I have been using WordPress for more than a year now, for three different blogs: This one, No Fanbois Allowed, and Vivat Crescat Floreat. Two days ago I registered a Tumblr account as well. It is a sort of sideshow to Vivat Crescat Floreat, uses the same theme, and I post the same stuff there, just faster and less thorough. The two platforms are technically different, but have a lot in common as well, so I thought it interesting to compare them.
The similarities are mostly formal. One of the things that caused me to go on Tumblr at all was that Matthew Buchanan’s Esquire Theme is available for both. The same is true for the Vertigo theme, just to pick another one with a strong character and lots of features. Different post types are a necessity on a microblogging platform, but WordPress has this feature as well, though not all themes support all types. On the whole, I found the experience on both platforms rather similar.
Ease of use, and in consequence, speed
A good deal of this is simply due to the microblogging concept. Every post is supposed to feature one item, an image, a video, an audio file, or text. You can add text to any of the former, but you do not have to. An image post, for example, does not even have to have a title, and often the tags will indeed be all you need.
For a video post, you only have to copy the YouTube URL, with no further formatting. For a link post, you copy the URL and add a caption, that’s all. If you want to post a high quantity of items in a short time, Tumblr is the way to go.
All themes support all post formats
The strictness of post formats has the additional advantage that there is no, or little, functional difference between the themes. Like Tumblr, WordPress has a chat post format, but only very few themes support it here. Vertigo does, Esquire does not. The Esquire theme on Tumblr has too, and does a good job too. Chat posts can be useful for lots of things: Short FAQs, excerpts from play, jokes. Dialogs are a nuisance to format without a template.
Liberal terms of service
As a web service, Tumblr has more liberal terms than WordPress.com. You can upload one audio file per 24 hours to Tumblr for free, you can upload video files, on WordPress both requires a space upgrade. There are no “mature content” warnings either.
Online service only
You cannot download the software and install it on your own server the way you can with WordPress. You can point a domain or subdomain to your tumblr account, which can be tricky to set up, but your access to the blog itself will always remain restricted.
No site stats
WordPress has very detailed site stats, for each separate post, you can see where your visitors came from and even on which outbound links they clicked. Tumblr has none at all. The only feedback you’ll get are the likes and reposts.
Some things are difficult
While most things are easier, some are more complicated, or at least more complicated to figure out. I have as yet not found an easier way to post a poem than to insert all the linebreaks manually into the HTML code. Nor have I found a way yet to make the full-sized images accessible. The Esquire theme sometimes makes them rather small.
The strict post formats have their disadvantages too. By default, the Esquire theme puts images in an image post into a massive golden frame. This is a great effect for most pictures, but not necessarily for all. On WordPress, I usually choose a different post format for an image with white background. On Tumblr, I do not have this option, unless I upload the image somewhere else and inline it manually into a text post.
The bottom line
Personally, I’ll continue to use both. I find Tumblr ideal for the quick posts, to just upload an image without much comment, to try out how it looks with the theme. For the more complex posts, I’ll continue to use WordPress.