"Tumblr launched in February 2007, with the tagline "Blogging made easy". Its first accounts specialised in art, media and porn (14 of the top 20 search keywords containing the word "tumblr" are still associated with adult blogs, according to SEOBook.com). Around 42 per cent of all original posts are photos.
But Tumblr is growing up, fast: the site expanded its user base by 900 per cent in the year to June 2011. In 2010, it served under two billion monthly page views; now, it generates about 14 billion, more than Wikipedia or Twitter. Its 36 million users so far have created 42 million posts each day -- 13.5 billion in total. According to Nielsen, it was the UK's second most popular social network or blog in the third quarter of 2011, with 229.6 million page views, trailing only Facebook. In September 2011, the company raised $85 million (£55m) from investors -- a round that valued Tumblr at $800 million (£500m).
If Facebook is the social network for online identification and authentication, and Twitter is for communication, Tumblr fulfils a different role: self-expression. Users can upload seven types of media -- text, photos, quotes, links, dialogue, audio, video -- from one button on their dashboard and push it to their public-facing tumblelog. These blogs can be designed however a user wants, or dressed in a "theme" (the most popular theme, Redux, has three million users). Tumblr is extremely easy to use as a free-form blogging platform, but has also developed into its own social network. Users follow other tumblelogs, whose content appears in their dashboards, not unlike Facebook's newsfeed; hitting the "reblog" button publishes that post to their own blogs, a feature Tumblr put out two years before Twitter introduced its own retweet button. "The social network that emerges out of Tumblr is interesting because it's driven by content, not by the social graph that these other networks are building around," says John Maloney, the company's president. And that content spreads quickly: on average, a Tumblr post gets reblogged nine times.
As Tumblr matures, it's attracting powerful fans. In October 2011, President Obama launched his 2012 re-election campaign on Tumblr, encouraging user submissions as a part of a "huge collaborative storytelling effort". Six months earlier, the US State Department launched the "official US Department of State presence on Tumblr", with video posts and article links. Major media outlets such as Newsweek, the New York Times and the BBC have tumblrs, along with fashion brands such as Alexander McQueen and Oscar de la Renta. Tech is represented by high profile companies including IBM and Olympus.
David Karp was 19 when he founded Tumblr -- "still a dippy, nerdy kid," as he puts it. The New Yorker learned to code for the web at 11, was home-schooled from 15 and lived in Japan by himself for a year at 18. He's now 25 and has grown up with the site. "I was always self-conscious about my age," he says. "I still don't have that much faith in me." But his goal is ambitious: Karp sees Tumblr not as a network, but as a product he's designing. "We're striving towards perfection," he says. "We're trying to build the iPod."
Karp didn't invent "tumblelogging", the rapid-fire short-form blogging popularised by Tumblr. The tumblelog widely acknowledged as launching the trend was anarchaia.org, created by Christian Neukirchen, a 17-year-old high-schooler in Biberach an der Riss in south Germany, on March 27, 2005." (http://www.wired.co.uk/magazine/archive/2012/03/features/tumbling-on-success)
'At the time, Karp was running his own consultancy, Davidville, which built business websites, along with a 24-year-old programmer called Marco Arment, who would later found Instapaper. The pair had a steady stream of work, but often infuriated their clients with their lackadaisical approach to admin. "Operational experience, making appointments, returning emails, things like that: I sucked at it," says Karp. "They loved what we did, but hated working with us." At the end of 2006, Karp and Arment had a two-week break between contracts. Karp told Arment, "I've got enough of a vision of this thing. Let's see what we can put together in the two weeks before our next gig."
The pair coded a crude version of Tumblr -- it was in private Beta in October 2006, and was released as a free tumblelogging platform in early 2007. Within the first two weeks, 75,000 users created blogs. "The one really cool thing was we could let you change anything about its theme," says Karp. "It was just a big chunk of code you could rip apart and make original. And it attracted this spectacular community of designers and hackers. Over the next few weeks, they built gorgeous things on Tumblr that didn't look like anything else on the internet. That still defines Tumblr to this day."
People signed up to Tumblr to express themselves. Danah Boyd, a senior researcher at Microsoft Research who studies social networks, says: "I saw people who were frustrated with Facebook at not being able to express themselves. Tumblr became a powerful complement to Facebook. It didn't require the heavy-handed 'we must be friends' that is so ingrained in Facebook."
By March, Tumblr users were making 10,000 posts each hour. Karp and Arment continued consulting. The site cost about $5,000 a month to run, so they began speaking to a few angel investors and venture capitalists. In October 2007, they sold 25 per cent of the company to Spark Capital and Union Square Ventures, and betaworks head John Borthwick and Vimeo founder Jakob Lodwick, for $750,000, valuing the fledgling company at $3 million.
Karp realised that "we had a network of cool blogs" -- online art galleries such as Eat Sleep Draw and meta webcomics such as Garfield Minus Garfield. But it was difficult to discover new tumblelogs. Users started self-organising: they would write posts, asking for others' Tumblr addresses, then post a complete list of these accounts to their own tumblr. "They were hacking the network," says Karp. "Even though they had no tools at all, they were finding each other and drawing these lines between each other." Users were connecting with one another, drawing lines on a social graph based around their interests: out of the images and pithy quotes, a network was emerging.
Karp added directories, which grouped blogs by the tags they assigned themselves, and he allowed those not signed up to browse Tumblr sites. He also created the Radar -- interesting blogs selected by Karp and Arment. The two were keeping up using their RSS readers. "We realised, man, RSS sucks for Tumblr," says Karp, "because RSS was designed for hokey old traditional blogs." The dashboard, where users edited their posts, was a possible solution. "All the stuff I wanted to blog was on my dashboard," says Karp. A reblog button, introduced in May 2007, supercharged Tumblr's growth.
"The reblog button mechanised viral stars on Tumblr," says Karp. Communities of users began to coalesce around topics such as cycling and technology, following and reblogging one another. "If you think of Facebook as being a strict friends' network, Tumblr is a strong interest network," says Boyd. "On Facebook, it's a DNS [domain name system] for people. Tumblr is a place to share and communicate." Charlie O'Donnell, a New York-based venture capitalist, says that Tumblr has now gone beyond being just a publishing tool. "What's really exciting is the interconnectedness, the community. It makes blogging in other places kind of lonely." (http://www.wired.co.uk/magazine/archive/2012/03/features/tumbling-on-success)
"Tumblr continued to raise money, landing two more rounds totalling $9.5 million, from original investors Union Square and Spark, as it hit seven million blogs in January 2010. That November, Silicon Valley came knocking -- "way too late," says Karp. "They were not paying attention because we were out here [in New York]." Karp flew out to California and came back with $30 million from Sequoia Capital, which has funded Apple, Google, YouTube, PayPal, Yahoo and LinkedIn. "I stepped back thinking the stakes are pretty high," says Karp. "Part of being a [then] $100 million company is really taking things seriously."
Taking things seriously meant hiring more people, Karp thought: Tumblr had about 14 staff at the time. But then he spoke to Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg. "Mark talked me down from that. He said, 'Well, when YouTube was acquired for $1.6 billion, they had 16 employees. So don't give up on being clever.' He reminded me you could make it pretty far on smarts."
Barely a year later, though, in summer 2011, Tumblr went back to the Valley for more money, as it struggled to deal with a massive surge of users. It raised $85 million, valuing the company now at $800 million.
Tumblr now employs around 60 people. Many of the new hires are focused on turning it into a profitable business. Mark Coatney, a former Newsweek journalist, advises businesses on how to use Tumblr. He describes the platform as a "content-sharing network" which companies can use to build a new, younger audience. "It's about making users feel like they have a real connection."
"Tumblr lends itself to the variety of content we have to share," says Jonathan Akeroyd, CEO and president of Alexander McQueen, which in November 2010 launched a tumblr (m-c-q.com) based around its new contemporary line, McQ. "Because Tumblr is so image-focused, it has been a great tool in building McQ's visual identity. It's also really great to see the reaction of Tumblr bloggers when we 'like' their McQ related posts -- we'll find them taking screenshots of it and reblogging or sharing their excitement." McQ has the highest average number of notes among luxury fashion brands -- with an average of 520 per post.
Karp isn't worried about revenues just yet. "I'm all for turning this into a big successful business," he says. "I believe Tumblr can not just be profitable, but wildly profitable." Karp's strategy is two-pronged: blog promotion and an App Store-like marketplace. Tumblr has experimented with the first, charging individual users, as well as corporates, to push themselves up the directory. "There are no current platforms for creators to promote themselves," says Karp. There aren't those platforms for driving attention to creative works and media." Tumblr is working on ways to let artists or fans, including the 5.4 million UK residents who visit Tumblr each month, promote their events and products - to sell tickets for a gig, say. Karp expects these features to be live by the end of the year and to make money in 2013.
The app-store ecosystem is already bringing in some cash. Users can buy premium designs for blogs, costing up to $49, and, like Apple, Tumblr takes a cut (40 per cent for less expensive themes, 20 per cent for those at $49). It's worth "millions of dollars a year" and enough to cover a small proportion of Tumblr's operating costs, according to Maloney. Karp says some of the theme designers are making hundreds of thousands of dollars. "Right now, it's limited to blog fashion -- how it looks," says Karp. "There is no reason why it can't extend to blog function, where we let developers introduce new functionality." Tumblr would pay to introduce features such as commerce buttons to their page. "I think of that as the last feature we ever build -- we introduce the platform and then the developer community takes over."
But can such features justify Tumblr's $800m valuation? "Will they have a cashflow that justifies that number, or will someone buy it for that amount?" Charlie O'Donnell asks. "For a big acquirer looking to get more social, I'm not sure how they would integrate it in a way that makes it more than the sum of its parts."" (http://www.wired.co.uk/magazine/archive/2012/03/features/tumbling-on-success)
Tumblr as the platform of choice for the Occupy Wall Street movement
"If you were part of a network of demonstrators grabbing magazine covers and galvanizing activists across the country, how would you spread the word and keep the momentum building? Twitter? Facebook? Google+?
Try Tumblr, the less-everyday-talked-about but no less powerful microblogging service that’s really a mashup of multiple social networking concepts. Think Twitter without the 140-character straitjacket, Facebook and Google+ without the sketchy privacy issues or “to-friend-or-not-friend” mentality, or WordPress, only more easily adapted to social activities like crowdsourcing. Think text, links, images, audio, video and a simple framework for short-form blogging. Tumblr boasts a total 11.4 billion posts and 31.4 million total blogs to date. The service claims just shy of 39 million posts have gone up (so far) today alone.
And according to Discovery, it’s the platform of choice for the Occupy Wall Street movement, a loosely organized, intentionally leaderless series of demonstrations that began in New York City’s Zuccotti Park, but have since spread across the country. The movement’s goals include protesting economic and social disparity as well as the corrupting influence of corporate money on government. Some compare it to the so-called “Arab Spring” that swept through Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and over a dozen other countries this year. “It is remarkable what a little more than 100,000 Americans, showing up and staying awhile have done in three weeks,” writes consumer activist and five-time presidential candidate Ralph Nader in a piece about the movement. The group’s official site claims it’s preparing for a “day of action” this Saturday, October 15, in over 950 cities and 82 countries.
And while OWS is using Facebook, Twitter, Livestream and Reddit to get the word out, the movement’s supporters are apparently flocking to Tumblr." (http://techland.time.com/2011/10/14/the-high-tech-behind-occupy-wall-streets-low-tech-message/) link title