Tumblr is a simple blogging service that Needmore Designs now uses for its blog, among other things. You might say that it is my newest “hammer,” and every project I can think of is indeed looking like the “nail.” But Tumblr is fairly simple, aimed at blogging even more than something like WordPress, if only because it doesn’t support plugins of any kind… and you can’t put it on your own web server.

But can it be used as a CMS? I would love to get some of our clients on to this service in the future, because it’s a big win for everyone involved. It’s free, it’s pretty solid, it doesn’t have ads (not yet, at least), and its theming system is pretty logical to me. While I clearly can’t be putting up huge projects with this, it does seem possible that I could put up more modest sites.

Here is a quick list of some of Tumblr’s noteworthy strengths.

  • It’s social
  • Has great Twitter and Facebook integration built in
  • Supports multiple authors with post drafts
  • Supports automatic posting of content (limited)
  • Very simple and straightforward interface for adding blog-style content (chronological in nature)
  • Has great clients for desktop, iPhone, and more, and can accept posts by email and many other methods
  • Supports themes which they host
  • Has straightforward iPhone-friendly version of sites
  • Has nice built-in formatting of post archives
  • Solid, hosted service
  • You can use your own domain
  • You can set up google analytics or other services
  • Free

Let’s take a fairly simple kind of site that we might build, and look at what it would take to get it working with Tumblr. A good example would be a restaurant website. It needs to be very easy and fast to update, and may need to accept various types of content. There are bits of the page(s) that need to be updated infrequently, and it might be nice to have bits that were updated often.

For events and other blog-type things, Tumblr certainly has you covered. You can start writing right now, and virtually any setup will support this. You can save time because all of your posts can automatically go to Twitter, Facebook, and news readers. This is also a good way to talk about your specials and if you have an event.

What about something like your menus? Tumblr has added a “pages” feature recently, which means you could add a page for each menu. This navigation element can be easily added, and the pages can be sorted, so you have the ability to add a basic menu that way. With CSS, you can have the menus appear pretty solid.

What about your hours or location? Well, when you configure your site, you can add a “description” which can be fairly lengthy. This would be a reasonable place to put something like your hours. This can be placed anywhere on the page, since you could then hard-code in the restaurant description itself wherever needed. This is not ideal, but it’s a fairly reasonable tradeoff.

For your location, you could use a simple text field. Tumblr lets you add any number of those to a theme, and the user can edit those at will in the control panel interface. So you could definitely add location, or a map link, or other similar content this way.

Now, when actually putting this all into practice, there are some real-world concerns. The first one I ran up against is that one of our clients – who coincidentally runs a restaurant – doesn’t want to have to type in the whole menu, because they already have to type it into Microsoft Word (or Excel, apparently). I guess I can understand this. I would probably figure out a way to do it fairly quickly with cut-and-paste, or a better template in the first place, but this can definitely be intimidating to someone who is not particularly computer savvy.

What they want is the ability to just upload PDFs. Now, Tumblr does have a fairly obscure feature that lets you upload “static assets.” What that means is that it does actually let you upload a file just for the purpose of adding it to the page. But this can get confusing really fast, because then this novice computer user also has to understand how to link to these pages, and I have found that leads to a confusing experience, and the client just stops updating their website. Not cool.

So can Tumblr be used as a content management system? The answer is that it depends. It’s not a replacement for a full-fledged system, but it is a very solid system with some shortcomings. Perhaps those will be addressed before long, but one has to assume that the basic system will stay mostly the way it is right now. And I think that way is pretty okay.