UPDATE: My bad — Fan Mail does allow replies, but it just sends a separate fan mail back to the sender. It’s still an extremely inelegant solution. That said, the Staff team is totally justified to send me a response calling me an idiot on this one.
Fan Mail is embarrassing. Take Apple’s horrible skeumorphism design trend and combine it with Tumblr’s tendency to treat their users like children and you end up with a half-assed messaging implementation and a gimmick that people will get tired of insanely quickly. It wouldn’t be so bad if the selection wasn’t such a horribly paltry three fonts and two kinds of paper. No images, no colors, nothing. Did Topherchris program this in the afternoon as a practical joke?
People will continue to use Asks to message other users, because at least you can reply to those. Fan Mail is not a solution to any problem. It will not entice anyone to join Tumblr, and it does not fill any desire of Tumblr users.
Look, I get it. Karp and company have their own vision for how the site is to be used. But Tumblr isn’t Apple. It is growing at an insane pace and has a pretty loyal community. But so did Livejournal. This Apple-like attitude just doesn’t work in this case. Apple’s business of forced compromises works because they are giving users what they want and removing what they kind of want but can live without.
In this instance, Tumblr is ignoring major demands from its userbase. Tumblr works so well because everything is public, but communities mean forging relationships, and while e-mail, Facebook et-al. are great for building those relationships, a native messaging system is needed to break the ice (or for topic-specific blogs, or anonymous blogs!).
I’ve been a Tumblr member for about a year and a half now. In that time, very little has changed. Replies are still neutered and incomprehensible. Asks have actually become less useful. The Dashboard redesign is fine, I guess — but it wasn’t necessity. There’ve been a handful of good new features — photosets and the mass editor, for example — but by and large, I still find myself thinking constantly, “Tumblr could be great if only …” I don’t think that about my Apple products, by the way.
And I’m not alone. The popularity of and rabid loyalty towards Missing E — and subsequently, Tumblr’s aping of Missing E features while simultaneously intrusively harassing users to get them to stop using Missing E or lose Tumblr’s support of their account — shows that there is a huge dearth of functionality that Tumblr is unwilling to provide or even talk about.
I love Tumblr. I’d even be willing to pay for premium features like messaging — not only because I want more features, but because Tumblr has no revenue model and that means you can’t have faith it will stay around for long. Tumblr’s growth bubble is inspiring arrogance, but they should be very wary — they were once a tiny startup and there’s nothing stopping another tiny startup from addressing these issues before Tumblr’s saccharine-yet-non-communicative team can.