The real issue with Tumblr’s pinning promotional feature isn’t that it’s somehow awful; it’s not, really; it’s no worse than “sponsored” Tweets or any other insertion of paid content —whether the advertiser is your friend or a company— into a feed which you’ve ostensibly assembled according to your own preferences. No one likes advertisements, but Tumblr has given me a lot, more than I can repay, so why should I begrudge them their efforts at keeping the lights on? I’d rather pay a monthly fee, but most users wouldn’t, no matter what they say.
What is sort of a drag, though, is that paying to pin your post is paying Tumblr to correct Tumblr’s most significant design defect: that it still presents posts in the Dashboard by according to a naive and arbitrary system of prioritization, namely: chronology.
Contrast Tumblr and Twitter —where you must wonder: when should I post? Did no one like this because of the hour, or because it sucked? Should I wait until after such-and-such trending topic before posting? etc.— with Quora or Facebook, where content is surfaced to you based on whether you want to see it, based on both implied preferences derived from recorded and analyzed behaviors and from explicit signals you provide.
While we are all habituated to the chronological imperative, it is as bad a way to distribute content as live broadcast television is when compared with on-demand access to shows. When your favorite artist posts his watercolors has nothing to do with how much you like them, but on Tumblr, it has everything to do with whether you see them, unless there is such an abundance of interest in them that everyone reblogs them. Tumblr rewards what is vastly popular in part because it cannot surface interesting posts in a more granular, individuated way.
Thus: the community is obliged to deal with this defect, and tools like the Radar and Spotlight —both of which are fine, but anemic in the face of this challenge— make an effort too. And now, you can also pay to deal with this problem, provided you have the sappy arrogance evidently inculcated in us all by this advertorial culture of ours required to say to your followers: I feel like you must see this or take steps not to.
(I lost more than 100 followers when I used the pinning feature, but should have lost more).
If you use Quora for a few weeks, you’ll be amazed at how good their feed is; while Facebook’s is likely familiar to more people, and does a serviceable and ever-improving job of showing you what you want regardless of when it was posted, Quora’s is ludicrously, shockingly good. I don’t worry about when I answer a question; if people follow me, are interested in the topics, and if the community thinks it’s good, it gets seen.
Tumblr rewards luck in post-times far too much; Quora rewards good content. Since the reduction of the arbitrary is a major aim of any system which seeks a “good,” Tumblr’s reliance on recency —which is, again, unrelated to quality— is a shame.
I’m sure they’re working on something rad and cool to address that, or something I can’t imagine. But I think that’s the only real issue with the pins. They only even make sense because all of us are still dependent on the coincidence of posting times. The central design flaw of all blogging platforms and Twitter and much of the Internet in general remains as Joshua put it:
CREATING A GOOD BLOG IS LIKE WRITING A GOOD BOOK THAT NO ONE READS PAST THE FIRST PAGE
Creating a good blog is like hiding your treasure under piles of new treasure.
Creating a bad blog is like burying your trash under piles of new trash.
Someone should fix that.