Monday, March 14, 2011

A Post-Modern Love Child: Tumblr

Just imagine if Wordpress were able to seduce both Facebook and Twitter one evening. And it then had a happy accident. The post-modern love child would probably look a lot like Tumblr (http://www.tumblr.com/). This free blog hosting platform has been operating in the shadows of its mainstream social media giants for four years now. While it hasn’t reached the popularity of its peers, it still proves to hold its own as an innovative blogging alternative, especially attractive to those in arts and media.

In 2007, David Karp, a New York City entrepreneur, founded Tumblr. With the help of lead web developer Marco Arment, the site quickly expanded from friends and family members to a community of millions. The latest member tally, as posted on Tumblr on March 12, 2011, reflects 3.8 billion posts and 14.9 million blogs. Not too shabby, especially considering the current Web 2.0 oligopoly. Even more impressive is Tumblr’s loyalty rate, preserving 85% of its users, in comparison to Twitter’s 60% retention rate. So what is it about this little platform that could that makes it so attractive to both social media junkies and traditional bloggers alike? The answer lies in one’s Tumblr account.

Upon joining Tumblr, one will be connected to a multimedia surfeit. The home page, or dashboard, is initially reminiscent of a Twitter page, with posting options and a live feed. The difference, however, is the 140 character posting restrictions have been lifted. One can post text, photos, quotes, links, chat, audio, and video, as well as a live feed of those one follows. Due to a plethora of preferences, one’s feed is more colourful and entertaining. Links, photos, videos and journal entries are also given the full space needed, making it similar to a Facebook homepage, but with less clutter from sidebars and advertisements.

The technical capacities of Tumblr are particularly impressive, too. Much like Twitter, you can “follow” other tumblogs and monitor tags. You can also reblog or “like” posts, similar to the Facebook-liking ability. Quintessential of social media, one’s page is also subject to feedback. While strangers can reply to a personal post, it is also possible to monitor who can reply. There’s also an option to change one’s preference. It is also very clear and easy to do, which some may find not as simple a task with Facebook. (Facebook has been under substantial scrutiny for its hidden privacy settings and shady practices allowing third party marketers access to personal information.)

In addition to Tumblr’seasy usage, one can feed their log to their Facebook or Twitter site. There is also the ability to import and export RRS feeds. Another impressive trait of Tumblr is the personal preferences and branding abilities. Like a Wordpress page, one can make the site absolutely their own, while with Twitter and Facebook, the interfaces are, to a degree, greatly restricted. On Tumblr, you can completely abandon the host’s interface and create something truly distinctive.

Once customized, exploring Tumblr for bloggers and tags can be particularly addictive. Tags can range from the relevant and practical, including Tsunami, Libya, Technology and DIY tags, to the frivolous and hilarious; and I quote, Look at that Fucking Hipster.

The diversity of bloggers is also interesting. Photographers, artists, writers, and musicians make up a strong majority of Tumblr’s cult following. The variety of multimedia coupled with an attractive interface, makes it an obvious communication tool and marketing outlet for those in the visual arts. Of course, it also works as a publisher and home to both unknown freelancers and The New Yorker. Writers will find this is an excellent outlet to practice and test drive samples of their work. Musicians have also made use of the platform. Everyone from indie hopefuls to indie powerhouses, Ra Ra Riot and Arcade Fire included, post photos, videos and other information on their Tumblr site. Like most social media outlets, this platform is multi-purpose for the multi-needs of its users, everything from marketing to emotional outlets.

So, with all the obvious options out there, who needs one more social media outlet to maintain? Tumblr is a haven for that in-between blogger, that lost soul between the share-all-I-just-used-the-loo blogger, as well as the hardcore pseudo-professional bloggers. While the first category tend to migrate toward the new comforts of Facebook and Twitter, the latter have found a comfortable home with Blogger, Livejournal and Wordpress to post their carefully crafted compositions. In a recent interview on Techcrunch.com, Karp described his vision of doing something innovating with the blogosphere adding “much more freeform,” for ideas in the making, rather than the polished blogs one sees on Wordpress. Tumblr provides an outlet for that individual who has a very creative idea mulling around, which may not be quite finished, but deserves to be shared.

So are there any downsides to this marvellous implement? Arguably, there is no interface that will please all. While Tumblr is attractive and user friendly, those who are susceptible to overstimulation may find the site’s multimedia somewhat overwhelming. There are also these burning questions: Does one really need one more site to maintain? If one is considering substituting one 2.0 technology for another, does Tumblr have the critical mass that needs to be attained? Can it be attained? Whether one uses social media as a diary or as a promotional tool, you may be hesitant to move to a platform that has fewer followers than Twitter or Facebook; especially if there is no guarantee that friends and/or clients will migrate with them. Valid concerns, of course, but not without solutions. There is always a risk involved in adapting any newer technology, but also a lot to be gained. New users can limit this risk through the sync-abilities mentioned earlier. Feeding one’s Tumblr entries into one’s Facebook and Twitter sites provides the excitement of experimenting with the new tool, but also the comfort of knowing one’s followers are still receiving updates.

Trendy and attractive, Tumblr’s charisma makes it an exciting destination for creative visionaries, looking to connect, express and push technological boundaries. Whether one is looking to blog without the commitment or to express themselves beyond 140 characters, Tumblr is an extremely cool option.

-- Laura Warner is a librarian, researcher and aspiring writer living in Toronto. She is currently based in the Canadian Broadcasting Centre's Music Library.

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