A few weeks ago we made the decision to move our blogs off of our own, proprietary platform and on to Tumblr. July 30th, we flipped the switch, and today I want to share with you the things we’ve gained by moving to Tumblr, and the things we’d love to see improved.
Things we’ve gained
I won’t get into the dirty details, but our previous publishing platform used a method of database query and template language that had some great flexibility, but unfortunately it was at the cost of performance. Hopefully you’ve noticed that the new blog is much zippier, because that’s one of the main reasons we made the switch.
Steady feature growth
We may not want to use every new Tumblr feature, but it’s great to see they’re constantly improving their service. We had a big wish list of things we wanted to add to our previous blog, but never had the time to tackle any of the items on that list. With Tumblr, we’ll get to discover great new features as they’re released. And we know that implementation is never more than a few minutes of template updates.
Check your iPhone, Tumblr automatically creates a nice iPhone view, hassle free.
We were pretty pleased with our own administrative system, supporting drafts, queueing up future articles and much more, but we still had to work to get all of our content into the blog. With Tumblr, we have access to a bookmarklet, email based publishing, automatic resizing of uploaded images, and many other convenient ways of pushing content to our blog. Making content publishing easier means we can focus on sharing stuff instead of spending our time figuring out how to get the content in the system.
Audience & social media integration
It’s no secret that Tumblr is pretty popular. Beyond all the fans that we can now connect with on Tumblr itself, we can also use its automatic Twitter and Facebook publishing tools to increase article exposure and save time sharing content with those other networks.
Things that have caused us pain
Moving required us to use the Tumblr URL structure, which is different than what we used on our own platform. While we did move all of the old articles to Tumblr, with no ability to set up URL aliases, if you try to access any articles at their old URLs, you’ll get a 404 error.
Speaking of 404 errors, the way that Tumblr handles templates for pages and errors leaves much to be desired. Templates are pretty basic, and while Tumblr has different output templates for each content type (ie, videos, audio, quotes), it uses the standard ‘Text’ template for everything else, including pages and errors. This complicates things. Since you can’t use the templates to determine if someone is looking at an error page, or a blog entry, you can’t style the pages to fit the needs of the content and the user. There are also no page level variables, which makes it tricky to show users what page they’re on in the menu structure.
While building out our site template, we also ran into an issue with preset image resizingwhich unfortunately only includes 5 fixed sizes, the largest being 500 pixels wide. Our original blog, which we were working to emulate as closely as possible, was 562 pixels wide. This presented a problem since uploading to Tumblr resizes our full width images to 500 pixels wide.
For the launch of our new Tumblr site, we felt this blog width issue would be easy to overcome by hosting full width 562 pixel images on our own server, but it quickly became clear the best long term solution was to shrink the width of our blog for the convenience of utilizing Tumblr’s image controls. We made the switch from 562 to 500 pixels this weekend, but now we have 100+ articles left to go through and reupload our images. Painful stuff, but not as bad as having to recreate all the articles from scratch.
Migration is painful
Tumblr has no tool to automatically import articles from other sources. (One of the alternative platforms we reviewed, poster.us, can import articles from just about anywhere, but we’re not keen on their attitude). Importing 125+ articles by hand, one at a time, and updating image links was not pleasant, and I wouldn’t do it again. (Thankfully there is an export feature, so we have options should we wish to move in the future.)
Traditionally, WYSIWYG editors suck, and the Tumblr editor is no exception. It doesn’t allow for deprecated HTML tags, which is in theory awesome, but in reality we still need to use iframes, and they aren’t considered part of XHTML, so they get stripped. At times, the editor tries to refactor code, sometimes in unexpected ways. ie, wrapping every element in a <p>, which causes unexpected layout issues. While the editor can be disabled for blog posts, the new(ish) page feature doesn’t allow you to circumvent the editor, which caused a few headaches while we were getting everything setup.
On the Web
We learned on launch day that some companies block Tumblr on their work computers, so we lose some of the corporate audience there. That sucks, but we can also expect that the more corporate friendly blogs end up on Tumblr, the more likely we’ll see this ban lifted.
We’re also now beholden to Tumblr’s quality of service and maintenance schedule, which we had more control over when we were hosting the site on our own hardware. Like Gmail and Amazon web services, we’re counting on Tumblr keeping up with their growth and not fail whaling us on a regular basis.
Even though the lists of trouble points is more than double the list of benefits, in reality, the pros far outweigh the cons, and we’re very happy with the move to Tumblr.
As the Tumblr platform evolves and matures, we expect the issues that we have today will be resolved, and we’ll be posting our Tumblr wish list next Tuesday in the hopes that we can help nudge Tumblr in the right direction on a few of these items.
In the meantime, with the most important limitation of moving to the Tumblr platform being importing your existing content, you can really start to take advantage of Tumblr now simply by designing your articles to be 500 pixels wide and encouraging reblogging as a form of sharing content.