People who read regularly know that over the past seven months or so I’ve been very critical of Tumblr, the service that has powered my site since 2007. Starting back in January I wrote a post titled “Time for a Change” wherein I lamented the downtime and feature bugs and announced my plans to move to a different service. Then, in March, after a period of several weeks of many outtages and lots of downtime, I snapped one morning and created a jokey-but-scathing alternative error page for Tumblr. I knew it was harsh, but I also knew that for several months my website was down all the time and it was taking its toll on me. That post received a total of 612 likes and reblogs, which told me I wasn’t the only person fed up.
This led, that same day, to me posting a followup explaining how badly I wanted Tumblr to charge for their service, and why I thought it would lead to a better, more stable platform. This post received nearly 300 likes and reblogs once again confirming I wasn’t alone.
And so it went. I continued to bitch and moan, and the service continued to suffer. After my critical posts, the entire team at Tumblr unfollowed my account (and those following me on Twitter also unfollowed there). David Karp used to like my posts regularly and give me nice comments and feedback occasionally. We exchanged emails here and there and we were on very friendly terms before all of my complaining. Jacob Bijani would occasionally @reply me on Twitter and like my posts on Tumblr. These guys are very nice and I respect all the work they do. So I felt terrible as I watched them systematically unfollow me, but at the same time I couldn’t get past the simple truth that the service they were providing was failing me on a daily basis.
“I’m not here to make friends” has crossed my mind many times throughout my career in this industry, because it’s the opposite of how I feel. I’m here to make friends. I’ve made friends with so many fantastic people over the past 10 years, and I can’t imagine my life without these folks. So when my actions directly correlate to good, smart people turning away and never looking back, it’s a hard pill to swallow (related to this is the group of amazing people at Facebook whom I’ve also offended in various ways across the years, but that’s for a different day).
I sent David several emails about the problems with Tumblr and he continued to express both sympathy and urgency and an overall “we’re working on fixing it ASAP” message, but it just didn’t feel like anything was happening. For months, uptime was a roller-coaster and features would work sometimes and not others. It was initially frustrating, then angering, then infuriating every time I saw that goofy error page. Reports of Tumblr hiring more engineers kept surfacing, but no real-world results were visible to me as a user.
Under all my complaining and joke-making was a real, genuine message: I love Tumblr and I want it to be better. I kept mentioning that I wanted to pay for the service, pay to make it better, pay to support it. I reiterated to everyone who asked why I liked the service so much to begin with that the people who were building it were doing fun, interesting things and that the likes/reblogs system was great for getting your content in front of more eyes. I continued to preface every complaint with “I love Tumblr and I want to keep using it, but…”. But eventually I ran out of energy and gave up.
So here we are in June, just three months later. And what’s the situation like now? I’m happy to report it’s much better. Downtime and outtages seem very rare these days—I’ve only seen the error page once in two months. And, just recently, Tumblr has begun adding new features and redesigning the UI again. The new Messages functionality they released last week was a huge change that I immediately appreciated (I was finally able to answer boatloads of questions privately), and the new Dashboard design is refined and svelte. The future looks very bright for Tumblr, and I’m glad I didn’t jump ship back when the skies were darkest. That doesn’t erase what happened, but the team is doing a hell of a job handling the load and getting new stuff out. Credit where credit is due.
I’m sad to have lost the potential friendships, but I’m glad Tumblr is getting better. Just last week, in an Adweek interview, David said:
You get error messages at Google, you get exceptions when accessing the Facebook API. At this scale there are way too many moving parts for it not to happen. Desktop computers still freeze. When people post a screenshot of an error page and we know that they hit refresh once and happened to get an error, that does frustrate me.
He probably wasn’t thinking of me specifically, but I’m in there. While he’s perfectly within his right to be frustrated by complaints about a service he has poured his heart and soul into—and while I understand how crushing it can feel being a software developer myself—the other side to this is that if you act like there isn’t a problem or you take too long solving it, users don’t feel like they can trust you. Tumblr is earning back that trust now, I’m just sorry for the collateral damage.