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Tumblr Is Not What You Think | Adam Rifkin, TechCrunch

Tumblr Is Not What You Think Adam Rifkin TechCrunch


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I published in TechCrunch this morning:

For a long time, I thought of Tumblr as topic-based image blogging: In other words, self-expression through collecting pictures of a particular type of thing. Hence I thought that the iconic Tumblrs were Things Organized NeatlyGirls in Yoga Pants (NSFW) and Food on my Dog. Tumblr itself gives the impression that this is the main use-case for its service by highlighting almost exclusively this type of Tumblog in The Tumblr Directory.

ALL WRONG. Or rather, some of these Tumblrs are necessary for the system to work but, surprisingly, only a small percentage of them.

Tumblr actually became huge because it is the anti-blog. What is the No. 1 reason that people quit blogging? Because they can’t find and develop an audience. This has been true of every blogging platform ever made. Conversely, blogs that do find an audience tend to keep adding that type of content. This simple philosophy boils down to the equation: Mo’ pageviews = mo’ pages.

But Tumblr does not conform to this calculus, and the reason is that a large percentage of Tumblr users actually don’t WANT an audience. They do not want to be found, except by a few close friends who they explicitly share one of their tumblogs with. Therefore Tumblr’s notoriously weak search functionality is A-OK with most of its user base.

Tumblr provides its users with the oldest privacy-control strategy on the Internet: security through obscurity and multiple pseudonymity. Its users prefer a coarse-grained scheme they can easily understand over a sophisticated fine-grained privacy control — such as Facebook provides — that requires a lot of time and patience. To quote Sweet Brown, Ain’t nobody got time for that.

I've gotten dozens of responses in email and Twitter to this article.

Summary: most say "you're right on" with the occasional "Tumblr is much more than that".

Thanks for writing and posting!

You're welcome, Soyeun. I got a lot of good feedback from people.

My favorite response was from Tumblr creator David Karp, who said:

To anyone unfamiliar: This writeup explores a subset of Tumblr and deeply mischaracterizes the broader network.

There are certainly reclusive communities living on Tumblr, but it's also home to millions of very extroverted (and very talented) creators who have built an audience of 170 million people.

There's certainly a busy (and hilarious) corner full of memes and GIFs, though you'll find topics like fashion, music, or illustration with bigger footprints.

It's easy to generalize Tumblr. With 43 billion posts, whatever you find you'll find a lot of it. But the diversity (of people, genres, and media) is something we cherish and do everything we can to support. It's easy to miss if you spend all your time hanging out in one corner. So, yes – it's not what you think!

Also, it's "tumblelog", though we just call'em blogs these days. :]

Tumblelog Blog it is.

I stand corrected that fashion, music, and illustration have bigger footprints.

I also appreciated this response from frogman:

I have been on tumblr nearly 4 years now. I am one of the more popular humor blogs. I have seen the very depths of what the platform has to offer. I'm afraid you are right and you are wrong. Tumblr is what you said it was. It is also many other things. Tumblr is whatever you make it. If you want to post art and find the artwork of others. Tumblr can be that for you. If you want to post porn and look at people naked, tumblr can be that too. If you want to chronicle your life and share it with others, tumblr can allow you to create a much more personal and passionate representation of your life than any service I have seen. Tumblr is not 3 things. It is thousands of things. Millions maybe. The beauty of the service is you get to decide what you want it to be. And that's why I stick around.

His response was a variation on what David Karp said.

Namely that Tumblr is whatever you want it to be.

This is actually the main point of the article:

Does this sound familar? Teenagers, amusing images, sharing only with trusted friends? In some ways, Tumblr is actually Facebook 2.0! As Facebook has become a real-life social network infested with parents, co-workers, ex-friends, and people you barely know, Tumblr has become the place where young people express themselves and their ACTUAL INTERESTS with their ACTUAL FRIENDS.

And Tumblr is growing — it’s now one of the top 10 websites in the United States, with 20 billion pageviews a month. The tremendous user engagement is enabling the company to quietly and discreetly build a powerful Interest Graph of things its users actually like and want to share. Tumblr still has a long road ahead with monetization, but the Interest Graph will be crucial to making sure anything Tumblr does is targeted and relevant to its users.

It’s important to note that Tumblr is not replacing Facebook; it’s merely siphoning off some authentic liking and sharing, especially among young Americans. Facebook needs to exist because it’s holding down the Mom, siblings, and lame friends part of a person’s social life — the “public-private” life, if you will. As long as Mom sees you on Facebook occasionally, she isn’t going to think to look for you on another site… which paradoxically frees young users to act out on a stage that seems more private to them despite being on the open web.

Tumblr is about what people are actually interested in, and that is its great source of strength.

waitaminnit!!!  I seem to remember informing _you_ that the kids of today were all about their tumblr now!  ;-)

And you were right. :)

Jon Gruber aka Daring Fireball reblogged part of this article:

Here's what he quoted:

Adam Rifkin: ‘Tumblr Is Not What You Think’

Adam Rifkin:

Tumblr provides its users with the oldest privacy-control strategy on the Internet: security through obscurity and multiple pseudonymity.

Its users prefer a coarse-grained scheme they can easily understand over a sophisticated fine-grained privacy control — such as Facebook provides — that requires a lot of time and patience.

To quote Sweet Brown, Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Tumblr proves that the issue is less about public vs. private and more about whether you are findable and identifiable by people who actually know you in real life.

Thank you Jon Gruber! I appreciate your spreading the message...

The new LiveJournal.

Only without comments.

well, you have "notes," but yeah, def not the same

Which is both a strength (lower friction) and a weakness (less rich interactions).

It's clear to me that LiveJournal influenced Facebook, but I'm not sure it influenced Tumblr.

The best platform for online discussion does not exist yet:

I began my career in web dev as a studio owner with Streamray Inc. before owning 12 studios and retiring. As a producer of content, adult and other, I would have made even more money if Tumblr was around then. Bloggers quit because they don't have an audience, or their blog requires too much of them. Tumblr is no blog, it's a Tumblurb! Repost, blurb, heart it, coffee. I love it's simplicity but being a porn king, I'd tear it up with an organization app if it were possible. I still believe the 2257 is applicable to such gross content supported by Karp. Clearly, he lacks leadership ability to not solve the NSFW issue. Clearly, he sees no issue but that's not the big boy attitude that will help Tumblr grow to prominence. 

So Tumblr can continue to grow even with all the NSFW content? Or will that make them hit a wall?

I feel it can still grow because just like the internets, you have to actively try to find NSFW content where with sites like ffffound it can be 1-3 clicks away at any moment.

Tumblr has done a better job of making the NSFW content harder to find, so it doesn't just show up in searches like it used to.

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