Why I hate Tumblr

For the comic in my Facebook / Twitter post, I came across it on Swiss Miss, which had a note that it was from BrownChickenBrownCow.  It’s pretty standard in blogging that you include a link to where you found something / who created something (usually the same place) when you include an excerpt from someone else’s work.  This leads me immediately to why I hate Tumblr.  On Tumblr, people just link to where they found something, which is usually another Tumblr blog, which in turn links to another, and another, and so on, with no note whatsoever along the way of where it originally came from.  For example, for this comic, the chain went:

  • Swiss Miss, posted that it was from BrownChickenBrownCow
  • Who posted that it was from mikehudack
  • Who said it was from pberntsen
  • Who got it from bethtucker
  • Now, Beth Tucker doesn’t say where she found it from explicitly, but if you click on the picture, it takes you to ReadWriteWeb (and if you look at the url, she apparently found that through her google reader feed)
  • Now, strange thing here, if you go to the ReadWriteWeb page, you notice something different about the image – it has where it came from (Noise To Signal) *in the picture*.  Which means before it got into the Tumblr ecosystem (read – cesspool), the image had as a part of the image where it came from clearly noted.  Someone along the way didn’t just copy the image and repost it without noting where it originally came from (laziness), they saved it, opened it in a photo editing tool, cropped it to remove the attribution of who actually made it, and then posted it to their Tumblr blog (purposefully stripping the source).  All the blogs in that chain point back to Beth, so I would assume that’s where the change came, but that the glory of Tumblr – everything is reposted without credit (stolen), so who knows where she stole it from without accrediting it?
    *Note – Updates and clarification on what actually happened here in the comments below, which includes facts and sensible / rational explanations rather than ranty speculation like the above. *
    Someone else may have cropped it to remove the attribution, and then she took it from their site and didn’t attribute them.  Who knows?  And, as icing on the cake, who is this Beth Tucker?  Well, if you read her “About Beth” page, she apparently used to be a lawyer.  Gee, wonder why that didn’t work out.  Oh yeah, and she talks about herself in the third person, because that’s sane.
    * Update – sorry, cheap jab. I’m a dick when I get on a humor/rant roll. I think it tends to be more amusing if you know me / if it’s in person and you get a bit of the George Carlin-esque-ness of it, which doesn’t always translate well to written form. I’m working on a new blog theme/skin that should highlight this a little more.*
  • Now, if you did click on the image on Beth’s Tumblr blog, and got to the ReadWriteWeb page, there is both the water mark on the image for where it came from, and a link to the creator’s site, but not to the specific comic.  I’ve seen lots of people argue either way for if you should link to the specific piece of content or to the site as a whole.  I tend to favor linking to the specific piece of content (left over from documenting page numbers for research papers), but really either way works, as long as you actually give credit to who made it.  So, we’ve finally made our way back to some sort of accreditation.
  • ReadWriteWeb links us to Noise To Signal, who actually made the cartoon, and we can do a quick search, and, about 7 steps from where we started (you could link this cartoon to Kevin Bacon quicker), we find (trumpets sound) the actual original cartoon.  Now, here’s the part that makes all of the above even more ridiculous (and I would say even tops the lawyer part) – the original comic has the following right under it:

    Post this cartoon on your site:
    Copy and paste this embed code…

    That’s right, on the original comic’s page, there’s code you can just copy and paste to put it right in your site, without having to download it, crop the credit off of it, and re-upload it.  Simple as can be, ctrl-c, ctrl-v, publish button, done.

And it’s not just that the four or five Tumblr blogs above reposted this cartoon without noting where it was from, if you look at the bottom of each, it has a list of other Tumblr blogs that have reblogged it since then (or liked it), which on the first two is 530 additional people.

Now you may say, “One comic that made the rounds, big deal.”  But, the thing is I come across this all the damn time with Tumblr.  Someone posts something cool on a site that usually accredits things well and it leads back to Tumblr, where there’s no clear attribution of where it came from, so people give up and just say it was from there.

The above is actually one of the only times where a chain of accreditation went into Tumblr and I was able to find the way out back out.  Most of the time you can’t even search for where it originally came from (even with tineye, which is awesome), because it has been so heavily reposted on Tumblr without notes on where it came from, that the search engines just show you a hundred Tumblr links.  There’s been a ton of things I’ve come across and would love to post here, but won’t, because due to the glories of Tumblr, I don’t know who actually did the work to make it, and probably never will.

The reason this really pisses me off is because the whole web is based on sharing and copying (in case you didn’t know, everything that you’ve ever looked at on the web, including this, has gotten copied to your computer before you ever saw it – that, at a technical level – making copies – is how the web works).  But people share things on the web with at least the slight hope that they’ll get some form of credit for it.  At least a link back.  For a fairly poor metaphor – bands let their music get played on the radio for free so people will hear it and want to hear more of their music, and, ideally, buy a CD or some mp3′s or come to a show.  The internet and the world of blogging works a lot the same way.  But, in my mind, Tumblr is the equivalent of a band playing the song American Pie and either claiming they wrote it, or that it’s by Madonna.  Or, more accurately, a band lip syncing to the original recording of American Pie, and then claiming they wrote it, or Madonna did.  Unless you’re Don McLean, you can’t claim you wrote American Pie, and you can’t claim the person singing it in the original was you.

This is why I hate Tumblr.

Tags: , , , , | Written by on May 11,2011 |


  • Hi, Kearn -

    Thanks for this post, and for standing up for author attribution in a Tumblr world. (I’m near the end of a post myself on this topic. I’ve been working on it for three months. Good thing I can draw.)

    You’re bang on in saying that Tumblr’s users need to be more responsible with attribution, and I think Tumblr (and Posterous) can do a lot to help promote that as well.

    I’d initially drawn the same conclusion you had about Beth’s use of my cartoon. But when I got in touch with her, I got a very gracious reply – as well as the explanation that she’d inadvertently cut off the credit when she grabbed the cartoon using a screen capture utility. She quickly replaced the cartoon with a credited version, and I’m convinced this was an innocent mistake on her part.

    Thanks again for this post. I’ll let you know when mine is up.

  • Beth Tucker says:

    Hi Kearn –
    I appreciate the vigor with which you tackle the issue of attribution, and by and large I agree that curators are becoming far too relaxed about accurately crediting creators (guilty as charged). I posted Rob’s cartoon without its appropriate watermark. But, (as Rob notes in his reply above), I did it innocently and since being brought to my attention the error has been corrected. In this case, I reposted Rob’s cartoon because it is clever, he is a cartoonist whose work I follow through my google reader and I’m all too happy to promote to the readers of my Tumblr account (which at that point was about 5 people). I was mistaken when I copied his work without accurately linking back to him directly, but did it without malicious intent. For me this was a lesson learned and in the future I will be much more careful about correctly crediting content creators.

    PS. I am as grateful as you are that I am no longer a lawyer!

  • [...] to do to make it both easier to apply attribution, and clearer that they expect it of their users. Kearn makes a strong case for that in a blog post about hunting down the original source for my [...]

  • And the post is up! You can find it here: Why attribution is important.

    Thanks again.

  • [...] to do to make it both easier to apply attribution, and clearer that they expect it of their users. Kearn makes a strong case for that in a blog post about hunting down the original source for my cartoon: Someone posts something cool [...]

  • Kearn says:

    Good to hear this was actually an innocent mistake, rather than purposeful stealing as I rant-ily assumed. I’ve added updates to the post to point this out. The watermark is pretty high up on the image, with a fair amount of white space, so I can absolutely see how one would miss it if doing a screen grab. I tend to forget you can do screen grabs because I’m much more in the habit of doing a right click / save as and then using photo editing tools. This does make the lawyer bit less amusing, but I suppose reality can’t always be as amusing as my run away imagination.

    Also, to be clear, I don’t so much blame the users of Tumblr for not attributing things well, as I blame the platform of Tumblr for making that the default / simplest behavior. Granted, I’m assuming this is the case as I haven’t used Tumblr to blog, but given the content / style / format / etc of 99% of the Tumblr blogs I’ve seen, I can only assume this is the default / simple behavior when interacting with the platform. So, again, the above isn’t meant to be a hit piece on Beth (who’s been very gracious through the whole thing), it’s more just one example of where poor default behavior of software can take an innocent mistake and propagate it wildly. I’m sure lots of my first post had similar missteps, but for better or worse, I don’t think anyone read or cared about my first hundred or so posts, so those mistakes are lost to the darkness of the blog archives :)

    (Side rant) It’s sort of like I don’t blame Windows XP users for having really insecure computers that contribute directly or indirectly to a lot of the unfavorable views of computer usability and ease of large scale hacking attacks, I blame Microsoft for making an operating system that’s wildly insecure when far better approaches were widely available at the time (even when it was new), and making the upgrade path to more secure version difficult / expensive (ie, you can buy a new Windows OS and install it, which is out of range on both price and computer skills for most users, or you can keep what you’ve got and patch it until you buy a new computer with a new OS on it. The simpler path is to keep old, out of date, insecure software). Same for IE6. I don’t blame the people who use it for making web development a total pain in the butt, I blame (again) Microsoft for not releasing an IE6 patch that just puts a bar at the top saying “Click here to upgrade to a browser from this decade”, and clicking here there takes care of the whole process for you.

    Generally, the default settings in software are the only settings for 99% of the users. My main gripe here is the apparent default settings of Tumblr.

    Jeff Atwood over at Coding Horror has a really good post from a while back that probably iterates the power of default settings better than the above, though from more of a best practices stand point than a ranty/complainy stand point.

    In general, the whole copyright, copy left, creative commons, attribution, sharing/excepting of content area is sort of fascinating in it’s own right. But admittedly I don’t have much intelligent to say about it, and others have covered and continue to cover and engage with it far better than I do. Mostly just felt like complaining about Tumblr :)

  • [...] from reading Rob’s post on attribution (related to my Tumblr rant), this graphic by Olly Moss of two angry Batmans / Wolverine is awesome.  I rather like this one [...]

  • Agent Egghead says:

    I really hate how its spelled Tumblr instead of Tumbler
    Were they too lazy to include the e? that one reason is why I HATE that website

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