|Tumblr vs Posterous: quick blogging showdown|
|Friday, 12 March 2010 16:58|
Online blogging tools that are designed to make things as easy as possible for anyone to publish online have been around at least a decade and, by now, "blogging" is well-established as a popular form of one- or few-to-many publishing. But a new crop of tools aims to make things even easier by enabling individuals to quickly share several types of common content with others.
There isn't an accepted name for this type of content. If Wordpress et al are used for what we traditionally think of as "blogging," and Twitter is "micro-blogging," these new tools represent something in between those two extremes. Because the focus of these platforms is on easy, quick sharing of content with a group of peers or "followers," I've settled on the term "quick blogging."
(Tumblr, refers to its content as a "tumblog," leading to the terms "tumblogging" or "tumble blogging," but that's too product-centric; e.g. "kleenex" vs "tissue.")
Quick blogging tools are characterized by two main features that set them apart from more traditional blogging tools. One is a focus on specific types of content. Instead of every post being a generic entity, with the author responsible for including the necessary media and formatting, quick blogging tools allow you share specific items like quotes, photos, videos, and links. Each type of item is automatically presented in a suitable format for its content type, and it's possible to use type-specific styling in pre-made or custom templates.
Another main feature is the ease and speed in which the platforms allow users to post new items for others to view. In most cases, items can be posted in as little as two clicks—though there are differences in the two main platforms, Tumblr and Posterous, that we examine here. In fact, the differences in sharing options are a sticking point, which may lead you to choose one service over another.
In this corner...
The first quick blogging service to hit the scene was Tumblr. Created by developer Marco Arment,
Tumblr quickly caught on with a number of my peers in the tech
community. It also powers sites such as This
is why you're fat, and even Newsweek has a "tumble
blog". It's easy to set up and easy to use, both with a
Tumblr is perhaps best characterized by its clear delineation of content, attention to design, and the myriad ways to get content into a blog. Central to the Tumblr concept is the content type. Of course, you can choose the "text" type for a more traditional blog post. However, you can also choose photo, audio, or video to share media; or quote, link, or chat to share quick snippets of text. Each option has context-sensitive information you can add; for a photo you can add a caption, for a link you can add a title and optional description, and for a quote you can add a source with an optional link.
Editing posts is done via the Dashboard. Click the type of
content you want to add, and the editing interface appears,
presenting the necessary options for the content type you've
chosen. If you choose photo, audio, or video, you can upload
content directly or link to content elsewhere on the web. When
editing, you can use either a WYSIWYG editor, plain text editor
where you can also enter custom HTML, or you can edit using
WYSIWYG editor is very nice, though I did find it frustrating that
switching into HTML mode and switching back to WYSIWYG mode would
sometimes expunge any extra tags added for spacing (e.g.
In addition to the Dashboard, you can also use a "Share on Tumblr" bookmarklet, which I found to be quite useful. It automatically parses the current page for relevant things to share, such as photos and links. You can also select a passage of text before clicking on the bookmarklet, and the passage can be used as a quote or a summary for a link.
Tumblr supports a wide variety of other posting methods as well. You can create posts via e-mail or SMS message sent to a special e-mail address, or by sending an instant message via AIM to TumblrBot. You can create an audio post by calling a toll-free number and leaving a voicemail message. You can also post via an iPhone app or Mac OS X Dashboard widget. In addition, Tumblr has a very mature API, so you can use a number of third-party blogging tools or even create your own.
It's also possible to pull in content automatically via RSS feeds, so you can aggregate content from any other blog or social site that provides a feed. This can be especially powerful when combined with a tool like Yahoo Pipes. For instance, I have a pipe that filters all the posts that I write for Ars from our RSS feed, which are added as links with summaries to my blog. Web consultant Joe Lazarus created a pipe specifically to generate a nicely formatted list of your top five weekly artists from Last.fm to share via Tumblr. Users willing to experiment with feeds or pipes will find the possibilities are limitless.
Taking a page out of the social network playbook, Tumblr also lets users "like" posts, and you can also "follow" people whose blogs you like to read. Each post can have notes, which will tell you who reblogged or liked certain posts. Other users that you follow will show up the the sidebar of you blog, and their posts will be consolidated into your dashboard.
Design is another key part of the Tumblr experience, and having a nicely designed blog is as simple as choosing from a wide variety of templates available. There are dozens of free ones you can choose directly from the "customize" settings, and if you are CSS-savvy, you can easily create your own. If you're looking for something a little less common but don't have the design chops, there is a healthy marketplace of Tumblr templates, and you can often have a design customized for an additional fee.
Posterous is the second such quick blogging service to pop up in
the last year or so. Like Tumblr, it has a clean—if plain by
comparison—design, is easy to set up, and easy to use. In fact, all
that's needed to get started on Posterous is an e-mail—just send
E-mail is the preferred, and main way to add content to a
Posterous blog. In fact, if you are logged in to Posterous and
click the "New Post" link, it opens an email to
You can attach files to an e-mail, and Posterous will automagically do really cool things with them. Attach an image, and Posterous will automatically size it and post it. Attach multiple images, and Posterous will generate a gallery with thumbnails. Attach an MP3 or video file, and Posterous embeds a player in the post. Attach Word docs or PDFs, and Posterous will make a post with download links.
Sharing videos from other sites, like YouTube, DailyMotion, Hulu, or even TED Talks, is just as easy (maybe easier) than uploading your own. Just e-mail a link to the video, and Posterous will generate the proper embedding code.
Like Tumblr, Posterous has a "Share on Posterous" bookmarklet. Like Tumblr's bookmarklet, it will scrape the page for potential things to share, such as photos, videos, and text. Unlike Tumblr's tool, which opens a small popup window, the Posterous bookmarklet opens a new view overlaid on top the original webpage you are sharing. That can make tweaking your post difficult in some situations, since you can't easily switch back and forth from Posterous and the original webpage.
Posterous also makes an iPhone app called PicPosterous. However, it is only designed for uploading photos and videos from your iPhone. If you want to make other posts, you'll have to use Mail.
In fact, Posterous is almost religiously tied to using e-mail for posting. "We think email is the best way to publish online," reads the company's help page. "You have it at home, work, and on your mobile device. It's integrated into all the applications you already use. And you can attach any and all files for easy posting."
While e-mail is easy to use—almost everyone knows how to send an e-mail—there are times when e-mail isn't always the most practical way to post something. Getting the formatting of certain kinds of content can be difficult, as can mixing text with photos, videos, or other media. Offering posting via e-mail is great—it's one of Tumblr's many options—but relying on it almost solely is a disadvantage in our experience.
However, Posterous also has a number of ways to automatically share content with a number of popular online services, which it calls "autopost." Posts can be automatically posted to Facebook or Twitter, for instance. You can also automatically mirror posts on other blogs, like Wordpress, TypePad, and Live Journal, or any other blog that uses the MetaWeblog API.
Autoposting is also context-sensitive. Photos can be automatically posted to Facebook, Flickr, or Picasa. Videos can be automatically uploaded to YouTube or Vimeo. And links can be automatically added to your Delicious account.
You can have all your Posterous posts autoposted to all relevant
sites, or you can choose individual services by tweaking the e-mail
address you send the post to.
Custom themes are relatively new for Posterous. Prior to offering themes just a few months ago, all Posterous blogs looked the same, and the design was rather spartan. However, the company wisely created its custom theme system to be compatible with Tumblr's—many custom Tumblr themes can be used with Posterous with little or no tweaking. And while the company is beginning to make more free themes available, most of the default options are pretty bland. In this regard, Tumblr's "Theme Garden" is vastly superior.
And the winner is...
Both Tumblr and Posterous offer similar feature sets. In
addition to offering users easy ways to share a variety of content,
both services let users create multiple blogs, create group blogs,
and make password-protected blogs. You can use custom domains, so
instead of using
In Tumblr's favor are the myriad options for posting, including Web, e-mail, iPhone app, phone call, desktop blogging apps, and more. Tumblr also has a certain design flair that isn't evident in Posterous, and certainly has more, and more interesting, themes to choose from. And, some may prefer Tumblr's clear separation of content types and multiple options for text editing.
In Posterous' favor are its ease of posting via e-mail, and the especially clever auto-uploading and auto-formatting of attached media. If you post strictly audio or video files, your Posterous RSS feed can also act as a podcast feed. These advantages may appeal to users who focus on a lot of media, such as photographers, music bloggers, or podcasters. Posterous still has a fairly spartan design aesthetic, though the developers are working to address that with new themes and Tumblr compatibility. And some users may appreciate not thinking about content type so much as just getting it posted online.
In my use, though, Tumblr ultimately won out. After a few weeks, Posterous use waned to nothing, while the "tumblog" that I created for review is still in active use. It's hard to describe the difference, because it is more of an unconscious feeling than a purely rational decision.
Tech entrepreneur Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry recently opined that the difference is that Posterous is "engineered" whereas Tumblr is "designed." I can't think of a better way to explain it. Though Posterous is perfectly functional, Tumblr is more satisfying to use.
What are your thoughts and experiences?
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