What Tumblr Is and How To Use It: A Practical Guide

You may have noticed a lot of people on Twitter grumbling about Tumblr’s outages, the latest of which started on Saturday and have continued, in sometimes day-long chunks, through today. The social network’s problems come at a time when their userbase is growing rapidly, along with their pageviews, though this stumble threatens to curtail that.

“…keeping up with growth has presented more work than our small team was prepared for,” says the staff blog. “But we are determined and focused on bringing our infrastructure well ahead of capacity as quickly as possible.”

If you’re not one of Tumblr’s 7.5 million users, you might not even know what the heck it is or why there’s such a fuss. But for Tumblr addicts, these outages have been like someone snatching away their morning coffee. Why are people so devoted? I’ll try to explain.

Tumblr is a microblogging site that sits somewhere between Twitter and a traditional blog. There are no length restrictions on Tumblr posts, but the culture of the site encourages short updates, and many users stick to this format. The major feature that makes Tumblr stand out is that it divides up posts by type: Text, Photo, Quote, Link, Chat, Audio, and Video.

Depending on the type of post, Tumblr serves up a different template. Photo bloggers are particularly fond of the network, as are fashion bloggers. The company recently hired their first community director for fashion, in fact, highlighting that segment’s importance on the service. If you’re not into fashion, don’t worry. Users aren’t overrun by blogs and photos and content they don’t care about. And there’s more to Tumblr than the latest runway shenanigans.

Just as with Twitter, users must Follow a Tumblr blog to keep up with it. Posts from all your followed blogs show up on the Dashboard (similar to a Facebook Newsfeed) in reverse chronological order. Tumblr makes it easy to Reblog posts, while adding your own commentary, or not. Users can also Like a post. Though there is a way to leave comments natively, most interaction on Tumblr is via Reblogs and Likes. That doesn’t mean there isn’t dialogue, though. Whenever you interact with a post, a little note shows up beneath it informing the original poster and anyone else who comes along who has reblogged or liked the post.

Tumblr makes link-blogging easy. I used to incorporate Delicious links into my blog, but found that limiting. With Tumblr I can put up links and commentary, photos, video, etc., and have it all feed automatically to my main blog’s sidebar.

Magazines are also getting in on Tumblr. Newsweek incorporated Tumblr into the main site, but the blog mostly points back to features and news stories. Still, by embracing the Tumblr culture of short quotes, fun images, and links, the company showed that they didn’t just slap something together. The New Yorker is doing something similar on Tumblr. The blog has issue announcements, weekly To-Do lists, links to features, great photos, as well as former covers.

Thinking about starting your own Tumblr blog? Go to it. It’s free, after all.  But before you run off, check out the helpful tips for using Tumblr below.

Update 6/18/2011: Recently, Tumblr made some major changes to their Dashboard, UI, and services. We’ve updated these tips to reflect those changes and will continue to do so in the future.

Tumblr Tips

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  1. Jesse B Andersen Says:

    Some of Tumblr’s templates look really amazing… That was about the only thing I liked about it. I just didn’t see clear advantages over other services like Blogger.

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