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Product Name: Tumblr
Price: Free (but some of the themes cost $10-$50)
Overall Grade: B-
Recommendation: It might be good for a simple personal blog, but it wouldn't work for serious bloggers.
Tumblr is an online tool that lets you easily create and publish your own blog. While other blogging platforms tout their extensive feature sets, Tumblr puts an emphasis on sparse design. Their approach seems like a blend between traditional blogging software and newer "micro-blogging" tools such as Twitter.
My favorite thing about Tumblr is that the creators weren't afraid to make bold, uncompromising decisions. I'm not sure I agree with all their decisions, but they clearly had a vision that they believe in. There are tons of blogging platforms out there and Tumblr is the only one that's really doing anything unique.
One decision that's particularly unique is that Tumblr doesn't have a normal commenting system. Most blogs (including the one you're reading right now) let readers leave notes at the end of posts. Tumblr decided to use a system similar to Twitter where the main way for readers to respond to a post is to "reblog" on their own Tumblr blog. I personally think that's a terrible idea (they basically took out one of the best parts of blogging and replaced it with one of the worst parts of Twitter) but it's interesting and unique which is rare when it comes to blogging software.
I also like the graphic design. The tumblr application looks great, and there are a lot of cool themes that you can use to style your blog. Most of the themes are very simple and put an emphasis on the content which is refreshing.
My main complaint about Tumblr is that they seem to be confused about what simplicity is. Simplicity isn't about randomly removing features for no reason. The goal needs to be to make the user experience as easy and intuitive as possible, and Tumblr seems to lose sight of that. They spent too much time working on graphic design, and not enough time working on user interface design.
A good example is the form on their home page. It looks clean and simple (only 3 fields), but then when you fill it out, it's really annoying. They don't tell you if your blog's URL is available until you submit the form, and then they reset your password if you need to pick a new URL. I had to re-enter my password about five times, and that's on a form that only has 3 fields! The entire Tumblr application is full of situations like that where the designers got too clever for their own good and it really creates a frustrating user experience.
I was also disappointed by some of the important features normal blogging software has that Tumblr removed in the name of "simplicity". I already mentioned how they don't allow for real commenting (unless you install third-party code -- NOT SIMPLE). Another annoying example is that you can't change the font size on your post unless you manually edit the HTML (what do they have against sub-headers?). Once again, by removing an option, they made the software way more complicated.
I've tried out a lot of different blogging software, and I've never found anything that I really like. I had high hopes for Tumblr, but it fell short. As far as I can tell, Tumblr isn't really trying to appeal to anyone that wants to publish substantial content on their blog, so it would probably be great if you want to start a personal blog for family and friends. If you're looking to write posts that are more than a few paragraphs long, you'll need better formating options. If you want to engage your readers, you'll want better commenting options. Basically, if you're serious about blogging (and you should be), this isn't the tool for you.