Personal Technology

May 30, 2013 5:24 pm

Tumblr raises the bar for self-expression

Tumblr

If a tweet or Facebook post falls short in fulfilling your need to express yourself, Tumblr could be the answer. Yahoo put the microblogging tool in the spotlight with its $1.1bn acquisition this month but alternatives include WordPress, RebelMouse and OverBlog.

If Facebook is about communicating with friends and Twitter is about broadcasting brief thoughts to the world, Tumblr is all about exploring your creative side quickly and easily.

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Using Tumblr feels both richer and more chaotic than either of those social media rivals, thanks to the way it actively encourages you to use a variety of media. There is an A-to-Z of thousands of blogs to discover, ranging from a conventional offering from chef and TV personality Anthony Bourdainto the outlandish Zombie Apocalypse.

Tumblr shares a number of similarities with Twitter, including being able to find a stream of posts about a person or subject by just typing in a tag such as “Beyoncé” or “Chelsea”. 

Users’ blog posts can be tracked in the same way as tweets, by adding them to your “feed”. I found people I wanted to follow by allowing Tumblr to search my Facebook friends and email contacts to see if they had Tumblr blogs. I can locate more blogs of interest under a Spotlight tab that groups them by category.

Once followed, blogs are blended into a long string of posts that are a mish-mash of seven types of media: photos, videos, quotes, links, chats, audio and mini-blog posts. After you have chosen from a range of themes that personalise your own blog, each of these formats can be initiated using icons on a mini-dashboard along the top of the Tumblr page when you first sign in or set up your blog. By clicking on any of the icons, an editing window opens for photos to be dragged in, links pasted or, for example, music added by finding a track through a search box. You can reblog other people’s posts by adding them to your blog with a click – in fact, many people collect blog posts they like as if they were Pinterest picture pins. Users can also “like” posts just as on Facebook.

Of course, Tumblr does not have a monopoly on microblogging. OverBlog is popular in Europe and gaining admirers in the US. Its blogging tools are similar to Tumblr’s, making it easy to click on icons and add text, photos, video, audio and even a map of where you are. Users can also add comments to your posts, a feature not supported directly in Tumblr.

Rebelmouse

OverBlog’s biggest difference from Tumblr is the ability to fill out the timeline of your blog by aggregating all your social streams. So, along with my blog posts in OverBlog, I was able to see my posts in Tumblr too, my tweets, Foursquare check-ins, Facebook posts, Instagram photos and a number of other services. But the adding of social streams is part of a premium package that costs $5 a month.

Similar to OverBlog is RebelMouse, (above) which has fewer social feeds to plug into your blog but is free and has an attractive Pinterest-style grid design for pinning and dragging around your posts.

Wordpress logo

For professional blogs, WordPress is hard to beat – the Financial Times blogs, including Techblog, run on the platform. Here, the dashboard is much more detailed and elements such as pictures, video and quote boxes can be positioned more precisely when combined with text. More customised plug-ins can be added to append features and improve the look.

I still have a few blogs on Blogger.com, the functionality of which has improved since Google acquired the service from Evan Williams, co-founder
of Twitter.

Meanwhile, Mr Williams’ new venture, Medium, has perhaps the most intuitive blogging interface when it comes to composing long-form posts, although the site, for now, has been limited to certain noted bloggers.

Planet of the Apps
Chris Nuttall selects his favourite from the latest crop of apps

What it is: Dragon Notes ($20, Windows 8)

Why you should try it: I love using the conversational search in Google’s Chrome browser, in which spoken requests receive a spoken reply. While Dragon Notes, a pricey app, does not talk back it will convert up to 30 seconds of speech to text. Ending with a command to “search the web” then produces a page of results on Bing, Microsoft’s search engine. Other commands will send the text straight to Twitter, Facebook and email.

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