I think we need a manual of style for Tumblr. I am a fan of bottom-up order, but at the same time a lot of serious work is being done in Tumblr as well as casual reposting of cute cats and unicorn hats.
Consider just one issue: attribution. There are a wide variety of techniques in use on Tumblr for attributing when quoting or reposting other people’s works. And some are less good because they break the thread of connection from a new post or repost back to the initial source.
Tumblr both helps and hurts this. On one hand, reposting (or reblogging) something that you see in your Tumblr stream is subject to automatic formatting and the creation of the chain of Tumblr notes attributing backward to the original source. But the formatting options aren’t settable: I can’t turn off automatic nesting of blockquotes in text reposts, for example, although I think it is the wrong way to do it.
Leaving aside the automatic issues, there is no consistency in how Tumblr authors make attribution.
Here’s a post that I published recently. [Note: you don’t need to focus on the quote, just look at the attribution at the bottom of the post’s image.]
You can see that I give attribution to azspot. I saw when reblogging that the original quote came from this link
which wasn’t obvious when looking at azspot’s blog post. [Note that I am not criticizing azspot, I am using him as an example for illustrative purposes only.]
azspot’s post was this:
Note that he attributes the quote to Wendell Berry, but if you click on the link embedded in Berry’s name, you come to the source blog post, and one that is not written by Berry. It turns out to be a non-Tumblr blog, which could explain some of it, but it should still be cited anyway.
Here’s that initial post, made by jdaviddark:
So I edited the text that azspot had used to for the link, to ‘Wendell Berry,The Poetry of William Carlos Williams of Rutherford’.
[Note there is an attribution problem embedded in this post, too, because the photo has no information associated with it. It turns out to be Williams, but it might just as well have been Berry.]
The end state is as you see in my post. The original quote is properly attributed to Berry’s book, jdaviddark gets credit as the original digital source, and azspot is credited as the curator that brought Berry’s quote to my attention.
And that’s perhaps the point of this long-winded discussion: Tumblr authors — either manually or by the mechanisms built into Tumblr — should be clearer about what sort of attribution is involved when reposting things.
For this reason, if no other, I hope that Tumblr finally gets around to making a break between the original material captured the first time someone creates a Tumblr post based on material outside of Tumblr, and the comments that people write when adding their two cents at the point of reposting. The fact that we have three things lumped together in a big mess:
- The text area or caption of the original post, which has new text added by accretion via reposts, as well as the possible editing of the original material initially entered by the author of the initial post
- Embedded in the text region are curatorial nods, like ‘via azspot’ or ‘Source: davidsarahdark.blogspot.com’ which can be edited or deleted
- The notes that represent the history of all reposts.
I can imagine various ways to simplify this complexity, but the simplest course is to amplify the notes with an optional text region where people can add ‘recomments’ at the point of reposting, and to make the original source content uneditable, so the original post is conserved as it was created. After all, if someone wants to clarify the provenance of a post they have seen — as I did with the Wendell Berry quote — then can follow the link, and start over with another original post, with a manual nod to a curator, instead.
And if you look at the notes on the azspot post you see this
Which doesn’t make it very clear what has happened when I reposted and changed the attribution, at all.
IN CONCLUSION, the attribution problem is only one example of the need for a manual of style, or a Tumblr handbook, perhaps. I could tell you how and why I used stoweboydpix.tumblr.com as the repository for the images in this post, for example, but that is a story for another day, or chapter.