I decided it was time to dive in and see what Tumblr, which was created in 2007, was all about. I didn't want to start another blog, since I already have Modern Confessional and the one I keep for The Venus Trilogy of novels. What the hell would I do with another blog site? Then I started thinking about my London memoir and This City Never Sleeps was born.
Tumblr's main purpose is sharing photos, videos, music, links and short pieces of text or quotes. The majority of users don't publish long pieces of text, but let a photo and caption do the talking. Tumblr is tag driven (i.e. #london, #football, #DavidBowie), so while you can follow Tumblr blogs you like, it's not absolutely necessary to enjoy the experience. But trust me when I say that there are blogs you will want to follow because they are just so cool. If you're posting good photos and such on your Tumblr, people will find you, follow, like and re-blog what you post.
Tumblr is easy to set up. You plug in your email, create a password, choose a url (mine is collinkelley.tumblr.com), pick a template and start posting. Sounds easy, right? Choosing a template and customizing it was the most difficult part for me. There are hundreds to choose from (most are free, but there are premium themes that cost $19 and up) and they are all very, very different. There's no "standard" interface when you're looking at a Tumblr blog – you might have to click on a photo to see the caption or click an icon to like or reblog. That part is a little confusing, but it's also part of the discovery process of using Tumblr and explodes the entire idea of a cookie-cutter experience.
Once you've picked a theme, the dashboard is easy to understand and use. There's a row of clearly marked icons at the top of the dashboard: Text, Photo, Quote, Link, Chat, Audio, Video. Click the icon, pop in your text, upload an image or paste a link from YouTube, create your tags and hit Create Post. Done.
There are actually two separate dashboards: one to see what your followers are posting and one specifically to keep up with what you post and who is liking and reblogging. There is an option called "Ask" where followers can send you a question or short email. You can decide whether to enable this or not, or whether you want to add links to Facebook, Twitter or even your Last.fm station so people can find out more beyond your Tumblr blog.
When someone likes or reblogs something you've posted, it shows up as a Note rather than a comment. For instance, I recently posted a photo of comedy duo French and Saunders and it has 22 notes, which means 22 Tumblr users liked it or posted the picture on their own site. To like something on someone's Tumblr blog, find the little heart icon and click it. To reblog something, click the opposite facing arrows. When you reblog, you have the option to add additional text and tags.
At a recent social media workshop, I got the inevitable question about protecting what you post online. Here's the truth: it's almost impossible, so stop worrying about it. Tumblr's track back of who has liked or re-blogged makes it easier to see how people are disseminating what you post, but in the grand scheme, worrying about theft in the digital age is pointless. As with anything you post, make sure to give your own work attribution and then set it free. The Poetic Asides blog maintained by Robert Lee Brewer posted a great essay from Gabriel Gadfly on using Tumblr to share poetry, copyright theft and more. Read it at this link.
What I love about Tumblr the most is that it doesn't feel like yet another social media chore. When I search for London, my dashboard is filled with gorgeous photos, song clips and quotes about the city. It's fun. I usually post one or two things each day – either something of my own or that I've found in a tag search. And, yes, I've posted some of my poetry.
Tumblr is very popular with teens because it appeals to their need for instant gratification. Lately, Tumblr has been overrun with Harry Potter-related stuff, but there are some gorgeous blogs kept by photographers and art-lovers. Magazines like Vogue, Vanity Fair, Life and Total Film have Tumblr blogs that are more gorgeous than their websites.
Tumblr is sort of like The Matrix – it has to be seen and explored to be fully comprehended. Set up an account and just play around with it. My BFF Donna – who is not a fan of social media – recently set up a Tumblr blog and she's in love with it. She abandoned Twitter, thinks Facebook is a pain in the ass, but Tumblr is right up her alley.