Product Review: Tumblr is easy for people new to starting websites

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AUSTIN, Texas -- It still happens once in a while that friends, family members or business contacts will ask, "How do I start a website?"

It may be that they're launching a small business and want to create an online presence for it. Maybe they'd like to start a personal journal or post some photos online to share with the world. Or they just have a funny idea they think could make a tightly focused, amusing single-topic blog.

After taking a deep breath, I may begin talking about registering domain names, finding a Web host, mapping out Web design and making dozens of little decisions about how your website will work and where it will live and be updated.

"Or," I'll conclude, "you could just start a Tumblr."

There are many ways now to make the process of starting a website easier, but perhaps none offers as much instant gratification and user-friendly options as Tumblr, a Web service that is home to 74.2 million blogs and more than 31.9 billion posts, according to the New York City-based company.

At its heart, Tumblr has always been about simplicity. When you sign up at tumblr.com, you're asked a few basic questions including your age, what you're into (fashion, comics, photography or spirituality, among many options) and to create a username. The option to select topics you're into allows Tumblr to suggest blogs you might like to read that you'll see whenever you log in; that part is optional, and you can always unsubscribe.

A moment later, you have a Tumblr blog that can easily be found at the Web address that begins with whatever you chose as your Tumblr address. (Mine, which I should update more often, is at omargallaga.tumblr.com)

Big, clearly labeled and friendly icons allow you to post different kinds of content. You could post a blog entry containing just text, a link to something you saw on the Web, a photo, a video, audio (which you can even call in by phone), a quote or even the transcript of a conversation as a "Chat."

Building on this very simple foundation, there's a lot more subtle detail if you dig further. You can post stuff you like that you see on Tumblr (called "reblogging"), like posts the way you might on Facebook, pose a question to your readers (or answer one from an automated "Tumblrbot") or search for Tumblr blogs based on tags.

Once you're comfortable with the interface, you can begin to experiment with Web design with "Themes," which allow you to change the look of the Tumblr blog and to see a preview every step of the way of what those changes will look like. Everything is reversible, and there's no chance you might accidentally mess up the blog or delete everything with the accidental press of a single button.

In other words, Tumblr is fairly foolproof, quick and easy to use, and increasingly popular.

It's not the platform for someone who wants to have total control over every aspect of a site's design. Big businesses, hard-core Web designers and long-form bloggers typically use other kinds of blog software.

But it's hard to recommend another platform for those who want to get their toes wet in the world of blogging or who'd like to connect to a pretty vibrant, rapidly expanding community.

If that sounds good, here are some quick Tumblr tips from friends and blog experts.

• Tagging: In the world of Tumblr, tagging is how good stuff is found and how blog authors group their posts with other people's posts on the same topic or find other Tumblr users to follow. You've heard of "publish or perish?" On Tumblr, it's "tag or die trying."

• Pace yourself: As with Twitter, it's easy to get addicted to posting a lot because it's so easy to do. Slow down. Space posts apart and give them a little room to breathe.

• Focus is good: The most successful Tumblr blogs are either about a single topic or have a sensibility or theme that unifies everything posted. Be specific, avoid being too scattershot.

• Pick up more tricks: Tumblr's basic display is meant to keep users from getting overwhelmed, but under the hood there are even more options to make posting, editing and sharing with others easier. Check out tumblr.com/tips for some of these features. You can also find a good advanced primer from The Daily Dot at bit.ly/tumblrtips if your ultimate goal is Tumblr stardom.

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