Posts tagged tumblr

On Tumblr and independence

If you have been a close reader of this website, you may know that for the past twelve years I had been using Tumblr as a sort of administrative backend for my posts, pretty much cloning my Found Objects tumblr with just a dash of Flickr, Twitter, and Instagram, and quite rarely some text posts written directly to this website's SQL database. I took to Tumblr, and the whole principle of tumblelogging, almost at once, and wholeheartedly. Back in 2007, not only was posting to Tumblr revolutionary in its ease and instantanaiety, but the idea of having differently-formated posts according to their type was something I could never let go of again.

I'm not going to narrate Tumblr's woes over the years. While the final nail in Tumblr's coffin might have been its "porn ban", in which new owners Verizon killed the service's reputation as a safe space and as the last large scale indie web host in a bid to please the reactionary moralists in charge of the Apple App Store, for me Tumblr started to die a few months earlier, when GDPR compliance totally broke its API and nobody at Tumblr seemed to care to fix things. So talk about setting fire to a sinking ship.

Which is a shame. I was proud to affect found.tumblr.com, a good URL I got offers for every now and then during Tumblr's heyday, and I loved the ethos of an old school, no real-name policy, social web host that not only tolerated porn but, most importantly, did so as a side effect of offering an haven to the oppressed and bullied on the rest of the Commercial Web — queer people, social activists, lonely and misundertood teenagers, what have you. Tumblr offered sanctuary for the weird, the frisky, and the melancholic, very much like Geocities (another Yahoo casualty) or LiveJournal once did. Now it does not. Refugees may learn to setup their own host, or migrate to the Fediverse or Google Docs (really) to stay social. I'm really rooting for Mastodon to take off, so that places online where the "free" in "free speech" also means "freedom from hatred" can still exist. So I'm watching that space. As for here, I finally took the time to code a small backend so I can continue posting stuff without going through Tumblr. It's a somewhat sad way for my website to regain its independence. Tumblr served me well. Onwards!

The Secret Lives of Tumblr Teens

Even though I’m a long-standing Tumblr user, starting in the paleolithic age of early 2007, back when Tumblr was a small beta website in the age of Friendster and Hi5, I have to admit I’ve always had minimal interaction with Tumblr as a community, and such interactions have over the years mostly consisted of sparse likes and discarding private messages asking me to give up my beloved found username in exchange for a number of followers (how does such an exchange even work?) or more faves or whatever I can well do without.

Therefore it was fascinating to read this long article on Tumblr teens, which are mostly of the alienated variety that thrives under perceived anonymity, therefore the kind of kids that would have been building Geocities websites were they born 15 years earlier; but also, in a turbocapitalist twist, the kind of kids that fall for the Get Rich Quick schemes standing for contemporary Web Marketing (eg. affiliated links, clickbaiting, clickfraud, & etc.) and thus find themselves locked out of their own websites for infringing Tumblr or Google Advertising’s less-than-transparent ‘rules’ (or perhaps arbitrary and somewhat fraudulent on their own, even). It must be noted I find such measures equally deserved and nauseating: on one hand some kind of retribution from On High being served upon the brats that tricked other kids into buying sketchy diet pills in exchange of too much money and a temporary taste of Los Angeles’ glamour; on the other hand the crime of deleting a kid’s website, perhaps the very activity that brings meaning to the kid’s life, perhaps a meaning most of us won’t ever find in an activity, therefore a small (in the unfortunate context of world affairs) but certain violation of human rights.

All over these nine years Tumblr has mostly been for me a very convenient way to blog on my own website, as I’ve been using its API in order to sync posts to my own web host almost from day one. It’d be sad if found were to be deleted someday (or Tumblr ended API support), but my stuff would always still exist somewhere, both online and in regular offline backups. And herein lies the lesson: online, Big is Bad. Big users with big followers will suddently cash in and serve diet pill advertisements (or maybe ads loaded will malware). Big services with big users will suddently pull the plug, either because they don’t feel like sending that paycheck, or because a picture post once contained a nipple, or because that big service turns out to be insolvent and abruptly disappears one day. Big goes against the grain of what makes the web great.

Stay small.

I can’t explain why I like this. Suddently I hope someone would actually write a Tumblr client for the Atari 2600 as they did a Twitter client for the ZX Spectrum. I actually had a 2600 when I was a kid, a few year after I had my Spectrum. It rocked my world despite the much poorer graphics and sound (if such a thing is possible), because the games loaded instantly.

My fastest machine ever. (via Topherchris)

The tumblelog conundrum

Yesterday Tumblr rolled out yet another improvement to their free ‘tumblelogging’ service — the ability to read ‘tag channels’ in your Dashboard, which you can filter by popularity in realtime. I immediately said ‘Wow!’ and found it very cool from a software development standpoint (an aesthetic appreciation my recently academic studies has been sharpening). But still, there was that old part of me that just said:

“Hey, whoa! Wait a minute!”

There’s much to be loved about Tumblr. I happily jumped onboard two-and-a-half years ago, right at the launch. I’ve seen this webservice grow, adding a ton of features in the meantime without losing focus. One of the reasons I like it so much probably doesn’t make much sense: Tumblr is made in New York, not in California, so somehow something has passed into its design and software engineering that I find more appealing to my European sensibility than similar services from the Far West. But there’s another, double-edged reason. When recommending Tumblr to people (which I do, a lot), I tell them “in a nutshell, it’s blogging for lazy people”. I’m lazy, so that’s a great reason. I don’t blog much, and would blog even less if there were no ‘bookmarklets’ or whatever you call them. So in way, the greatest reason for my enthusiasm about Tumblr is the bookmarklet.

If you are one of the two persons who visited If Then Else a few years ago and still do, you know that shortly after I signed up for my Tumblr account my blogging style changed dramatically. It may have taken a couple of years for me to get everything smoothy integrated, but essentially since 2007 If Then Else was ‘possessed’ by my ‘tumblelogging’, and what used to be a text-heavy blog became something quite different, a somewhat random collection of text, yes, but also photos, links, quotes and videos (I never had much care for chats and audio posts), not a web-journal anymore but some cross between a certain 1990s ideal of what an ‘e-zine’ should be and a chaotic Robot Wisdom-esque mess updated for the broadband age (mind you, when I started If Then Else in 2001 it was still costumary for a webdesigner to ensure a webpage’s ‘weight’ was below 50KB — or else people would get fed up with the loading time). In effect, If Then Else became a clone — diligently mirrored by a cronjob I put on its server — of my Found Objects tumblelog.

While If Then Else sports different visuals, a six years deeper archive, a photologue (itself a similar clone of my Fotologue account — I never liked Flickr, so I went Far East rather than West), a pretty pristine hand-coded comment system and some of the other knick-knacks old weblogs usually have, Found Objects ‘follows’ and is ‘followed’, and there are ‘notes’ (that is, ‘likes’ and ‘reblogs’) instead of comments. If Then Else won’t get out much, its best feature is perhaps the RSS feed, which allows people to read it without ever visiting the sorry-ass website a second time. But the party never stops in Tumblelogueland, where people like posts and posts get liked, where reblogs are conduits throughout which content gets pushed and memes gets traced. It’s Web 1.0 versus Web 2.0, my host versus their server.

This is the great trend of the late noughts Internet: centralization. Unless you are an A-lister, your own private, hand-or-Dreamweaver-coded website means squat. Sure you can put a portfolio online on your own host — and you should, as a courtesy for those who google you or so that you can have your vanity address written on the back of your business card —, but all the action’s at Behance, and that’s the place where you should put your stuff. In a sense, we’re back in the old BBS days, and the early Web was a crazy anarchic phenomenon that wasn’t fit to last. Why should I bother building my own spaces if nobody visits them, and people get their dose of whatever Ed is up to in the places everybody lists what they are up to?

I guess the answer lies at the beginning of this rant. While the means to filter huge amounts of information like the ‘tag channels’ are undeniably cool, and somehow meet the romantic promises of early information futurisms such as Vannevar Bush’s Memex, the flipside to the content-sharing cultures of places like Tumblr and Facebook is that nobody’s actually creating anymore. A ‘reblog’, while interesting as a meme-tracing construct, gives us an illusion of production through consumption, and in the end many weblogs and tumblelogs, in their quest for ‘new’ content every day hour become someone else’s parrot so they can improve their ‘tumblarity’ — a Tumblr feature I really dislike, as it introduces a competitiveness that encourages mindless reblogging as original posts are harder to do.

This is why I believe keeping your own, let’s say ‘Web 1.5’, site is still important: It’s your space, so you keep it neat and clean.

Cassette Tuesday, a tumblelog about those lost days when copying music was a labour of love.