Thursday, June 23, 2011...1:55 pm

Is Tumblr in trouble? Warning signs for free Web 2.0 tools…

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Kathy Gill writes on Wired Pen that Tumblr has removed its RSS import tool. So Tumblr users can’t use the platform to aggregate content, and as a result she finds it “far less useful”.

It could also mean Tumblr is far less secure financially. The telling quote is from Tumblr’s own customer services:

In order to conserve our resources, Tumblr is no longer supporting feed imports on blogs that have not already imported feeds in the past. We deeply regret any inconvenience that this may cause. But, this change will allow us to focus our resources and energy on other useful Tumblr features.

Uh – Tumblr needs to “conserve resources” by stopping aggregation? How many “resources” are tied up with automatic RSS imports? It could be the coding time required to keep this working smoothly – but, seriously, Tumblr can’t afford this?

I’ve been wondering for a while how long the current crop of super, free web content creation tools can last. Social network builder Ning quietly ended its free business model last year; how long will others with no visible means of support last?

It’s a particularly pertinent question for those of us trying to teach online journalism at university. I’ve been toying with the idea of introducing first years to Posterous, rather than Blogger, for example, because you can use Posterous as a conduit for publishing content to a whole range of other platforms – from YouTube to Twitter, Facebook to Blogger. Not only that, but you can post via email, from a phone, say, and you can easily set up group posting. [NB: Thanks to Paul Bradshaw’s very useful blogging tools review.]

All of those are great features to encourage students to think about managing digital communication across different platforms. Most importantly, Posterous itself is a tiny bit boring to look at and isn’t really a destination in itself – so the idea would be to stop students thinking about blogging as simply creating a nice looking web page and talking about themselves in a vacuum. (Well, it might work.)

But is it a good idea to rely on a particular creative tool that can change its specification at a moment’s notice? Or even pull the plug on its service – free or otherwise? At the very least, it means you need to frequently revisit your teaching plan, which will itself “use resources” and can mess up continuity.

For a little while, a few years ago, Solent University played with Second Life as a digital platform for journalism students. Of course, almost as soon as Solent got into Second Life, almost everyone else stopped talking about it – it was that ephemeral.

It was a perfectly valid experiment for Solent – after all, it’s only a few years ago that Facebook was just another fad; now everyone is falling over themselves to figure out how to get it to save journalism.

The problem is that not only do we have to figure out which tools and platforms will catch the public imagination – but also which of them will have the cash to survive.

Blogger, anyone?

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