Forgot to announce this earlier but the L.A. Times Tumblr officially received a set of keys to the #Politics page on Friday. We’ll be looking through our Dashboard, but if you’ve got something compelling, let us know.
On the Tumblr #Politics Tag
There is an interesting and it seems to me entirely appropriate debate going on on Tumblr right now about how the #Politics tag works, the kinds of posts that get marked with it, and in particular whether the vile and hate-filled bloviations of one of the Tumblr #Politics editors, Ryking, ought to lead to his removal from his post as a #Politics editor.
I must confess to more than a little frustration over the #Politics tag. I have seen lots of posts of mine that I thought—perhaps wrongly—were reasoned, insightful and timely be utterly ignored; others, snarkier or less filled with original content, made the show. But I’ve never been able to figure out what makes it and why—pretty much across the board.
I have so far forborne to discuss the #Politics tag because at some level anything I would have said in the past would have been navel-gazing: a plaintive wail shouting “why not me?” into the ether. And while I have drafted a few such wails, I took the time to reflect and delete them: “Send” may well be the most dangerous command on the internet, followed only by “Post” and “Reply all.”
But the debate over Ryking’s status as a #Politics editor has sparked a thought I hope isn’t “why not me, #Politics overlords?”
I think many of us greeted the creation of the #Politics tag as a hopeful thing: a place where interesting, unique and perceptive thoughts about complex issues might be highlighted for consideration and discussion. And to be fair, some of the editors treat the #Politics tag that way.
But I don’t think that’s what Tumblr wants. If Tumblr has a vision with its tags, it is most likely a vision of driving traffic to highlighted links. It is a vision of encouraging people to spend more time than they already are in the Tumblrverse. (The same is true for Facebook and every other social network site, for that matter.) And this is what Ryking does well. His outrageousness and savagery drives business … which is why he is a consistent “Top Editor.”
It’s good business. It’s just horrific politics.
So I would love to hear from the Tumblr staff about their vision for the #Politics tag. Given that there is no mechanism by which other editors or commenters can revise, remove or otherwise challenge posts in the #Politics tag, ala Wikipedia (except by reblogging them), #Politics has become a receptacle for some of the worst elements of our politics, not the best.
If we want a #Politics tag that is meaningful, it has to be curated by administrators with the power to challenge and remove posts and with the training to know what meaningful political analysis is (even if they don’t agree with a particular piece). As it stands, what we often get looks the “comments” section after an online article: nasty, brutish, and rarely short enough.
Some excellent points here. A few thoughts:
Our vision for any tag page isn’t for it to be a traffic generator. At this point, Tumblr does more than 500 million page views every day, so traffic isn’t so much the primary need for us, or Tumblr users. Our main concern is helping people discover new, compelling Tumblr posts and bloggers. We feel that, for Tumblr to work, your Tumblr dashboard has to to be the most compelling, the coolest, the most informative place on the Web; it’s the place where you find, to paraphrase Rumsfeld, the things you didn’t even know you wanted to know. In our vision of the politics page, it’s the place on Tumblr where the best political news, thinking and opinion around U.S. politics (and it’s clear we need to address politics in other countries soon) are found. The “Top Editor” designation, by the way, is simply the editor whose picks at have had the most “notes” on them—the thinking being that this is a measure of how useful the community finds the editor’s selections.
That’s the vision. I don’t think we’re there yet, for a few reasons. One is from a product standpoint—tag editors don’t have any extra tools to help them discover new content. While we encourage tag editors to follow a large, diverse number of Tumblr blogs, and to use search to find things, we understand that this is an imperfect way to expect people to discover the best political content on Tumblr. Another issue is structural—we don’t have a good way of getting bad information out of the system. This came up recently in the “News” tag, where one of the editors had tagged as “News” a post that had a wrongly-captioned photo in it. We need better mechanisms to purge incorrect things from the tag pages.
I agree that there needs to be some way of building challenge and accountability into the system. That said, I don’t think a Wikipedia-style functionality is the answer here. For one thing, we can’t have editors changing the content of the posts they select; Tumblr isn’t a collaborative wiki.
I would, though, love anyone’s thoughts on how we can improve the system—please reblog with ideas, or mail me at mark@tumblr.