The Paradox of ‘Tumblogging’

Over the weekend I started following some more Tumblr accounts via their RSS feeds, and I reminded of the odd nature of blogging on that platform.

[As an aside, I’ve been active myself on Tumblr several times over the years, so I’ve seen both sides, creation and consumption.]

On the face of it, Tumblr has a lot of good things. It is quick and easy to set up and customise a blog, the editor works well, and it has built-in support for audio and video content. Plus, as I mentioned at the top, most blogs have an RSS feed that you can subscribe to from elsewhere, so you don’t necessarily have to join Tumblr in order to follow someone.

And that’s where the downsides start to appear. You’ll note that I said most blogs, not all blogs. While Tumblr is notionally an open service, it becomes considerably less open if you’re blogging anything remotely adult in nature. At that juncture, you’re encouraged to declare that your blog is ‘adult’, meaning that access to your content is constrained to logged-in Tumblr users and may not even be visible to search engines. (While these steps are voluntary, Tumblr reserves the right to take them for you if it so chooses.)

The other downsides are more subtle in nature. First and foremost, the nature of commenting on posts in Tumblr is very odd if you’re used to just about any other blogging platform. To comment, you must ‘reblog’ the post, which creates an onion-skin appearance around it with your comments as the outer layer. Multiple comments will lead to posts with so many layers that the original content may not even be viewable, it has been buried so deep.

Then there is the editor, which is great for writing a first draft but lousy for editing as — at least when I was using the service — it tends to convert everything into HTML code. I really hope that under the stewardship of Automattic this has improved.

Finally, the aforementioned RSS feeds usually display post content in full, but occasionally I’ve had to click through to the actual post to see everything. I’ve no idea why this happens, but it’s annoying when it does.

To conclude, I find Tumblr blogs to be odd beasts, halfway between a fully walled garden like Facebook and a more open system like WordPress. Make no mistake, if you’re writing there you are a tenant, not an owner. To some extent this is also true of Automattic’s other blogging platform,, although there you have more control if you move to a paid plan. While Tumblr does offer the ability to export your data, the nature of posting means that it would require more work to move that to a different platform.

It will be interesting to see what changes Automattic make to the Tumblr platform in the coming years. Sadly a lot of damage was done by the previous owners Yahoo and Verizon, both to the service and to those using it, which is why I left for good back in 2018. It’s unlikely that I’ll return any time soon, but I also believe that having lots of good options out there for people to get their ideas online outside of the social media silos can only be a good thing.

“Six mistakes mankind keeps making century after century:
Believing that personal gain is made by crushing others;
Worrying about things that cannot be changed or corrected;
Insisting that a thing is impossible
because we cannot accomplish it;
Refusing to set aside trivial preferences;
Neglecting development and refinement of the mind;
Attempting to compel others to believe and live as we do.”


‘I fear that this contract, once made, has been made for ever’

University of Cambridge abandons open standards for proprietary ones, and starts to pay the price

Quentin Stafford-Fraser details the consequences of the University’s fateful decision to move from a self-hosted email system to Microsoft Exchange Online.

An important reminder of why it’s a good idea to control your identity online, including domain name, email and web presence. Anything else places you at the mercy of companies that don’t have your interest at heart.

Reminders Needs Reminding to Sync

I’ve noticed a very annoying habit that Apple’s Reminders app has developed on the iPad and iPhone. I use Fastmail to handle my calendar and reminder list needs, and no matter what settings I select for synching I have to open the app on either device and leave it open to get any update to take place. If I don’t do that, I’m faced with reminders that I’ve already completed, often from several days ago.

I’m not sure if this is just Reminders not working as well on my now-elderly devices (iPhone SE, iPad Mini 4), or it not wanting to play nice with Fastmail. Whatever the cause, it’s super annoying and is forcing me to reconsider how to manage reminders. I don’t really want to sign up for Todoist again, or another GTD service, as they are overkill for my rather modest needs.

It has gotten to the point where I’m looking at using a paper planner for next year — that would have the advantage of being authoritative, albeit somewhat bulkier. But it also wouldn’t be subject to the vagaries of devices and networks.

Is Apple telling me it’s time to return to analogue task-management?

Automating All The Things using Hazel

I recently completed the Hazel Field Guide course, created by David Sparks, and it has been an eye-opener with regard to just how much of the power of Hazel I’ve not tapped into!

I have a system in place that uses tagging to tell Hazel what to do with various files, but that still meant some manual work to organise things. Now I can use the source of downloaded files to give Hazel a much better idea of what needs doing, saving myself both time and memory (since I’d previously needed to go in and tag the files after downloading.)

The course has also shown me how to work around actions that may take a while to complete, so there’s less danger of things stalling.

I’ve had Hazel installed on my Mac for years, but I’m still learning and improving on how to use it to automate more of my digital life.

“Any application that could be done on a blockchain could be better done on a centralized database. Except crime.”

I’ve always had an uneasy feeling about all things blockchain and cryptocurrency, but after reading The Handwavy Technobabble Nothingburger by Stephen Diehl I’m even more convinced.

Not only are they a colossal waste of energy and physical resources, but they also show all the signs of being another instance of the insanity that lead to the Dot-Com Boom and Bust of the turn of the century.

The Road to Oblivion (Thanks to Google)

Reading Henry Powderly’s editorial piece We’re turning off AMP pages at Search Engine Land proved enlightening, to me at least:

“Gasp! Think of the traffic!”

That’s a pretty accurate account of the more than two dozen conversations we’ve had about Search Engine Land’s support of Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages in the past few years. At first, it was about the headache in managing the separate codebase AMP requires as well as the havoc AMP wreaks on analytics when a nice chunk of your audience’s time is spent on an external server not connected to your own site. But, Google’s decision to no longer require AMP for inclusion in the Top Stories carousels gave us a new reason to question the wisdom of supporting AMP.

So, this Friday, we’re turning it off.

I’ve read a lot of critique from the web development community about AMP, but this article is a summary of the view from the marketing side.

Publishers have been reluctant to remove AMP because of the unknown effect it may have on traffic. But what our data seemed to tell us was there was just as much risk on the other side. We could keep AMP pages, which we know have good experience by Google standards, and their visibility would fall anyway due to competition in Top Stories and waning support by social media platforms.

We know what a road to oblivion looks like, and our data suggests AMP visibility is on that path. Rather than ride that to nowhere, we decided to turn off AMP and take back control of our data.

Cynical old me would suggest that this reluctance from publishers serves Google well, as it means they can claim they’re moving away from AMP while still benefitting from it (at the expense of publishers, it would appear.)

And from reading the summary of what Search Engine Land have to do in order to decouple their site from AMP, that benefit could last for a long time.

I found the final two paragraphs particularly depressing:

The relationship between publishers and platforms is dysfunctional at best. The newsstands of old are today’s “news feeds” and publishers have been blindsided again and again when platforms change the rules. We probably knew allowing a search platform to host our content on its own servers was doomed to implode, but audience is our lifeblood so can you blame us for buying in?

We also know that tying our fates to third party platforms can be as risky as not participating in them at all. But when it comes to supporting AMP on Search Engine Land, we’re going to pass. We just want our content back.

I would argue that the biggest risk of all is that Google is in a position to control who can find your website, no matter who you are. AMP may be gone, but Core Web Vitals is just another hoop for publishers to jump through, primarily for Google’s pleasure.

The fact that the internet reliably breaks and disintegrates and swallows your memories means the act of stumbling upon something that remains feels unexpectedly human, as if you sifted this version of yourself from sand with other ancient artifacts. If this was an archeological dig, I’d gingerly lift this part of me from its resting place and find somewhere, like a museum or attic, to preserve it. Instead, all I can do is rebury it and hope it remains there for me to stumble upon again in a few years, surrounded by an entirely new internet.

The internet that disappears

I’ve been doing updates on the admin side of this blog. All YouTube and Vimeo embeds have been removed, and I’ve replaced more links with their counterparts over at the Internet Archive. The aim is to keep out external trackers, and ensure that the content here retains its context.