frustrated after 45 seconds of searching for an “approve” or “publish” link. In fact new tabs seem to be a plague of Tumblr. During the time we tested, at least 9 new tabs popped up. Often at random times. Sometimes when you approved a post, for example, it showed in a new tab. Sometimes it didn’t.
And even though we had set our language to English, after a few days of frustrated search, all the blog posts of other people that showed on the dashboard were in French. And it got worse. To change the blog layout, for example, you have to click the link for account settings, and then find the “customize your blog” link which looks suspicious like a submit button for the account details below. The theme selection is nice, but after you select a new theme, there is no button or link to return to your dashboard. So you have to use the back button a few times. Any site that forces the user to use his browser’s back button, is badly designed.
And then for the Tumblr coup de grâce. After you change the blog theme and finally manage to return to your dashboard, it all looks the same. No change at all. “I must have screwed it up”, you think and try to change again. Account settings, change layout, change theme, select theme, save, back, back, back. Nothing. Scream out four letter words and try again. Click, click, click, click, click, back click, back click, back click. More four letter words, hit screen, bang head against wall.
You see, the Tumblr dashboard looks like it has your blog in the middle. It sort of hasn’t. It has a version of your blog in the standard layout in the middle. To actually see your blog with its new layout, you have to click your blog’s name – which will most likely be “Untitled” – on the top menu, which gives you the same page again but with a button on top that says “Open Untitled”. Then you can see your blog in its new layout.
At this point, when we are getting close to the conclusion part of this review, we have a confession to make. Before we set out to write the review, we had already written the conclusion part. And it was witty and brilliant and went like this:
I have never met David Karp, but if I did I am sure I would hate him. Partly because I hate anyone not directly related to me through marriage or blood. But also partly because anyone who can make a site as beautiful as Tumblr must suffer from OCD. And I don’t like sick people. The last person to have said “why don’t we just get it done” in the Tumblr office is currently buried in Karp’s garden with a stake through his heart. What Tumblr lacks in functionality, it makes up for in user friendlyness.
And so on. But we can’t say that. Not after having reviewed the site from scratch – like someone visiting for the first time. Because while Tumblr may have a lot of nice looking, seemingly user-friendly features, the site isn’t user-friendly at all. Its layout is rubbish. It is as confusing as a Greek tax return form. You can navigate the Northwest Passage quicker and with more ease than Tumblr. The only reason anyone manages to do anything on the site is that they have been on it forever. Probably looking for the “change language” button.
So methinks I might like David. I think I would like to meet him and discuss business with him. Because the man screaming “just get it done” in the Tumblr office isn’t dead and buried after all. It’s David Karp. The site’s a bit shit, though.