A Trial Separation

A link to this post was published to my Tumblr account.

I've been doing things the same way for a long time now.

  1. Write a game about space.
  2. Post about that game on Tumblr.

After about five years, I'm pretty clear on what works for me and what doesn't.

What Works

Writing games works for me. It may not pay the bills, but it provides a reason to work hard and seek inspiration.

What Doesn't Work

Keeping a devlog on Tumblr doesn't work for me.

I was an early adopter of Tumblr. It was a simple way to set up a multimedia blog. I had a pretty good looking theme. I wrote long posts when I wanted to and short posts when I wanted to. The longer posts were successful more often. I had analytics and a comments system.

But then something terrible happened: everybody joined Tumblr.

This is not a hipster "it was better before it was popular" argument. It's just that once you join Tumblr, everything happens on the dashboard.

The Dashboard Promotes TL;DR

Here's what the dashboard means for posters: You're locked into Tumblr's stupid comment system. Your analytics are gone, replaced with followers and notes. Your nice theme is gone: your followers never see it. It's only advertising to people who haven't joined Tumblr yet. Your posts get boxed into a too-narrow tombstone column. The only way to attract attention is to condense everything into tweet-length posts and animated GIFs. For posters, this is a disservice.

Here's what the dashboard means for readers: Everything is delivered in a single firehose. You can't prioritize some posters or content over others. Your dashboard is dominated by whoever can post most often, which turns it into a battle of who can care less. All those things you found interesting are distilled into a too-narrow reader interface. Magazine-length articles, photo-bloggers, aspiring directors, people trying to give away their video games, all treated with the same disdain. For readers, this is a disservice.

It's Business, Baby

Why does Tumblr treat both its loyal readers and its loyal posters to this menu of disservice? Not ignorance. Tumblr, being stacked with smart and competitive people, not being ignorant of their product and platform, wants things to work this way. It's business, baby.

All the effort that goes into themes and content is advertising for Tumblr, to get you to join.

And the subsequent de-emphasis of content is to make that same content boring, to get you to make new connections, follow more, like more, please somebody anybody post something interesting.

To make the platform stickier.

To keep you on the dashboard.

Where the ads are.

Reap it Daily

When you de-emphasize content and personality and continuity, you kill subtlety. The people who win on the Tumblr dashboard have something to say that can be expressed in a flashy animation, or in fewer than 60 words. Attractive or inflammatory.

You can unfollow them, but then your dashboard is barren, by design.

Considering the work that earlier Tumblr users did to attract new members, this sucks.

Believe it or Not, This is the Nice Tumblr

There are so many great and creative people on Tumblr. It is easy to join and easy to use (if ultimately unsatisfying). And, in a kind of rebellion against the dashboard, the Tumblr community has repurposed tags as a means of identifying the author.

I've tried to work within this system to help other creators. I tried reblogging people and projects I thought should be amplified. I tried assembling visual teasers of projects under a common "Tumblr & Indie Game Developers" header. I've even posted tips that "work around" Tumblr, to help your posts stand out on a dashboard. But these efforts were drowned out the same way my own projects are. I give up.

You might say it's poor form to trash a platform that has let me publish for free for almost four years and over 500 posts. And you would have a point. I struggle with graceful exits.

Just remember that Tumblr was bought by Yahoo, and is apparently not yet profitable. The Tumblr we see now is still willing to lose money on us. This will end at some point.

Love & Unfollow (& Make Your Own Sandwich)

My best content is not going on Tumblr anymore.

Out of the people and projects here that I find so fascinating, I hope I've had some kind of dialog with most of you by now. Or, if you were too awesome and I was not worthy, then just likes.

Staying in touch is going to take more work. I have some ideas. In the short term, I'll follow via RSS, but RSS has a few of the same failures as Tumblr. I'm working on a better solution.

And please, if you have something worth saying that you want to own -- not just the content, but the way it's presented -- own it. Try Wordpress or Ghost.

Thanks for reading this on my blog.