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Why Tumblr is kicking Posterous's ass (pegontech.wordpress.com)
71 points by pegobry on Jan 19, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 52 comments

I think this is actually an unfair comparison. For one thing Tumblr really works the social network aspect of the site (reblogging, hearting articles, following users) whereas posterous is more an "island" blog.

Which is fine, as they both solve different problems.

I also think Tumblr is a technically superior product as well as a superior designed product (right now): for example I can embed javascript into my Tumblr, posterous doesn't allow that. Tumblr has fantastic iPhone and mobile applications, and generally feels, well, more mature.

You mention Posterous have top tier investors and developers, Tumblr does too. Tumblr has spark capital and union square ventures as their investors. Marco Arment, the technical lead at Tumblr is a perfect balance of technical chops, getting stuff done and doing it right.

I used Tumblr's Private Tumblelog feature as a group board for my personal friends for about 9 months and then switched to Posterous and haven't looked back.

Tumblr is perfect as a "deeper Twitter," but its ability to make a gated community feels tacked on, and it's more cumbersome than Twitter's protected tweets.

Posterous has the right idea for this use case. You set a single password, just as you would for a game of Starcraft, and then you use the system as normal, which is much less awkward than Tumblr's restriction of gated blogs to viewing only from the posting UI.

You're right that Tumblr's social aspects are more developed than Posterous's and that this has been a huge driver of their growth but to me that's not so much solving two different problems as Tumblr being more smartly designed -- realizing that blogging, even minimalist blogging, is inherently social.

As for Tumblr's top tier investors -- sure, that's true. I was trying to emphasize that Posterous, on paper, has everything it takes to win.

I chose Tumblr over Posterous because of the elegant templates and the art/music tastes, so I agree here. If Posterous compares itself to Gmail for blogging, then Tumblr is like a public Evernote for scrapbooking. I'm not using it to promote my own ideas or build my professional "brand". Posterous seems as though it's trying to cater both to the computer illiterate and the time-crunched techie/professional who lives and dies by email to organize life a la GTD. For example, Tumblr has a quotations format separate from the text post option, more useful to me than the Google analytics tool that Posterous offers.

The downside is that Tumblr does have a greater share of Livejournal/teen angst, but I've carved out my niche of grad students, graphic designers, and classical music aficionados who upload great performances. The fact that TED Chris and John Maeda (President of RISD) use Posterous is tempting, but also makes it more businesslike.

I have yet to understand why I would want to email posts other than videos, as it's not particularly onerous to use bookmarklets. And Posting within Tumblr means my tags autocomplete, whereas Posterous has you write tags in your email subject line. Posting videos to Posterous is easier though, as Tumblr requires videos first to be hosted on Vimeo. Posterous might have another advantage as it is more useful to coordinate updates to a multitude of other sites, including Tumblr. But I screen different content on Facebook, Twitter, Wordpress, and Tumblr, so I actually don't want the same things posting on all my sites.

This reminds me of the article posted here recently about the locations of ancient Woolworth's stores. If you'd written an article 3 months ago that led off with the compete.com graph of the two sites' traffic, you could have written about how Posterous was kicking Tumblr's ass, and used that to support an equally plausible sounding thesis about how this was because they were based in Silicon Valley.

This article is like an inverted pyramid, balanced on a couple months' trend in compete.com stats. Not actual traffic stats even, but compete.com estimates of traffic, which as anyone who runs a site knows, can be way off.

From Compete - yearly change:

tumblr: +184.36%

posterous: +297.36%

So, uh, even with the last 3 months in posterous is still growing faster than tumblr. If it were a stock its valuation would have increased more than tumblr. Also, wouldn't there definitely be less hits to posterous based on the fact that you EMAIL posts in rather than sign in? That being said, the tumblr landing experience is probably one of the reasons I blog with them and not posterous.

Great points. I'll incorporate them into the post.

It's growing faster from a smaller base, though. I find more relevant that Tumblr is still much, much bigger. And I think it will stay that way.

One way to normalize this is to ask: How quickly was Tumblr growing when it was as small as Posterous is now? Then you're comparing apples to apples.

Thanks for the comment.

If you have actual traffic stats I'd love to see them. ;)

Also, the estimate isn't for "a couple months", but for the past 12 months, and the trend points in one direction. Even less reliable but even more "damning" is Google Trends: http://google.com/trends?q=tumblr,+posterous&ctab=0&...

That being said, your general point is right: nothing is preordained, and the trends could switch around tomorrow, and the picture look much different a while from now. But that's why I have a blog: this is the situation as I see it today. Maybe six months from now I'll eat my words, who knows?

The couple months I was referring to are the last few. The preceding months contradict your thesis.

I think you're mistaking how much license a blog gives you to write about "the situation as I see it today." It's ok to write stuff based on small amounts of data, but the conclusions you're entitled to draw from it should be correspondingly small.

They don't contradict my thesis since Tumblr was always much bigger than Posterous and while they may have had faster growth it was never enough to catch up.

Again -- I may be proven wrong in six months or a year, and if so I admit it publicly right here (in fact, do you want to make a bet?). But I think at this stage the data warrants the trend I extrapolate from it.

compete.com is a joke.

look at the top search terms sending traffic to each site. they include things like "swine flu" and "cleavage lover", which IMHO are indicative of a statistically insignificant sample size

I have been waiting for someone to write a post like this. Not because I think it's important to discuss one startup versus the other necessarily - they have very different markets in my mind - but because an exploration of the developing NYC aesthetic is worth examining.

I actually think it has a lot to do with early users. In the Bay Area, it's easy to find a large group of beta testers and early users who "get" technology in a profound way that (sadly) no where else in the country does. This contributes to the SV echo chamber and yields a certain type of feedback that in turn creates very distinctly "west coast" products. In New York, the number of truly tech-savvy social web types is much smaller and the majority come from media and advertising - ie, people who care first about design, and second about everything else.

While I'm sure the debate could rage all day about real growth and traffic stats, that's not what I took away from this article at all.

Yes! That's the point I gravitated towards as well, there really is a similar playful yet polished vibe from several New York startups like Vimeo, Boxee and Tumblr, off the top of my head.

As for the main point of the article - couldn't disagree more, from my personal use case. I'm a Bay Are startup geek but also a designer, so hopefully my biases cancel each other out. I like Tumblr's look but abandoned it after a few days because I didn't want to get sucked into their community features. I'm not a big fan of design subcultures like deviant art or livejournal, really the only online community I've been attracted to and stuck around for is HN. And it's a pet peeve of mine when sites or apps have only good import tools and not export, it's like they want to pretend the identity you've built up around the rest of the web doesn't exist. I'd rather see better integration with my existing networks elsewhere - that's where posterous' autoposting feature really impressed me. After starting up a posterous account as part of the ycombinator application process a few months ago, I gave it a try earlier this month for personal blogging and it's completely reinvigorated my site.

And I really disagree with his contention that posterous is only for geeks - the main feature set is pretty newbie-oriented. I can have my mom set up a blog in seconds via something she already understands - email - and have it autopost to her flickr and facebook accounts, which saves her the hassle of having to refer to her notebook on my instructions on how to upload and manage those services.

Personally I don't really care for the Company A versus Company B frame, or the Region A versus Region B frame. However, I was quite interested in the discussion of how a feature which sounds great to an engineer can have negative consequences for your conversion rates versus something which is quicker to implement/less sophisticated/flies-in-face-of-received-wisdom/whatever.

Other examples: "breaking navigation" during conversion funnels, long copy, 10 Ways To Write A Title Cosmo Editors Don't Want You To Know About, etc etc.


The Company A vs Company B thing is just (to my mind) a particularly stark example of these broader points I try to make.

He's not really doing analysis though- he's more trolling the west coast and posturing.

That was my impression at first glance, but look at his description of the steps involved in signing up with a three element form versus signing up via email, and ignore the sarcasm for a second. His conclusion is correct and would not have occurred to me absent reading the article.


Am I trolling? I don't think so, insofar as I use a provocative example to illustrate trends that I do think are important: the coming of age of New York as a startup hub and as a "school" for building consumer startups, and the growing importance of design vs. "hard" technology in building a successful consumer web app.

Am I trolling? I don't think so...

In order to avoid being mistaken for trolling in the future, you might consider:

+ Cutting down on the curses, particular in titles.

+ Avoid personalizing any conflict. Your favorite sports team or the hated cross-town rival "eats dust", case studies on the other hand calmly discuss math.

+ Ratchet the sarcasm down seven notches. Eight if you're talking to people who know the people you're being sarcastic about.

+ Avoid interjections like "(ugh)" unless they are being used in a self-deprecating fashion.

Believe it or not, you can take this advice and still sound passionate, intelligent, engaging, and perhaps even hip, if you're into that sort of thing.

Thanks for the kind advice. For me, blogging is a conversational medium, I try to write blog posts the way I would speak, and so it's pretty unfiltered. Also I try to be engaging. And insofar as my opinion/analysis has any value, I think it's better for those concerned that it be unvarnished. I don't believe most things should be sugarcoated, and I don't think the kind of people who do startups do either.

His advice might help the way you speak too. Courtesy is not sugarcoating. He noticed some good engineering in your writing, but if you want to reach people maybe your words need better design.

That was hilarious. I'll keep it in mind.

you use the word insofar a lot.

> Am I trolling? I don't think so, insofar as I use a provocative example...

Here's UrbanDictionary's definition of "troll":

> One who posts a deliberately provocative message to a newsgroup or message board with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument

It's hard to be disruptive on your own blog, but you can see how if you fit the first half of the definition, you might be mistaken for the whole definition.

I personally don't think that you're being a troll, as there's nobody to really upset or disrupt. Maybe the Posterous devs aren't going to like you anymore? But it does come across as a little linkbait-y. I agree with my sibling comment's advice on how to rectify this in the future.

I'm coming at this as another blogger who makes a living off of writing out my opinions, and from that angle, you're not trolling, just offering a strong opinion. You truly believe Tumblr is kicking Posterous's ass (the mildest possible "swear word"!) and you present your case with evidence, not appeals to emotion or coolness. And now you're perfecting the article based on feedback, which is one of the coolest aspects of blogging and interacting with your readers.

So because of this piece, I'm following your blog. Please continue to rock.

There seems to be a contradiction in his argument. He talks a lot about the signup pages, focusing on what he guesses is Tumblr's much higher conversion rate and the reasons for why that conversion rate is high. Shortly thereafter, he lays into Posterous for being too metrics-driven. How could a company that's too metrics-driven let themselves get crushed (again, according to the author's guess) on something as important as signup page conversions?

The whole piece has this arbitrary anti-Silicon Valley animus that I don't really get and which doesn't seem to serve any purpose.

It's useful to talk about conversion rates, the importance of good UI/UX, and what Tumblr and Posterous do or don't do well, but the broader, hand-waving indictment of Silicon Valley doesn't add anything.

(Also, the author doesn't directly do this, but articles like this can falsely suggest that the two companies at hand are playing a zero-sum game.)

The signup pages are an example of a broader mindset which is different at Tumblr and at Posterous and which in turn, to me, exemplifies broader trends for startups. That's what I think is interesting.

I'm not saying startups should not be metrics-driven. Design and engineering are both driven by metrics. But they're different mindsets. And in this case, one is clearly winning.

You're also right that the zero-sum fallacy is wrong. However, those two companies are competitors in the market and one, at least on publicly available data, is winning hands down.

you also seem to suggest that they are directly competing with each other. i use both tumblr and posterous, but i would venture a guess that many many posterous users would never ever consider using tumblr, while many tumblr users would never ever consider any form of transportation other than the fixed gear bike or any type of pants other than the skinny jeans.

Looking at the Tumblr landing page on a touchscreen PC makes me feel like someone is trying to tell me "MASH THE BUTTON WITH YOUR PALM TO MAKE IT GO."

It's probably just because I'm not who Tumblr is for, of course. But it's still interesting to ask: can you overdo design simplicity?

The fingers you have used to dial are too fat, to obtain a special dialing wand please mash the keypad with your palm now

How else are you supposed to use a touchscreen PC?

Shh, Jacob, get out of here, we're talking about your stuff!

Just thought i should mention soup.io (i am not affiliated with them) which i found to be wonderful in design and functionality. It aggregates my flickr, last.fm, picasa updates into one blog and posts new blog entries automatically on facebook. While mobile i can just send new images/texts/links to a cryptic mail address which gets posted. Love it!

Until I realized, just now, that the OP also wrote the article, I felt folks were treating him a bit unfairly. Now, not so much.

Pegobry, your point is well taken; I'm an engineer myself, and I agree -- as Web frameworks mature, and engineering/development patterns level off, design becomes the differentiating factor. And yes, provided your numbers are correct, Tumblr currently appears to be "winning." Not sure whether the latter really matters, or whether it even supports the former at all, but it's a concept with which I happen to agree.

Your mistake was to post the article here, primarily since you wrote it yourself. Most folks here are engineers who follow YC startups. You might as well have posted a link titled, "Why Microsoft Is Kicking Apple's Ass" in an Apple forum.

And the downvotes the OP is getting clearly indicate that

First impressions. I get what posterous can do from the get go (faq). I don't have a clue what tumblr can do for me. I scrolled through a load of self flagellation on the about page, and it still didn't tell me. Both have stupid names.

After working at a myriad of places doing web work, people tend to skimp on the important little pieces that make a site usable. A lot of the time it's style over substance.

I'd have thought tumblr could improve by having the login on the homepage. And I'd prefer to also find a simple paragraph about what it can do.

Don't forget to take into account the year headstart tumblr has had.

Exactly. Isn't Tumblr at least two years older? That graph only shows a few months of 2009.

Actually, it shows the past 12 months.

I think it was only six months. And first mover advantage means little online. Facebook wasn't the first social network, Twitter wasn't the first microblogging app, etc. Posterous's had a year and a half now and it's stagnating.

You're wrong about six months -- Tumblr has been around since early 2007 -- we launched about 16 months later, and grew at a far faster rate last year than Tumblr (10x across every metric actually.)

Thanks. Duly noted.

The Compete data seems to show Posterous stagnating just shy of 1M uniques for the past few months while Tumblr's curve is stuck "up and to the right," though.

To be honest I found this post pretty annoyingly reductive.

The essential thesis seems to be: 'I personally speculate that the design of Tumblr's signup page is better, ERGO Tumblr is kicking Posterous' ass.'

There are a lot of words in there, but none of them actually help link premise -> conclusion.

I agree with your take on mindset. But eyeballs isn't what makes the company successful in the end, the revenue does. And who has/will have more revenue is an open question for now. Personally I'd put on Posterous.

You're right -- obviously this isn't a post mortem or anything. The trends could reverse, and Posterous could become wildly profitable with less users while Tumblr has plenty of traffic but no money.

Although it seems pretty obvious that both are headed for a combination of advertising/freemium model, and the revenue that comes from that seems pretty correlated to userbase size.

I'd argue that Tumblr, by focusing on the social, has opened itself to a wider variety of possible revenue sources. They could succeed at social advertising where Facebook has failed. (Not that Facebook doesn't make money, just that they do it while looking like idiots to users who see mismatched contextual ads.)

I use posterous because I like it. Tumblr is slower and isn't as power full when it comes to import/export. Javascript support or pre_made modules would be a plus for posterous as long as they keep is simple as its now.

A blog entry comparing Tumblr with Posterous hosted on Wordpress. Hmmm.

What OP does screams much louder than what he says.

Where's the contradiction? He doesn't say 'Tumblr is the best choice for my needs.'

"You can’t just engineer anymore. You have to design" is bullshit. Design is a tool, you still have to measure its results, pretty is not equal to better.

You can really see this if you look at the history of direct mail, some of the best performing mailers ever were pretty ugly. (source: http://www.amazon.com/Million-Dollar-Mailings-Dension-Hatch/...)

If you read past the first paragraph, he explains how the design goes far beyond "pretty". He explicitly says that "pretty" is not the point.

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