Microblogger shootout: Posterous Spaces vs. Tumblr

A new wave of free sites encourages fast blogging, multimedia entries and social networking.

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Setting up

The goal of these services is to get you from zero to an appealing online presence in as little time and with as little effort as possible. Most of the responsibility for the quality of the content lies with the site creator, of course, but the service itself plays a part by providing as few speed bumps as possible along the way.

Both Posterous Spaces and Tumblr make you hit the ground running. You enter an email address, a password and a name for your site, and you're propelled into the blog-building world with a minimum of fuss.

Posterous Spaces

Posterous Spaces recently rebranded itself from the plain name Posterous to the expanded name Posterous Spaces, emphasizing the fact that you can set up multiple blogs (which it calls Spaces) for different purposes.

Posterous Spaces vs. Tumblr

The Customize page on Posterous Spaces lets you tweak your site.

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As a new Posterous Spaces user, you're thrown right into a Facebook-style page of popular Spaces. If it weren't for a large yellow Create a Post button, you'd be forgiven for thinking you were at just another social networking site. In the absence of any other direction, that's what I clicked on first -- though, upon closer inspection, I could equally have gone to the settings menu to apply a design theme or the Spaces menu to create a new blogging space. All told, there was slightly less initial hand-holding than Tumblr offered -- though, on balance, it was more consistent than Tumblr's spottier approach.

After clicking the big green Publish button on my first post, there was a slightly heart-sinking moment when a very plain page with the title "happyflight's Space" appeared. It looked dreadful. About the only attractive elements were the friendly Facebook "Like" and Tweet buttons at the bottom of the post -- but this page wasn't ready for the world to see.

And it was live -- unlike Tumblr, Posterous Spaces doesn't filter content in a dashboard preview; it shows you the real thing and provides text links up top to take you to site management. (You can save a draft, however.) To change the appearance of your first posting, you click back to your main page, click on Spaces and from the settings button next to your new space, click Customize.

For each new public or private blog you create in Spaces, you can decide whether you want to automatically post your blog to a welter of other services, including Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Next, you're dropped into the space's Settings menu, where you can invite friends from Facebook and Twitter to subscribe to your new content.

Unlike Tumblr, Posterous Spaces doesn't treat themes as a possible revenue source: What you see and preview, you can apply to your site free of charge. Trying on new themes is easy enough -- Posterous Spaces generates preview pages for your approval before you accept one and go live. However, Tumblr made it considerably easier to change fonts and background colors for a given theme.

One setup feature that caught my fancy was Posterous Spaces' ability to import blogs from other sites. Posterous Spaces can bring over an entire archive from Google's Blogger, Ning, WordPress and several other sites (including Tumblr). In this era of test-driving and migrating between different providers, this is a feature that all blogging sites should have.

Tumblr

Tumblr throws you right into the deep end when you first register, with a full-page invitation to create your first post. Once you've taken care of that, the site takes you systematically through the process of design.

Posterous Spaces vs. Tumblr

Tumblr offers a large variety of themes to choose from.

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It's a smooth process to begin with. You start your site with a title and portrait photograph, and then you drop into a Customize page where you can pick a prepackaged theme design and modify it by changing fonts and background colors. You can also add static pages, such as an About Us page. And like Posterous Spaces, you can use a single account to create multiple blog spaces.

The first three screens of templates cost up to $50, but many of the free designs (which follow) seem to fit the bill just as well. Tumblr previews the theme you pick on a boilerplate page: To see how your real site looks, you need to save and navigate to your blog through the Tumblr Dashboard. (The Dashboard is your account's main page.)

This unintuitive process is where Tumblr first starts to deviate from its goal of being easy to figure out. It got a little worse later, when it appeared that my first choice of design didn't support the banner-style title bar I wanted to add. It appeared (and the Help section didn't say otherwise) that my only option was to continue to pick new designs and look through the Customize page's Appearance module for each design until the option for a title graphic appeared. Plan B would have been to create my own design from scratch, which was more than I was prepared for.

Another ding against Tumblr's setup: While the Customize page is all well and good, it did not list all the features I needed -- or all the features Tumblr offers. As a case in point, if you want to add a page that lets people ask questions, or allow others to submit posts to your blog, you need to go to the Tumblr Dashboard, click on your blog's name and then click on a separate Settings link. Burrowing through a labyrinth of menus to get to the option you want is always a bit of a nuisance.

Bottom line

Getting from your point of origin to your destination always involves some upheaval, but both Posterous Spaces and Tumblr encounter little turbulence along the way. There's not much to differentiate between Tumblr's Dashboard interface and Posterous Spaces.

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