Tumblelogs are a popular form of blogging, whether they take the traditional minimalistic form or not. When the amount of information is available the way it is online via blogs, strong and simple messages are all the more valuable. The popularity of Jason Kottke’s kottke.org and John Gruber’s Daring Fireball are two examples of this trend in action, despite the fact that their sites don’t fit the new accepted tumblelog design format.
Wikipedia defines the tumblelog as:
…a variation of a blog that favors short-form, mixed-media posts over the longer editorial posts frequently associated with blogging. Common post formats found on tumblelogs include links, photos, quotes, dialogues, and video.
The article goes on to describe the tumblelog’s tendency to display information, links, and media without much commentary. There are another couple of interesting insights into the definition, including one of Kottke’s, in the full article.
One of the most popular ways to blog in this format is to use Tumblr. Tumblr is well worth a link and a mention, as it has influenced the design technique of many of those interested in short-form blogging. Tumblr’s beginnings stretch back as early as 2005, and it is important to realize tumblelogging goes back much farther than that. It is a technique that has only been formally recognized (if Wikipedia counts as formal recognition) in the past few years.
For those looking to use WordPress as a tumblelogging platform, they very well can. The following reviews offer up the best and the worst (though the worst here are still pretty damn good) tumblelog themes to build on. Some of these require some minor setup, but all of them are unique and worth checking into. I’ve made efforts to provide as much information up front to help you with your decisions, so that you can pick based on the most thorough, solid, well-supported or detailed theme—whichever is your priority. Happy reading.
(Note: Themes are displayed in alphabetical order. Just to be fair.)
- Tumblelog for WordPress
Artueel, by Erlend Debas
This thin little theme is less than 600 px wide and is framed in a very calming green with some foliage in the corners. One of the best parts of this theme is how it has a relative width, which means it will expand to the width of the browser. This can be nice as it rewards those with smaller monitors just as much as it does those with large ones.
Artueel is designed for only one post to be displayed on the front page, and as such it is statically coded into the theme files. Keep that in mind when it comes to setup time, assuming you don’t like it and, of course, that you can change it yourself.
In a nice gesture, the theme author (Erland) offers up the full PSD along with the rest of the theme files. This is great when it comes to exploring the intricacies of your new theme, as well as making things like color changes and additions to the background. Big thanks to Erland for this one! Keep in mind, however, that these files are also necessary because the site name is encased in and displayed as a graphic, which means it will need to be changed in the PSD and exported then uploaded during setup. That is, of course, unless you don’t mind the default Artueel Blog header it comes with. Yeah, I didn’t think so.
While the green feed icon is nice, it does tend to fade into the background up in the corner.
From a user’s perspective, it is a bit frustrating to not have any rollover effects for a lot of the links on the page. I’m not against subtle color changes or anything, but not having any change at all for the post’s date, category or comment link is a bit annoying.
The validation came through with virtually no issue at all, which is always a welcome find. However, it is a bit unnerving to find manual links in the footer of the page that have been stuck there by the theme author. It’s not a good technique, on two ends. First, most users will be upset to find something on their theme that doesn’t belong to them. They expect to have total control: that is what WordPress is all about, after all. Secondly, Google has proven time and time again that forcing links is not something they take kindly to. Dangerous move, and one I would highly suggest changing.
Finally, I do want to mention that there is no place for links to pages in this theme. As we go through these themes, some will and some will not. Be prepared to have no default action for your list of pages, as the focus is (as it should be) toward the content. With that, here is the quick recap of positives and negatives, which you can see at the bottom of each review.
Pros of Artueel
- Full page width accommodates every screen resolution stylishly
- Layered PSD available with theme download!
- Fully valid and well structured
Cons of Artueel
- Graphic logo and default links in footer add some time to the initial setup
- No link rollover colors in certain areas
- By default no admin control over number of posts on homepage
Bloglet, by Scott Andreas
I should say I am a good friend of Scott’s, so that may make me a bit biased about his tumblelog theme.
The colors, design, and flexibility of this theme make it my favorite of this list. Though I haven’t had the privilege of playing with it myself (not yet released) I have played with it enough to appreciate it.
Bloglet features nice styles for images, blockquotes, and comments. Hopefully one day it will be released into the wild!
- Colors are awesome
- Headlines are fun, date blocks too
- Right sidebar pops out
- Clear sans-serif copy
- Not available yet! (Missing some polish, Scott says)
Braintied, by Small Potato
No great theme list would be complete without a selection from Small Potato. Although he is currently away from the blogosphere (anyone heard anything from him lately?) and his site has been fairly inactive with its new owner (or new new owner, but who’s counting?), Braintied is still a very visually appealing theme for microblogging.
The actual theme layout almost makes you expect the posts to slide open and closed, using AJAX. But this one’s much simpler than that, instead offering up simple links to single post views.
I can envision this theme holding a series of tutorials, maybe some sort of online instruction manual for something. It’s very clean, compact, and the colors are very nice.
Braintied, though, doesn’t set out to be the tumblelog theme that some of these other themes do. So some of the unique stylings that the others have won’t be found on this one.
- Nice dark colors
- Unique compact post listing
- WPDesigner quality
- Not the tumblelog quality of some of these themes
- Looks like it should be AJAX, but it’s not
Elite, by Stephen Reinhardt
Elite is a darker theme featuring elements of a simple tumblelog. The big navigation is the first thing you notice, and as such I probably wouldn’t go with this theme unless there will be a few pages on your site.
Left alignment is an interesting decision, since most tumblelog designs tend toward center alignment. I’m also a fan of the comments, since they are styled like quote boxes (which is, in my opinion, better than plain styled comments).
- Very dark colors, yet still colorful
- Attractive comment styles
- Left alignment makes it stand out
- Lacking flashier tumblelog elements
- Left alignment may not be best for everyone
Nishita, by Brajeshwar Oinam
Nishita has been optimized, in the available preview, as a photoblog. This isn’t the only possible use for this clean centered theme. This could easily feature any number of other tumblelog elements.
The archives listing (see preview) offers a nice sized thumbnail next to each archived post, which is very popular anymore. And this is definitely an interesting thing to include, for a tumblelog-ish theme.
It also looks like Brajeshwar, the theme author, is willing to look into enhancing the theme a bit to handle even more items. We’ll see if this is still the case, since it’s been a while since anything new has been said anything about this theme.
- Very clean, white, content centric design
- Pleasant link/accent colors
- Might not have much to offer, by default, beyond photo blogging
PocketT, by Nyssa J. Brown
PocketT is the perfect simple one column theme for those who love clean themes with light colors. Featuring just enough color to take it from bland to interesting, PocketT also incorporates some of the FAMFAMFAM icon set to give it that nice quality that icon-ophiles like myself love.
And yes, I just invented a word.
The footer contains, along with a search field, a little graphic which shoots the user back to the top of the page. Kind of nice.
- Simple, light, rounded cornered design
- Uses a popular icon set
- Not too flash when it comes to displaying content boldly
T1, by Kirk Tardy
T1 is a theme after my own heart, as it is built on Sandbox (Sandbox is an amazing starter theme for developers, go get it). Any theme built on Sandbox will have my attention, since I use it myself for every theme I develop. Without the available classes and semantic nature of Sandbox, I’m just not at home.
But the appeal of T1 doesn’t end there. It features a random image header, which isn’t that exciting to me but would excite many users, I’m sure. Along with that, however, there is also a bold display style for each of the desired tumblelog elements: photos, videos, quotes, and links. There is even a style for cell updates, which is pretty unique!
Can I say, too, that after seeing a few of these themes with their own sites (domain or otherwise), I prefer it? So can everyone go ahead and make a site just for each theme they release? That would be great.
- Patterned background offers more than the average simple theme
- Built on Sandbox, gives a solid foundation for fun to occur
- Fun and creative styles for different content elements
- Certain areas could use some polishing up, design wise
Tumblelog for WordPress, by Safirul Alredha
A simple gray pattern, white content area, and left alignment spells out this particular theme.
While the design is simple, and everything is easy enough to navigate and manage, there just may not be enough spark to this theme to draw much attention. It does, however, offer some nice styles (though little color) for things like links and blockquotes.
- Clean, simple delivery of a tumblelog theme
- Nice styles for certain elements
- Possibly too simple, not a lot to keep attention
- A lot of gray
Tumble-Hybrid, by Shawn Anthony
Tumble-Hybrid reminds of the above mentioned Bloglet, in that that links to continue reading the post are on the right in the form of plus signs. And this is actually a fairly intuitive design element, although it does sort of feel like something should open up when it’s clicked.
Styles are dished out using a series of categories, as explained on the theme home page (linked above). This tends to be a nice way of setting out unique styles, since sometimes in tumblelogs elements shouldn’t stand out as much as other times. Categories are a nice way of distinguishing when those special times are and when they are not.
This theme, Tumble-Hybrid, does feature a number of very clear tumblelog design elements. Below are a couple of the best examples. The theme is very simple, which does detract a bit from the visual punch of some themes. But which is more important to you, simplicity or flash?
I should say, though, that some of the code behind this theme worries me. The example given, on the theme home page, for spitting out correctly styled quotes (using the appropriate category) doesn’t include the
blockquote tag anywhere. Too bad.
Oh, and this is another left aligned theme. Interesting.
- Simple to control and use special styles, using categories
- Very clean design gets out of the way
- Attractive and bold tumblelog styles
- Evidence of what could be poor coding habits
Typographic, by Felipe Lavín Zumaeta
Typographic is what comes to mind when I think of a tumblelog theme. There is just enough to it to know what it is, just enough to be able to sort of dissect it and undertand what it is, and yet not enough there that it takes on too much of a life of its own. Really, Typographic looks like a starter theme for tumblelog themes. It makes me want to make it into something really cool.
But that’s not to say that Typographic doesn’t bring anything to the table on its own. The fonts used, for example, are all updated and beautiful. There are also nice quotation styles and even an interesting IDsystem for laying out conversations, which is probably worth a look.
Oh, and did I mention there is an admin panel for the theme, to change how it appears? Yeah, that’s very cool.
- Admin panel control makes making simple changes that much simpler
- Ideal styles
- Has everything you picture a tumblelog theme having
- Might not be enough for the average user, and require too much customization to make it one’s own
- Bonsai, by Julian Klewes
- MH_Tumblr, by Matt Herzberger
- Tumblejack, by Jack Osh
- Display your Tumblr Feed on your WordPress Blog
Thanks to these Resources
- Smashing Magazine’s List of 100 High Quality WordPress Themes
- Tumblr Themes
- The God that is Wikipedia
- Tech Confidential, some background on Tumblr
- Matt Mullenweg and commenters discuss simple Tumblelog WordPress Themes
Have a theme? Tell me!
If you have a theme and would like to see me talk about it at Theme Playground, just drop a comment or send over an email. I have a contact page listed above. Even if you don’t and you work with WordPress, I’d love to talk with you. We are a community, and there’s no reason we shouldn’t act like one.