The Brave New World of Tumblr

Posted on April 7, 2013

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“The first rule of Tumblr is…you do not talk about Tumblr”.

It’s the wise words (and Fight Club references) like these that get thousands of notes on the massively popular microblogging site, Tumblr. This witticism, or Tumblr’s unofficial doctrine, suggests that the site would only appeal to a small demographic. Users would like to keep it that way, too. A social media site where users don’t want to popularize such website? That’s new. But the thing is, if Tumblr becomes too popular it would no longer classify as cool. It would be “so mainstream”. Ironically, with the newfound popularity of the geek/nerd/dork persona, Tumblr gains more and more users of all cyber personalities – one of which includes President Obama. In the high school that is the Internet, Tumblr is that unassuming, awkward girl with a lot of personality who is just starting to get noticed.  She would probably have a lot of cats, too.

Tumblr, owned and operated by Tumblr, Inc., was launched on April 27, 2007 by David Karp. Site information claims that Tumblr has over 73.2 million blogs and 31.5 billion posts as of September this year. According to TechCrunch, Tumblr had about 300 million pageviews per month and 25,000 new users in 2010. Tumblr is also multilingual – the site is available in 12 languages. According to quantcast, Tumblr is 14th in USA’s Top 20 sites. Now that’s a lot for the awkward girl in high school.

What is it that makes Tumblr so popular? The answer is simple: it is simple. Tumblr’s user interface is very easy to understand that even non-techie people with no experience on blogging could learn how to “Tumblelog” in 30 seconds. Hence, its former tagline: “the easiest way to blog”.

Tumblr is a microblogging site, like its sisters Twitter and Facebook.  Unlike blogging, microblogging concerns thoughts of the moment (“What’s on your mind?”). Tumblr will not let you worry about tweaking the settings for your post – it takes care of the technicalities for you. All you have to do is input your posts and customize if you have to. Tumblogging isn’t as complex as blogging in WordPress or LiveJournal, but it can be just as substantial.  “Tumblelogs don’t need all the context of written post,” Karp tells Fast Company magazine. “The context is the blog itself, or the person writing it”. A Tumblelog is more personal, with real time interaction. Bloggers can also post a wide range of media, not just text and some pictures like in other typical blogs. In other words, Tumblr is not boring. It is an instrument for netizens to broadcast their thoughts – the more creative, the better. “Our job has been to make sure they have all the room they need to create an online identity they’re really proud of”, Karp says.

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Tumblr has a dashboard interface where you can see in real time the posts of the blogs you follow. Although Tumblr lets you post multimedia (text, photo, link, quote, chat, audio, and video), the positioning of the posts in the dashboard makes it look like it’s made for pictures. The posts are placed in big squares so pictures can be viewed fully without destroying the quality. This is the reason why Tumblr appeals to many artists – the site is a big cyber scrapbook.

Notes are a sure sign that a post has been getting the attention of the Tumblrverse. The more notes, the more popular the post. Notes are the number of likes and reblogs, as well as replies and photo replies. Tumblr also has a “submit” feature, where people can submit posts to a certain blog. There is also an “ask” feature, for people to send messages to the blogger. Senders can be anonymous, unless the receiving blogger customizes otherwise. Tumblr relies heavily on interaction.

What stands out most in Tumblr is its community. Mostly young people inhabit the site: majority of its users are under 25 years old. As mentioned earlier, Tumblr appeals to many artists. Many photography enthusiasts in Tumblr post really good pictures, and the Photoshop experts post really good edits. Comics royalties like DC Comics can be found on Tumblr.

images (1)Recently, Tumblr has partnered with magazine WeTheUrban – an online publication about pop culture: music, fashion, art, photography, and the like. The magazine, launched in 2009 online, will come out in print for first time in US newsstands. According to the site, WeTheUrban is “Tumblr’s first ever blog turned syndicated magazine”.

Celebrities have also been lured into the Tumblrverse. Personalities like Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Glee’s Dianna Agron, Paramore’s Hayley Williams, and former America’s Next Top Model contestant Allison Harvard can be found on Tumblr, much to the delight of their fans.

Adding to the list is the President of the United States of America, the leader of the free world, President Barack Obama. The blog is interactive, relying on submissions aside from campaign-related posts (and some Romney-bashing).  “We’d like this Tumblr to be a huge collaborative storytelling effort — a place for people across the country to share what’s going on in our respective corners of it,” said the campaign officials on a post. The Obama team seems aware of the jungle that is the Internet – and they’re open about it. “There will be trolls among you: this we know. We ask only that you remember that we’re people — fairly nice ones — and that your mother would want you to be polite.”

Is Tumblr good for the youth? Tumblr has provided the youth a creative outlet – cyber expression to a whole new level. It is also addictive on so many levels.  The blogger carpenter-king jokingly posted, “did you know that one of the policies in the tumblr terms and conditions is that you must forfeit your ability to tolerate sunlight”. According to 17spymyvans, “A second on Tumblr is an hour in reality”.

“I’m getting excited everytime I talked to strangers and people on tumblr rather than with friends in real life. Tumblr is perfect”, said user ratherthanfacemeyourself. One can understand the cyber-level relationships users form on Tumblr – the site is all about communicating thoughts. It is easy to find someone with the same interests, especially if you are part of a “fandom”, or a following of a certain movie/book/TV series. All it takes is that “follow” button. “Tumblr is a place where I can share my thoughts without being hated or judged, not like in school”, said an anonymous user on a message to this writer’s blog.

Having so many adolescents on the site gave way to teen angst and depression. “I feel like everyone on tumblr thinks their fat, ugly, style-less, lazy, and stupid, but everyone I see on tumblr is thin, beautiful, stylish, toned, and brilliant,” user smilersdigest said. There have been rumors that a user has committed suicide because of constant cyberbullying on her Tumblr “ask”. There are blogs dedicated to healthy and happy living, but still, teenage problems were magnified most of the time on the dashboard.

What is next for Tumblr? “We really believe in this thing,” Karp said. “We’re approaching it as if could be the next Google.”  One thing’s for sure – its popularity is not going to die out soon. Tumblr has taken old-school creative expression to the World Wide Web where thoughts of all forms roam free. Tumblr has become a platform for pop culture. A wise man once said that the next generation “will either save the world, or destroy it”. In Tumblr, the next generation will be the world’s creators.

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Posted in: Witticisms