Posterous Spaces vs. Tumblr

The ambient noise in the social networking world is at such a pitch that it's getting hard to make yourself heard. If you've got a business or a topic to promote, you're probably dividing your time and attention among a variety of sites and services -- such as Twitter, Facebook, and your blog and/or website -- most of which you gradually adopted and cobbled together along the way.

In the interests of efficiency, it pays to cut through the redundancies and automate the process of getting the word out to as many people as possible. To that end, a new wave of microblogging sites began to emerge a couple of years ago.

These sites encourage shorter entries of only a few sentences rather than a few paragraphs. They feature a lot more multimedia content; users can quickly throw up videos and a variety of images (including photos, artwork, cartoons and whatever is of interest). And they make it simple to republish (or reblog) content that has already been posted by other users.

The two services that lead the pack are Tumblr and Posterous Spaces. Both have, for more than three years, provided a one-stop shop for publishing text, pictures, links or videos in blog-style websites. Both services offer tools to spread the word to social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook, and to RSS aggregators such as FeedBurner.

The watchword for these two services is simplicity: They provide a template-based process that gets you started quickly and lets you tinker with design and settings as you go. They can keep updating your existing social networking presence and open up new ones among their own communities.

And they provide some handy extras you may never have considered, such as populating your blog (and Facebook news feed) via email.

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True, Posterous Spaces and Tumblr lack the commerce tools and other robust site features that WordPress or Blogger can provide, but as a way to streamline your business communications, they may be just what you need.

To evaluate Tumblr and Posterous Spaces, I used a conceptual design for a blog site, along with graphics and editorial content, and tried to make the sites do what I needed them to. The proposed site is called HappyFlight; it has a logo, two contributors and two static pages ("About" and "Tips and Tricks").

In order to publicize the new site, I needed to repost to Facebook and Twitter and add the blog to RSS feeds. One item on my wish list for a site, a sales page designed for commercial activity, wasn't explicitly supported by either of these services -- but anyone with, say, a PayPal account could use that service to create a sales page with a strong enough sales-fulfillment back-end to handle light sales duties.

In the end, both sites came out looking pretty good, albeit with a couple of frustrations along the way.

Setting up

The goal of these services is to get you from zero to an appealing online presence in as little time and with as little effort as possible. Most of the responsibility for the quality of the content lies with the site creator, of course, but the service itself plays a part by providing as few speed bumps as possible along the way.

Both Posterous Spaces and Tumblr make you hit the ground running. You enter an email address, a password and a name for your site, and you're propelled into the blog-building world with a minimum of fuss.

Posterous Spaces

Posterous Spaces recently rebranded itself from the plain name Posterous to the expanded name Posterous Spaces, emphasizing the fact that you can set up multiple blogs (which it calls Spaces) for different purposes.

As a new Posterous Spaces user, you're thrown right into a Facebook-style page of popular Spaces. If it weren't for a large yellow Create a Post button, you'd be forgiven for thinking you were at just another social networking site. In the absence of any other direction, that's what I clicked on first -- though, upon closer inspection, I could equally have gone to the settings menu to apply a design theme or the Spaces menu to create a new blogging space. All told, there was slightly less initial hand-holding than Tumblr offered -- though, on balance, it was more consistent than Tumblr's spottier approach.

After clicking the big green Publish button on my first post, there was a slightly heart-sinking moment when a very plain page with the title "happyflight's Space" appeared. It looked dreadful. About the only attractive elements were the friendly Facebook "Like" and Tweet buttons at the bottom of the post -- but this page wasn't ready for the world to see.

And it was live -- unlike Tumblr, Posterous Spaces doesn't filter content in a dashboard preview; it shows you the real thing and provides text links up top to take you to site management. (You can save a draft, however.) To change the appearance of your first posting, you click back to your main page, click on Spaces and from the settings button next to your new space, click Customize.

For each new public or private blog you create in Spaces, you can decide whether you want to automatically post your blog to a welter of other services, including Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Next, you're dropped into the space's Settings menu, where you can invite friends from Facebook and Twitter to subscribe to your new content.

Unlike Tumblr, Posterous Spaces doesn't treat themes as a possible revenue source: What you see and preview, you can apply to your site free of charge. Trying on new themes is easy enough -- Posterous Spaces generates preview pages for your approval before you accept one and go live. However, Tumblr made it considerably easier to change fonts and background colors for a given theme.

One setup feature that caught my fancy was Posterous Spaces' ability to import blogs from other sites. Posterous Spaces can bring over an entire archive from Google's Blogger, Ning, WordPress and several other sites (including Tumblr). In this era of test-driving and migrating between different providers, this is a feature that all blogging sites should have.

Tumblr

Tumblr throws you right into the deep end when you first register, with a full-page invitation to create your first post. Once you've taken care of that, the site takes you systematically through the process of design.

It's a smooth process to begin with. You start your site with a title and portrait photograph, and then you drop into a Customize page where you can pick a prepackaged theme design and modify it by changing fonts and background colors. You can also add static pages, such as an About Us page. And like Posterous Spaces, you can use a single account to create multiple blog spaces.

The first three screens of templates cost up to $50, but many of the free designs (which follow) seem to fit the bill just as well. Tumblr previews the theme you pick on a boilerplate page: To see how your real site looks, you need to save and navigate to your blog through the Tumblr Dashboard. (The Dashboard is your account's main page.)

This unintuitive process is where Tumblr first starts to deviate from its goal of being easy to figure out. It got a little worse later, when it appeared that my first choice of design didn't support the banner-style title bar I wanted to add. It appeared (and the Help section didn't say otherwise) that my only option was to continue to pick new designs and look through the Customize page's Appearance module for each design until the option for a title graphic appeared. Plan B would have been to create my own design from scratch, which was more than I was prepared for.

Another ding against Tumblr's setup: While the Customize page is all well and good, it did not list all the features I needed -- or all the features Tumblr offers. As a case in point, if you want to add a page that lets people ask questions, or allow others to submit posts to your blog, you need to go to the Tumblr Dashboard, click on your blog's name and then click on a separate Settings link. Burrowing through a labyrinth of menus to get to the option you want is always a bit of a nuisance.

Bottom line

Getting from your point of origin to your destination always involves some upheaval, but both Posterous Spaces and Tumblr encounter little turbulence along the way. There's not much to differentiate between Tumblr's Dashboard interface and Posterous Spaces.

Adding content

Most bloggers don't just want to post words; they also want to put up pictures, video, audio and links to sites they have come across. And they want to be able to do it remotely as well as from their desk. Both Posterous Spaces and Tumblr recognize this and provide tools to help, including browser apps such as bookmarklets. Both let you post through email and Android and iPhone apps.

Posterous Spaces

There are two philosophies when it comes to adding content to a blog. Tumblr's is to differentiate between all kinds of content and give you a different set of options tailored to each kind. Posterous Spaces takes the other tack: It gives you a page with a huge title-and-text entry box on the left side and a pane for uploading other types of content on the right side.

In the box on the left side, you can fit paragraphs of text -- much more text than Tumblr allows -- and take advantage of lots of text formatting options. That's all there is to it, and it works just fine.

In the pane on the right, you can upload entire galleries of photographs, along with MP3s and videos, all at the same time. This may not sound like a traditional type of blog posting, but it increases your flexibility for getting a point across. As a torture test of Posterous Spaces' media handling, I uploaded four JPEGs, two MP3s, a PDF and three video files in FLV, WMV and MPEG formats. All of them were processed and ready to browse, embedded in a single blog, within a couple of minutes.

Posterous Spaces embeds media players and also has a very nice little embedded slideshow application for browsing such postings. It previews PDFs with an embedded viewer from Scribd that lets you zoom into full screen or print the PDF.

The other main approach Posterous Spaces takes to updating is via email, which it did consistently better than Tumblr did during my evaluation. Send a simple text email to your dedicated Posterous Spaces address from the one email address you've associated with your account, and its subject will appear as the blog post title and its body text as the blog content. Send video, audio or other content as attachments, and they'll appear embedded in the post under the body text.

Tumblr

Tumblr's site interface, the Dashboard, presents (down the side of the screen) a column of the different blog spaces you manage and (across the top) a large, clear row of icons for different types of posts.

Click on Text, and you get an intuitive text-entry box with a text formatting and picture embedding toolbar along the top. You can publish a post immediately or build up a backlog to roll out on a schedule. Click on Photo or Video or Audio, and you can either upload or link to Web-based media sources, which will then embed in your blog. Posts can be tagged as public or private; private ones will be unsearchable but visible to anyone you share a link with.

So far, so clear -- but post types labeled Chat and Quote make less sense. The first has nothing to do with instant messaging -- it simply formats text as a dialog. The second formats text as a quotation -- something you could do with little effort for a regular text post.

Tumblr limits audio files to one 10MB upload per day and video to no more than five minutes per day. It's not always gracious about handling the limitations: It let me upload a video that was five minutes and eight seconds long, and only after 10 minutes of processing time did it tell me the file length exceeded the time limit and disallow the post.

There are ways to post to Tumblr other than via the Web, though they can be hard to find on the site. Visit www.tumblr.com/goodies and you can find the number to dial to phone in audio blogs; the dedicated email address assigned to your account, which allows you to post blogs via email; and the name of the AOL Instant Messenger bot to hail when you want to post a blog via AIM.

That said, Tumblr is a bit quirky when it comes to email posting. It handles picture attachments fine, but embedding them in Microsoft Outlook, for example, resulted in a couple of blank posts during my trial. The email subject becomes the caption for an image post, but when I embedded an image rather than attached it, the body of the text did not appear online in my posts. Posterous Spaces didn't exhibit such quirks in my tests.

Bottom line

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