Roger Cohen, The Quest to Belong
Next year’s Thanksgiving grace.
John Nolan, a longtime Wordpress developer, mocks up a speculative design for Ghost, a fork from the Wordpress codebase, but intended to be just a blogging platform, and not the CMS that Wordpress has become.
This will get a lot of buzz, and I bet he’ll raise some money right away to make this a reality.
However, my feeling is that plain vanilla, ‘publishing for the masses’ is passé. I switched to the high engagement, very social model of Tumblr years ago. I’d like a better user experience as a Tumblr author/editor/curator — which Tumblr, or a third party, could fix pretty easily — but I don’t want to go back to just posting to a website.
I don’t want to go back to a better 2005.
The boys at Obvious have launched a peek at a new experiment of theirs, called Medium.
Medium — to the degree that we can fool with it so far, or so far as they have fooled with it — is more of an indication of a new aesthetic that Obvious is pursuing than anything else. It has a iPad-like clean design — shared by all the curations that have been pulled together.
Reading between the lines, the Obvious Ones believe that the dynamic of old-school blogging — typified by Wordpress — is too restrictive, the shouting at Tumblr is too garish and loud, and the self-centeredness of Pinterest too Ayn Randian.
Something other is called for. But it’s not just a slightly different screwdriver, turning slightly more futuristic screws. This is a change where we give up on screws, we give up on hand-tooled websites, we give up on owning what we build.
I haven’t test been invited to post anything: at least for the present, you must be invited, another example of the dream that elitism and/or editors will lead to high quality, without the need for filters.
Certainly, in time, others will be allowed to play fully, but we don’t know what mechanisms will be used to limit or constrain people. Will every collection, like ‘Look What I Made’ in the image above, have gatekeepers who get to decide who gets to contribute? That’s how Tumblr topics work today, at least the popular, profitable ones.
Medium is a speculative design intended to challenge us to consider implications of the deep philosophy lurking within.
Will people be allowed to fool with the templates for collections, or are those fixed by the Editors-In-The-Sky?
Medium has an inbuilt voting scheme where viewers can ‘like’ something — although there is no like or upthrust thumb, only a numeric value showing how ‘interesting’ a post is, on a scale (I presume) of 1 to 10.
Breaking with the blog norm of reverse chronological, Medium defaults to seeing what is more interesting. Which seems like a nod to Reddit and Digg.
I submit that this early version of Medium is a speculative design intended to challenge us to consider implications of the deep philosophy lurking within, rather than the test of a fully fleshed minimally-viable-product. The Obvious Ones have time and to spare. They are not threatened by a short runway of a few hundred G’s before having to show huge stickiness, or conversion to a Pro plan. They can rethink and reimagine a post-normal social media system, one that they believe will obsolete what we have come to think of as givens, like Pinterest, Wordpress, and Tumblr.
Whether their twiddling will lead to a colossus, a killer app, remains to be seen. But we can be sure that something new and radically bold is coming, even if it’s not Medium.
Dear Tumblr -
I spend a great deal of time looking at my Tumblr stream, and I often discover — without any automated help by Tumblr, mind — that two or three of the folks I follow have posted something about the same news story. It would be great if Tumblr could provide a view that would consolidate these posts, and then allow me a way to create a post that referenced a/ the original story, and b/ include links to the posts of those that I follow.
Maybe you could pin them together at the top of my dashboard with a big red pin? Oh, wait, you are renting that space now, instead. What was I thinking. However, I would be willing to pay like $3.50/month to have the sponsored posts turned into this ‘confluence’ feature, instead.
If you don’t want to code this from scratch go take a look at Zemanta, which has a so-so user experience but has the plumbing necessary. And, oh, if you buy Zemanta and bake it into Tumblr, that would be a good smack in the face to Wordpress, too.
If you’re going to have advertising on your site, it darn well better be good, and beginning with our partnership with Federated Media we’re ready to start rolling out WordAds here on WordPress.com.
I was working with Federated Media a few years ago, but got dumb ads — Chevrolet? — and dropped out of the program. Maybe Wordpress will do it better.
I think that Tumblr should invent some sort of ad program, too. Please?
Richard McManus shows the numbers for Tumblr and Wordpress. Tumblr is growing much, much faster than Wordpress, and then tries to explain it:
The two services offer different things, so this is somewhat of an apples and oranges comparison. Wordpress.com is a fully-fledged hosted blogging platform, while Tumblr is a light blogging and curation service. I myself use both products. However, both are blogging services and so it’s worth comparing the statistics.
At the end of last year we estimated that Wordpress.com was larger than Tumblr in terms of unique visitors and number of bloggers. However we noted that Tumblr had about twice the number of page views per month.
On the page view front at least, Tumblr has exploded in recent months. Quantcast puts it at 12 billion per month currently, compared to 1.4B for Wordpress.com. So Tumblr now gets 8.5 times more page views per month than Wordpress.com (at least according to Quantcast, which in my experience tends to be the most accurate public web statistics tool).
People continue to skin this cat the wrong way.
If you pretend that there are two neatly discretely markets, one which is ‘light blogging’ or ‘microblogging’ and the other is ‘full-fledged blogging’, then you can try to make an apples and oranges argument.
However, if you look at this in terms of the spreading of the social stream metaphor it looks completely different. Then it looks like people are simply adopting the Tumblr social stream experience, and defecting from the not-particularly social, old school blogging experience of Wordpress.
I create a great deal of long-format writing here at Tumblr, and it’s ‘fully featured’ enough for that. So Tumblr isn’t something less that Wordpress. I haven’t given up something that Wordpress offers to blog here. On the contrary: the experience is richer, and people enjoy the social dimension of Tumblr more (see this for a description of the social dimension, if you don’t have a Tumblr account).
Wordpress may still have time to go social, but I am wagering that they will a/ wait too long and b/ sell out to someone like Google or Microsoft.
Also, Tumblr could destabilize Wordpress and other conventional blogging tools by allowing Tumblr users to follow external blogs, pulling that content into the social stream via RSS or other mechanisms. Then I wouldn’t even leave the comfort of the Tumbrl stream to read Mashable or other ‘fully featured’ blogs.
Yesterday, I received a few emails linking to this post on Pingdom that describes the growth of Wordpress and the faster growth of Tumblr (disclosure: I’m a board member and investor in Tumblr).
But comparing Tumblr to Wordpress is like comparing apples and oranges. They are completely different things.
Wordpress is a publishing platform. You can host it yourself or Wordpress it will host it for you. And yes, some people use Tumblr in this use case.
But the vast majority of the Tumblr engagement (traffic, page views, liking, reblogs, follows, etc), is on the Tumblr Dashboard which is their unique & native version of a social newsfeed. The Tumblr Dashboard is where you follow other Tumblr users and traffic inside the Tumblr Dashboard far exceeds (understatement) traffic to the aggregate page views to Tumblr powered sites.
I think this is a misunderstood thing with people that dont use Tumblr or haven’t started following enough people. It’s not a tool.
Tumblr is a social network and the best place for creative self expression.
I wrote a piece a while back, when I was first getting excited about Tumblr, where I describe the inside and outside view of Tumblr:
The Outside View — When Tumblr users are looking at other Tumblr-hosted blogs, they see several controls that are not visible to non-users. Along with the blog content, they see ‘like’, ‘reblog’, ‘follow’ and ‘dashboard’ icons, like this:
The ‘like’ button (the heart) is a way to create a haptic gesture that winds up on the post’s ‘notes’ list, a history of all the ways that the post has been touched by others.
The ‘reblog’ button makes a copy of the post on the user’s blog, and adds that action to the original post’s notes history.
Clicking the ‘follow’ adds the blog to the user’s list of followed blogs, which is a perfect segue to the second view in the poststream model.
The Inside View — When the user logs into Tumblr (or when they click on ‘dashboard’ after being logged in), they are presented their Tumblr dashboard, which aggregates posts from all the blogs that the user is following, plus posts from their own blog, and notes that other users’ actions have left on posts. Here’s the third page of my Tumblr dashboard from this morning (I wanted to show a note and the page controls):
The ‘like’ and ‘reblog’ controls are displayed on all the posts in the poststream, and work in the same way as described.
You can see that wakeupfromthedramscene has started following my UnderpaidGenius blog. Other notes also are displayed, although their are none in this page of my poststream: reblogs, likes, and answers to questions (any text post that ends with a question mark allows for answers to questions to be accumulated).
Bijan makes the case that this inside view — the Tumblr Dashboard — is a social network while Wordpress is just a blogging platform: all outside view, and no inside. Note, however, that the piece I quoted above was about Wordpress releasing new social features — specifically, ‘like’ and ‘reblog’ — in an effort to become better social plumbing.
So I don’t go along with the notion that these are two discrete and different things. Wordpress, Tumblr, Typepad, Squarespace — they are all social tools with a strong publishing orientation, but all support social networks of people reading and writing, just with different appraoches to supporting those connections.
Tumblr is the technology that has gone the farthest down the path toward a new social paradigm, where all involved can become full participants in the explicit social network that Tumblr supports. People can opt to be plain old readers if they want, but they will never get wise to the social streaming in the inside view until they sign up for their own account, and jump into social curation: leaving plain old reading behind.
Anil Dash does a great job of framing the transience of Twitter, characterizing it as a ‘lossy’ system, where we don’t necessarily see every item and finding old tweets can be difficult if not impossible:
Anil Dash, If You Didn’t Blog It, It Didn’t Happen
THE PERILS OF A LOW STRESS ENVIRONMENT
Now, Twitter and other stream-based flows of information provide an important role in the ecosystem. Perhaps the most important psychological innovation of Twitter is that it assumes you won’t see every message that comes along. There’s no count of unread items, and very little social cost to telling a friend that you missed their tweet. That convenience and social accommodation is incredibly valuable and an important contribution to the web.
However, by creating a lossy environment where individual tweets are disposable, there’s also an environment where few will build the infrastructure to support broader, more meaningful conversations that could be catalyzed by a tweet. In many ways, this means the best tweets for advancing an idea are those that contain links to more permanent media.
So, if most tweets are too ephemeral to reach their full potential as ideas, what do we do about it? Well, obviously, one big step would be to simply make sure to blog any idea that’s worth preserving. It’s perfectly fine to tweet about trivialities — I do it all the time! But if you’re tweeting about your work, your passion, or something meaningful to you, you owe it to your ideas to actually preserve them somewhere more persistent.
And, of course, I should make a pitch that this is part of the reason I am so enamored of the work the ThinkUp community is doing. A free, thriving, powerful, relatively accessible app that archives Twitter and Facebook updates with a mind towards incorporating them into more persistent and meaningful media is an essential part of the ecosystem. This is especially true as political, social and artistic leaders start to rely on these ephemeral media, without realizing the cultural costs to those choices.
Given enough time, and without substantial changes to the way the big social networks work, if you didn’t blog it, it didn’t happen. In fact, I first wrote about this idea a bit on Twitter a few years ago. See if you can find it.
I agree with Anil: anyone who wants to hold onto an idea, and build on it, should put it in a blog post. Sure; twitter out a link to the post, get it out into the stream, but anchor it to something fixed, accessible, and easily addressable.
The utility of streaming media — like Twitter — isn’t necessarily pegged to the lossiness of the system, though. That’s just an artifact of the technology being used, like pixelation on low res displays, or the fact that new paper money can give you a paper cut: it’s not a function of the meaning of money or computers.
Twitter doesn’t have to be a black hole for ideas. Better search tools or better clients could hold onto tweets we read, retweeted, liked, shared, or tagged. It’s the tools that are limited, not the stream medium.
And having better tools wouldn’t necessarily mean that Twitter would lose its streaming character. One of the pivotal characteristics of the streaming medium is not being an inbox: tweets fall off the end on their own, without me having to file them or delete them. But that doesn’t mean they fall into nothingness.
Streams could be made richer. I would like to imagine advances like these coming out in the near term:
Lurking behind Anil’s practicality are the more philosophical issues of time and transience. Yes, we don’t need to retain every tweet ever read or written. We can accept the fast and furious impermanence of most tweets, and the up tempo pace of the Twitter bloodstream. But we want to also operate at a slower pace, dealing with deeper and abiding interests, ideas, and connections. We need to be able to shift tempo without missing a beat.
Microsoft expects only about 1 percent of Windows Live Spaces bloggers to move to WordPress.com. If not there then where? In the e-mail exchange, one Microsoft executive asserts about the 30 million active Windows Live Spaces blogs: “Most are dead.”
my two cents
Did anyone believe for a second that Microsoft would hand over something that was an active community? Of course it’s dead, and once again it’s proof that old school blogging is dead and stream media, like tumblr, is the future.
TWO WEEKS from passing WP and they do a deal for 30 million users. That’s cheating, Matt. :)
But whoa, we passed 2 BILLION pageviews this month!!
Even factoring in self hosted WP accounts, this shows clearly that Wordpress’ real competition is Tumblr.