Offering asides, recommended links, blogworthy quotations, and more, In Brief is the Northwest Progressive Institute's microblog of world, national, and local politics.

Aside

Ten problems that Tumblr needs to fix

We began using Tumblr to publish In Brief more than two and a half years ago. In that time, Tumblr’s popularity has increased on a massive scale, but the company has not innovated as we hoped it would when we began this microblog.

What follows is a list of ten major problems we’d like Tumblr to fix in 2012 so it can be a better blogging platform. 

Problem Number One: Tumblr is prone to downtime. Sometimes even prolonged downtime… though this has only happened on a few occasions. Most outages are short, and sometimes an outage only affects the API. But they keep happening. One outage is an outage too many. It seems that Tumblr needs to invest in better infrastructure that can fail more gracefully. 

Problem Number Two: Tumblr accounts are tied to tumblelogs. Tumblr claims this is a feature; we beg to differ. When someone creates a Tumblr account, Tumblr automatically creates a tumblelog for that new user, even if he or she doesn’t want one. Worse, these automatically-created personal tumblelogs cannot be made private, and they do not allow for multiple authors. It’s possible to set up a second tumblelog which can have multiple authors, but it’s not possible to make it the default for posting… which means that any group of people primarily wishing to use Tumblr for social or team blogging have to remember to specify to which tumblelog their posts should go… every single time they want to publish something. Tumblr has hinted in its documentation that this is unlikely to change anytime soon

Problem Number Three: Tumblr eats photo posts created with its “Share This” bookmarklet if the photo URL begins with HTTPS prefix. (HTTPS = Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure). Attempting to reblog a photo from secure.flickr.com, for example, will always fail… Tumblr will maddeningly make the post disappear into cyberspace. Manually reblogging a photo that lives at a URL with an HTTPS prefix will also fail from the Dashboard as well, though the post-in-progress will not be lost (Tumblr will simply refuse to publish it).

Problem Number Four: Tumblr’s “Share This” bookmarklet does not work reliably or consistently in all the major browsers. It does seem to work predictably in Firefox and Opera, but not Chrome (yuck)/Chromium, or Internet Explorer.

Problem Number Five: Tumblr’s “People you know” feature (which supposedly allows you to find your contacts from Yahoo, AOL, MSN, or Hotmail) rarely works. Tumblr’s own support representatives have admitted to us, “it does just work inconsistently.” But there’s no disclaimer to that effect in Tumblr’s dashboard, so users get no upfront warning that it’s really buggy. To make matters worse, the error message produced when the feature doesn’t work is cryptic and unhelpful: “Oops! Your login info didn’t go through.” 

Problem Number Six: Tumblr claims its themes are fully customizable to the nth degree. “Nothing you don’t want”, the company proclaims on its Why Tumblr? page. “Tumblr doesn’t force any ads, banners, or logos into your theme.” Perhaps not, but Tumblr does forcibly embed a Google Analytics tracking widget into all tumblelogs… and there’s no way for Tumblr users who don’t want it (like us) to remove it. Even those who use custom domains can’t get rid of Google Analytics. 

Problem Number Seven: Tumblr doesn’t have a decent commenting system. Sure, it’s possible to like a post and reblog it, and tumblelogs can accept questions from readers. But there is no native commenting system. Tumblr advises users who want traditional comment threads to install Disqus. That’s a cop-out. A grown-up blogging platform should have commenting built in.

Problem Number Eight: Tumblr hasn’t updated its BlackBerry mobile application in months. It isn’t compatible with any of Research in Motion’s newest smartphones, including the Bold 9300/9330 or the Torch 9850/9860. Tumblr also lacks a BlackBerry PlayBook app, but this is nowhere near as annoying, since Tumblr’s own site works fine on the PlayBook’s larger screen and capable web browser. But BlackBerry smartphones have smaller screens, so a native application makes it much easier to post links, asides, and other miscellany. 

Problem Number Nine: In its Goodies area, Tumblr offers a Tumblr Backup desktop program (which can be used to download “a complete copy of your most important data”), but it only works on Apple’s Macintosh operating system. Tumblr has long claimed that a Windows version is in the works, but it hasn’t delivered. And GNU/Linux users apparently don’t matter at all. What’s the deal with that? 

Problem Number Ten: The Tumblr post editor window is not resizable. On computers with large screens, this is a major annoyance.

Perhaps the biggest problem we have with Tumblr, though, is that it is only offered as a service. WordPress, which we use for long-form blogging, is both a service and free software, released under the GNU GPL. It can be customized, extended, and hacked in addition to being themed. 

WordPress is on the verge of being able to offer just about all of the features that make Tumblr distinctive and unique in addition to retaining its strength as a versatile content management system and long-form blogging platform. 

For instance, in just the past year and a half… 

WordPress also has its own bookmarklet (Press This) and mobile apps for BlackBerry, iOS, Windows Phone, and Android. 

If Tumblr was free software like WordPress, we’d run it and use it on our own servers. Unfortunately, it’s not… and the pace at which it is improving seems glacial. If Tumblr doesn’t get its act together in short order, it will start losing users. Like us. We’re ready to move In Brief to WordPress when it equals Tumblr as a microblogging platform… which we can see happening in 2012.