by Emmanuel Quartey
Educators are realizing the value of engaging students online, be it through class blogs, multimedia-enhanced notes or wikis. These initiatives, while laudable, sometimes fail to catch on. Our experience setting up the WC blog might help explain why.
Like I mentioned in a previous post, WC began with a discussion about how we wanted to articulate the project. Would this be a documentary, a podcast or maybe a series of infographics? We soon decided that the project should revolve around a blog…but where would we host it?
I would be lying if I said we even seriously considered alternatives - Tumblr was the unanimous favourite for the following reasons:
1) Familiarity. If you’ve spent any time at all on the internet, you’ve almost certainly come across a Tumblog. Tumblr hosts some of the most popular single serving sites as well social outposts of popular print publications. The Tumblr aesthetic is something that most people immediately recognize.
It’s also likely that if you’re a young person who is into content creation on the internet, you’re likely to already be familiar with the way that Tumblr’s content management system works.
The Tumblr dashboard shows a row of simple options to help you immediately begin posting all types of content.
I have no hard evidence to back my assertion that most young people are familiar with the Tumblr interface (hm. maybe WC should sponsor a school-wide survey asking people what their preferred blogging platform is?) but anecdotal evidence suggests that most of my friends who blog do so through Tumblr.
Why does this matter?
When deciding on a blogging platform, the WC team chose Tumblr because most of us already knew how to use it, and we knew that there would be almost no learning curve.
This issue of familiarity is particularly important for instructors who’re interested in incorporating some sort of digital-response component to their classes. Simply put, if you require students to use a system they’re not familiar with, it’s going to be an uphill battle to get them to use it often.
For me, Wordpress and Blogger lose out to Tumblr because I’m simply unfamiliar with how those platforms operate. The last time I used those interfaces is so long ago that I’m unwilling to put in the effort into learning how they work. Unreasonable? Maybe, but true.
Image: via Salty Waffle
Another reason that we liked Tumblr was that it’s social in a way that other blogging platforms aren’t. Tumblr’s “follow” and “reblog” features make it easy to quickly amass a community of active, friendly people around literally any interest, idea or hobby. It doesn’t hurt that most people on Tumblr seem to be creators who understand the mutually-beneficial value of featuring other people’s blogs.
Additionally, Tumblr’s tagging system makes it a great content-discovery service. Tagging posts is not unique to Tumblr, but the platform makes it easy to search for specific tags. Searching “android” on Tumblr, therefore, brings up all the recent posts on Tumblr tagged “android”. It’s no exaggeration to say that I get a substantial part of my news through the Tumblr dashboard (followed by Twitter and Facebook).
Why does this matter?
Maintaining a blog is more fun when you know you’re writing for an interested audience. Tumblr was particularly attractive to us because the platform made it really easy for our ideas to spread through the system and potentially reach people who would otherwise never hear about us.
For educators, who’re sometimes working in a very narrow field of study, Tumblr provides the opportunity to get the attention of people who would otherwise never hear about your work. It is for this reason that I think that Yale’s suite of Academic Commons websites should be hosted on Tumblr rather than Wordpress.
There is some truly interesting stuff happening on these sites. For example, Professor Matt Jacobson’s Historian’s Eye site tracks the moment of President Obama’s election and his first year in office through photos and interviews. In addition to a historical record, the site is also a great teaching and learning tool. Unfortunately, the potential for the content of the site to acquire a large readership is stifled due to all that information being siloed on a Wordpress site.
This section could also be called “reputation” but it all comes down to the same awkward thing - in the same way that some people might make unintentional judgements about you based on your email address (“Wait, you still use Aol? Huh.”) your choice of blogging platform says a little something about you.
Again, this is entirely unscientific, but I think that people equate Tumblr with a young, active network, consider Wordpress to be unexciting and institutional and think of Blogger as…does anyone still use Blogger?
Why does this matter?
Being concerned with appearances might seem a little shallow, but at the end of the day, it all comes down to who your primary audience is. If your audience is elderly specialists in an obscure branch of medicine, a quarterly journal might be appropriate. But if you’re trying to engage a younger demographic, you need to go where they are.
Of course, reputation isn’t all in Tumblr’s favour (the platform appears to have become a new home for the world’s angsty teens) and we’ve all experienced the awkward spectacle of people or institutions trying too hard to be one of the “cool kids”. Public opinion changes, and one day, we might ditch Tumblr for the next new thing, but right now that’s where I and the people who’re into the things I’m into share the things that inspire, confuse and challenge us.
Key Takeaway: Your choice of platform should be suitable for the desired audience
Obviously, I’m extremely comfortable with the Tumblr platform, but the fact is that different platforms come with their own unique communities, features and benefits, and some blogs might be more suitably hosted elsewhere. In addition to Tumblr, and Wordpress, a platform worth checking out is Posterous.
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More posts by Emmanuel.