File Under: Blog Publishing

Get Started With Tumblr

Do you miss the days when blogging seemed simple and exciting? Have you ever stared at the blank text input field in WordPress until you began to fill with dread?

While WordPress, Movable Type and similar blogging engines certainly make it easy to set up a blog with a robust content management system, sometimes the software itself is overkill. Sometimes you just want to post a picture or a quick snippet of text and be done with it.

That’s more or less the thinking that inspired Tumblr, a dead simple blogging system that makes it easy to post a quick note, an image, a link or a YouTube video and then get on with your real life.

It’s an incredibly easy-to-use publishing system, but that ease comes at a cost. Tumblr is also very simple by design, and it lacks many of the features bloggers might be familiar with. Still, many view Tumblr’s lack of extra features as an asset, arguing that things like comments or an integrated search tool only complicate a clean interface. In fact, Tumblr is quite different from blogging. It’s a side-step, a subculture with its own verb: tumbling.

To start tumbling, follow our guide. We’ll run through the basics and then get into the heavier stuff, like custom themes, custom URLs and comments.


Contents

  1. Setting Up Tumblr
  2. Using Tumblr
    1. Use Bookmarklets
  3. Tricking out Tumblr
    1. Use Your Own URL
    2. Adding comments
  4. Conclusion

Setting Up Tumblr

We could explain it all to you with some fancy metaphors and whatnot, but the truth is it’s far easier to just create a Tumblr account and experience it for yourself.

Head over to the site at Tumblr.com, create an account, pick a theme and dive in.

By default, Tumblr handles seven different types of posts — links, conversations, photos, quotes, audio clips, videos and of course a “traditional” text-only blog post. Each type of content gets its own input screen, and each of these input screens has its own icon in the Tumblr dashboard.

Tumblr will give you your own URL to start, something like: http://yourname.tumblr.com. If that doesn’t work for you, you can set your tumblelog to redirect to your own URL. Read on, we cover this topic later.

Using Tumblr

Here’s how the workflow happens:

  1. Find an image, video, link or quote you want to share.
  2. Go to your Tumblr dashboard and click on the appropriate type of post.
  3. Add anything extra you want (attribution links are nice).
  4. Done!

That’s really all there is too it.

Use Bookmarklets

Rather than having to log in to Tumblr every time you want to post, you can jump straight to the posting interfaces using simple bookmarklets in your browser’s address bar. Just drag all the different post type icons at the top of the Tumblr dashboard to your browser bookmarks bar and you’re ready to go.

Tricking out Tumblr

Use Your Own URL

The most obvious thing you might want to do customize is the URL. It’s nice of Tumblr to host for you, but if you have your own domain name already, why not use it?

The redirecting trick is pretty easy. Just head to your domain registrar’s control panel and follow the instructions to point the domain’s A-record (IP address) to 72.32.231.8.

Once that propagates (depending on your registrar, up to 72 hours) head back to the Tumblr dashboard and click click Customize. Under the URL settings, select “Use a custom domain name”, and enter your custom domain. Click “Save”, and your Tumblr page should now appear when you visit your own URL.

Adding comments

Part of Tumblr’s beauty is its simplicity, and part of that simplicity is the lack of comments. Tumblr has debated adding a comments feature, but so far, the service remains comment-free. For some, that’s a welcome relief. For others, it’s the one missing feature that stops them from using Tumblr.

Well, there may not be integrated comments right now, but adding in your own custom comment system isn’t too difficult. In fact if you use a JavaScript-based solution like Disqus, it’s dead simple.

All you need to do is sign up with Disqus, and look for the Tumblr button. Click that and Disqus will walk you through the very simple steps to getting everything set up.

There are of course some downsides to JavaScript comments — like your users who surf with JavaScript won’t see them — but for a quick and elegant solution, they fit the bill.

And Disqus isn’t the only option, there’s also Linebuzz, which allow your visitors to post inline with your own post, and Haloscan, which offers similar features.

Conclusion

After playing with Tumblr for a little while, you’ll hopefully regain some of the excitement that blogging used to provide.

If you’re looking to do more with Tumblr, here are some other ideas:

  • Add your FriendFeed and Twitter streams
  • Make Tumblr broadcast on to Facebook via RSS
  • Grab your tumblelog’s RSS feed to pull your tiny Tumblr posts into your larger blog or some other existing CMS.