In late 2001, early 2002, I was looking at MovableType for the first time. Published in October 2001 by a Californian couple, husband and wife, the MovableType framework looked like a promising alternative for blogging, compared to what I had been using until then, a CGI script suite called Greymatter. Textpattern, Wordpress, not to mention Blogger, LiveJournal, were not heard of around this time.
MovableType had all the modern features you wanted from a blogging software in these days: It could upload and insert pictures, and you could modify the layout and styles for your blog, so you wouldn’t be stuck with the presentation the developer had in mind for you. To be fair, Greymatter would let you modify the looks too, but it didn’t seem to be as elegant as MovableType.
I wanted to switch, but I had no clue about coding. I could barely code HTML, let alone deal with CSS styles. For all I knew, CSS was this new thing that would enable designers to style their fonts on websites. Needless to say, it didn’t take long for me to not only realize the full potential of CSS, but also understand its underlying principle, which would change the Web and the way we thought about design entirely.
Blogs and tumble logs—where’s the difference?
For some of you, even the title of this post may sound old. Vivid discussions about life streams, life feeds and the like, and their comparison with micro blogging or blogging in general have been all over the blogosphere. Saying life streams are the new blog seems as obvious as saying digital photography has won over traditional film and paper.
All geekery set aside, while you may well be into blogging, you may dig Twitter and you posted to your first tumble log, when some people, who are coding websites today, were just entering college—to the majority of people using the Web today, micro blogging and life streams are complete strangers.
It has not become mainstream yet, and truth to be told, it probably never will be. Whereas blogging was a relatively simple revolution – a comprehensible change in media behavior, even TV networks would get it after a while – micro blogging and life streams are just two entirely new animals. Many among you will ask: “What’s the difference? I post a long story, which is a blog post, or a short story, which is micro blogging”. That’s as far people will take it, if you are lucky. We are talking about the common crowd here, people who are looking at websites as just another media channel to have fun with.
Why do I believe it will never become mainstream? Because it caters to a special kind of crowd, with a special kind of audience, who is constantly expanding its horizon, restless on its search for cool pictures and personal tidbits.
I may be wrong, but I believe micro blogging is more something you just do, and you don’t have to get what’s the difference to do it right. By the choice of your tool to publish to the world, without remodeling the framework, most people use Tumblr and Twitter just like everybody else. Those services are flexible enough to adjust to your needs, just like blogging, but they are more rigid in their focus on “tell the world what you feel like or what you found”.
It is also the nature of this kind of change that doesn”t screem “change”. It is a follow-up, not a turnaround. Even blogs were not a major turnaround. They were a consequence of the general course the Web had taken around the time of 2000, 2001. Some programmers got tired of manually adding HTML code to their static pages, so they used the tools they had at hand, mainly CGI and later PHP, to automate that process in a structured, automated way, so they could focus on writing and less on making it look pretty.
Dimensions of blogging
Micro blogging brings another level to blogging. While blogging was about bringing out the journalist in all of us, it quickly emerged as the number one source of information flow, of provocative thought causing reaction, comments and ratings, threads leaving the forums and bulliten boards, finally elevating blogs to new magazines, centers revolving around commonly shared interests, such as electronics or technology. Blogs grew even beyond that, filling the void for all those channels who had been big in offline publishing, but who had been on a desperate search for an adequate channel on the Web. Suddenly, publishing on the Web became simple, quick, accessible and manageable.
The layer micro blogging adds to this is twofolded.
For one, it has this disciplinarian character, this ethical code, that everything needs to be short and concise. it is an unwritten law mostly, more clearly defined in some cases. But by definition, micro blogging is what it is because it is even quicker and more to the point than regular blogging.
Second, micro blogging is about finding and posting without second thought. it is a lot like a moleskine notebook with a scrap book-like functionality extension. A micro blog is like a drop-box for your random quotes, thoughts, ideas, worries, moments of brilliance and mundanity.
On that level it is the perfectly shaped tool for people like Stephen Fry. You can tell, the guy dearly loves his Twitter. Micro blogging occupies the blurry area between blogging and text messaging on mobile phones. it is a lot more like a mixture of a treasure box and a direct conversation than a blog, which is related to a journal, or a captain’s logbook.
You can just get blogging software and declare it your tumble log. But of all the free services that are dedicated to simplified tumble logging, Tumblr is likely the most established one.
Tumblr, a never ending stream-canvas
By default, Tumblr doesn’t give you as many options like MovableType or Wordpress. Tumblr provides you with a brilliantly designed canvas, enabling you with the quickest and most accessible publishing tools available today. it is as powerful as any other blog software, but it also restricts you in certain ways you may be used from regular blogging tools. In Tumblr, it is not all about managing media (like in Wordpress) or about adding community features (like in MovableType). it is all about “find, log and forget about it”.
Tumblr’s archive is a simple list of links to previous posts. There are no search by category or tags; there’s no rating and, last but not least – probably the most significant difference – no commenting.
Historically, threads of comments have been the backbone of blogging. If it weren’t for comments, Google wouldn’t have been able to extend it is capability to track contents by rate of interest and interaction. Blogging may be about writing and publishing, but it is commenting that elevates it to a conversation. Comments also make all the difference for authors of blogs, because they remind you someone is actually reading what you are sharing with the world.
One way or the other, the benefits of micro blogging will influence blogging as we know it. If I take a look at current movements, I suspect it has done that already. People will always have a hard time seeing the difference compared to regular blogging, but that’s not the reason why it won’t replace it. It simply serves a different need we all have, because everyone who discovers things in life and on the web loves a simple way to say “look what I found!”, or “hey, I agree to what this guy is saying!”.
I had a tumble log for some years, but after Tumblr made it is API public and opened the gates to imported RSS feeds, I didn’t use it for much more than a life stream. It simply became the streaming-live drop-box of my life. My posts on Twitter, Flickr and Delicious were flowing through the veines of my Tumblr site. And that was all there was to it. I rarely posted something exclusively on Tumblr.
This is about to change, because some time last weekend I decided to introduce changes to my blogging behavior. As you may have noticed, I haven’t posted a new blog entry in some time. And most of the recent entries were about why i didn’t write so much anymore.
Probably like everyone else who is doing similar things I am doing, my life is in constant change. And those changes require an adaption of behavior. I know myself well enough to realize, I won’t write long stories like this one anymore. My wish to maintain a certain degree of quality for my posts on Core Theory kept me from posting random thoughts and findings. For that, I’ll use Tumblr from now on. it is extremely practical, perfectly suited for my current way of life.
I’m not the only one taking this path. A colleague of mine contributed to my decision when he explained to me he simply didn’t have the time to maintain a website and a blog of his own. I keep hearing the same story from everywhere these days.
Don’t worry, I’ll still write on this blog every now and then, but the pressure has been taken out of the need to post great stories every day.
Alternatives to Tumblr
If Tumblr isn’t quite your thing, take a look at Soup, Streem and, even if it has a different philosophy, check out FriendFeed too. And then there are a ton of different ways to post on Twitter and the like.
If you just want to write and forget about the pictures, quotes and quick ideas you encounter on a daily basis, you still have all the blogging power at your fingertips: MovableType (Barack Obama used MovableType for his campaign), Wordpress, Textpattern all provide solid software. Most of it is available for free, if it is for personal use, and provided you are willing to get your hands dirty with code. Wordpress comes in a completely free, ready to go flavor, and MovableType has a commercial turnkey-solution called TypePad.
By the way, I did add comments functionality to my Tumblr site. I love Tumblr’s simplicity, but I also love a great conversation.
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