Once upon a time, old-school online diarists — an ancient civilization that hand-coded HTML and updated static pages, uphill, both ways! — decried the rise of the weblog as the beginning of the end.
“There goes the neighborhood,” was the familiar refrain, as publishing stuff on the web became push-button easy. Carefully crafted “stories” gave way to blustery, blurted “posts.” Online portfolios and scrapbooks disappeared under mountains of silly pictures, sillier quizzes, and other miscellanea.
It was that ease of use, of course, that revolutionized personal publishing on the web. It was no longer the realm of wannabe writers and curmudgeonly geeks. For better or worse, millions of people found their voices, began sharing their thoughts, and started making connections.
Yet, blogging could be easier still. And even some of the most prolific bloggers find themselves disenchanted, discouraged by the time and energy required to maintain some level of quality and quantity in their blog posts.
To wit: I often go weeks without posting here at HawaiiBlog, because I’m too much of a perfectionist, because I’m more than a little insecure, and because it’s still a bit of a chore to log in, write, edit, edit, edit, edit, publish, and ping. “I’ll write when I have something worth writing about,” I tell myself… and ultimately write nothing. “I’m not going to be one of those people who blog every stupid thing,” I tell myself… but at least those people are blogging.
Enter tumblelogs. Mini blogs, or micro blogs, or quickie blogs, or as Jason Kottke explains, “a quick and dirty stream of consciousness.”
I admit, the old-school escribitionist in me initially recoiled at the thought. Blogs were “quick and dirty” enough as it is! Now you want to make them even more random and spontaneous?
But then I looked at how I’ve struggled to blog here. And how my ostensibly deeper and more thoughtful online journal now goes a year between updates.
Finally, I remembered that the original weblogs, the first weblogs, weren’t personal journals or political soapboxes at all. They were a log of the web, a record of useful sites and interesting discoveries.
In a sense, a tumblelog is an old-school weblog. And I’m all about old-school geekery.
Unlike its ancestors, though, a tumblelog is a whole lot more than a list of links. It’s chunks of text, notable quotes, and memorable chats. It’s multimedia — great photos and fun videos. A tumblelog is also, often, a whole lot less than a blog. There are generally no cluttered sidebars full of links, buttons, and widgets. There isn’t a lot of commentary — the “tumbled” item speaks for itself. And, almost inconceivably, there are no comments, no runaway debates, and no criss-crossing conversations and trackbacks. Tumblelogs are refreshingly simple, straightforward collections of neat stuff.
Whether I’m randomly browsing the web, catching up on my favorite blogs, or checking out links sent to me by a friend, I probably look at hundreds of things a day. But most of these random items aren’t worth bookmarking (especially since I’m still torn between half a dozen social bookmarking services), and only a tiny fraction of them will be worth blogging about. But with a tumblelog, that random YouTube video or scathing quote is saved and shared in an instant.
The tumblelog bookmarklet is key. Since you’re not expected to write a thesis about every single item, you don’t feel guilty about clicking “Tumble This!” and moving on.
A tumblelog is certainly easier than sending a link to a friend via e-mail or IM. And it’s smarter, too. With a tumblelog, people opt-in to find the stuff I find interesting, instead of getting annoyed by dozens of “check this out!” messages in their inbox.
So, consider me a tumblelog skeptic turned true believer.
My tumblelog is de.sperate.com. And for proof of my fondness for the format, you need look only as far as my wife’s tumblelog, right next door at exa.sperate.com. Other local tumblers include Mitchell, Crissy, Donna, John, and Todd, who was the guy who first introduced me to the concept.
Want to start your own? Tumblr is the dominant player in the tumblelog space, quickly becoming what Blogger was to blogging. It lets you publish your tumblelog on your own domain, and has some simple social network features on the back end (so you can easily track other users of the service). If you want to run something locally, check out Ozimodo, Gelato, and Bazooka.
Note that some people are using the Tumblr service as a feed aggregator rather than a tumblelog. It works well enough in that capacity, I suppose, collecting your blog posts and Flickr photos and the like in one place. But I think Tumblr’s strength is in creating online scrapbooks of wonderful things — random and new discoveries, rather than recycled content.
There are several other services devoted to aggregating your various feeds to create “lifestreams,” and I hope to tell you about them… as soon as I find the time to blog again.