interactive layout

On The New Reblog Style

As many of you, I’;m unsatisfied with the new reblog style on Tumblr. In this post I will try to explain why I think this is a fundamental change in the way users interact with Tumblr.

Conversation versus Comments

Before I go into the visual impact of the new layout, I want to discuss the different styles of interaction between users on social media. I broadly classify it in conversation style interactions and comment style interactions.

In conversation style interactions, the users engage in a conversation. In subsequent post of users the topic changes. In this style users more often interact with the latest post than with the top or first post. This in contrast with comment style interactions, where users mostly respond and interact with the main post and there is hardly any conversation occurring between the users.

While hardly any social media falls solely within one category or the other, some forms of interfaces nurture the conversation while others don’t. Examples of conversation style interactions are Reddit and Tumblr. In Reddit the reactions on reactions can make for a very different conversation than what the topic of the original post was. On the Tumblr the reblog layout also nurtured responding to the last addition to the post instead of responding to the original post. Note that both make/made use of the pyramid bar style, with the difference of whether the original post is all left or all right. 

Both Reddit and Tumblr have features to foster quality conversations. In Tumblr good additions are reblogged more, while in Reddit they are upvoted.

Examples of comment style interactions are Facebook and Youtube. Comments respond directly to the original post and have a lot less interactions between each other. Another example is the new Tumblr layout.

The conversation style combined with blogging made Tumblr a unique platform. It fostered creativity and discussion. Comment style interfaces mostly encourage one-way sharing.

Visual Cues

A very strong feature of the pyramid layout is the visual cues it gives to the reader of the post. The new layout has hardly any.

Reblogs no longer visible
In the pyramid it is immediately clear whether you look at a reblog with additional comments or a reblog of the original post only, in the new layout there is no difference between these two.Let’s take a look at the example below, though would be even more clear with a more text-heavy post:

On the left the pyramid style is shown. It is immediately clear that there are different reactions to the post. on the right is the new style, where the reactions are invisible to the user initially. To discover the reblogs one will need to scroll down, if one was already familiar with the post and a number of the reblogs one would have to scroll down completely to see whether there are new additions to the post. Personally I hardly do this, since I use the j/k keys to go through my dashboard, in which case additions in reblogs really won’t be visible anymore.

Location Cues
The pyramid style gives the reader a great cue on where they are in the conversation. The number of bars next to your text basically summarizes how many more comments follow in this post. Below is an example:

This of course works both ways, the new layout gives no clues where you are in the conversations, and thus does not support conversation style interactions.

Referral Cues
The old layout intuitively encourages reactions to the latest comment, due to the closeness and indentation of the text. Since in the new layout any form of indentation is missing (It’s basically a list), it seems more like all comments are equally given in reaction to the original post only.

Length of Posts
The new layout also adds more non-content space to a post, specially in the vertical direction. This means users will spent relatively more time scrolling in comparison to reading. For the user this means that interacting with Tumblr will feel more like a choir, while there is less material to keep the user engaged on the screen.

Iconography of the Bars

I think it is important also to realize how recognizable the pyramid bar was. Tumlblr posts, and specifically the interactions between users where often shard on other platforms. There are reddit and facebook groups dedicated to just that. Often these are screencaps of the iconic reblog style of Tumblr. This made Tumblr a unique and recognizable brand. Bur it also happened because Tumblr was one of the few places that facilitated this style of conversations.

Part of the reason of this update was to make it easier to share what is happening on Tumblr with facebook and twitter. However as a result, one of the main qualities and unique products of Tumblr was sacrificed. One could wonder what there is left to share, which could not be better shared on the other platforms in the first place.

Redeeming Qualities?

There are two points on which the new layout performs better. However their implementation does not foster conversation and is, in my opinion, not in the best interest of Tumblr.

The first thing it does is that the comment is actually connected to the writer of the comment, as is shown below.

This might help to give credit where credit is due and makes it more easy to find the people that make interesting comments. However This could also have been implemented without getting rid of the conversation style interactions. A great example of this is Reddit, which maintains a pyramid like layout, but does keep the author close to their comment.

The second thing is readability of the individual text blocks. The original layout had a tendency to narrow these when there where many reblogs and additional comments. In the new layout all of these have the same width. However, this problem is also worsened by the narrow layout of post on the dash to begin with. There are many other solutions which could have been found for that. One could look again at Reddit, which simply has a wider layout. Another option could be to included a button which could make post wider, and thus more readable. Note also that this is only a problem with post with a very large amount of reblogs.

Conclusions

I think Tumblr is throwing away the baby with the bathwater. The new layout fundamentally changes the way users interact with each other on this platform. It does not encourage users to interact, and by doing this eliminates one of the best and main defining features on Tumblr.

I have enjoyed Tumblr over the years because of the constructive environment and because of the conversation I’ve found here. I hope the layout update is retracted, because I think this important element of this community will note return in full force.

If you agree with me, please share this post and, maybe more importantly, please give feedback to the staff here.