Is Tumblr a social network?

What the heck is Tumblr, anyway? I’ve never done a particularly deep dive into the platform, though it is recently relevant for my line of work.

I created a Tumblr back when WordPress was debating post formats — before they died. I also did a small client project on Tumblr — which ended up being a tedious experiment of much custom HTML and CSS inside a customizer-like interface.

I never stopped to think what kind of platform Tumblr is. Is it a blog platform? A site builder? A social network?

Of those three particular options, I would’ve leaned on blog platform with a dose of light-CMS for tiny site building. I probably would’ve mostly dismissed a notion that it’s a social network. But perhaps that’s where it can be best.

When I visit Tumblr, I see tons of different content formats, mostly short-form and ephemeral — whether a meme, funny pic, quote, or news link. None of the gamified restrictions on the type of content exist on Tumblr, as is so well known on Instagram. It is a fairly simple feed based on the content posted or engaged with by the people you follow.

Tumblr feels like the whimsical side of blogging. Too often, when I blog, I feel like it better mean something. So usually I tweet, or I do something else that feels less permanent. This is a sad outcome, as I loved blogging in the weblog sense — before the arrival of “big-thought” blogs finely tuned to the desires of Google algos, carefully crafted with just the right CTAs, sub-heads, and content plans, all within a well-defined site structure.

All that serious businessy stuff is great, I guess. It makes sense. The “investment” in our content “strategies” — these words are making my old-school web self puke — are totally reasonable. For our businesses, personal brands, stores, and whatnot, we want a good ROI on our blogging. We have strategies.

What is fun about the Tumblr vibe is that it feels strategy-less. It feels social.

I’m gonna try to Tumbl for a while, see how it feels, how it works, and what happens. Am I worried about my brand, my audience development, my influence, my monetization strategy? Nah. I can do that on this site, or web-Twitter, or YouTube, or Instagram. I just want to have fun.

Maybe that’s where Tumblr can shine.

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  1. Good question! I used Tumblr a long time ago mostly for sharing interesting links and quotes I discovered. Twitter seems to have taken over for me for that type of content.

    Looking forward to seeing what you come up with. Hopefully there will be a report here on the site.

  2. I use Tumblr quite a bit (although I rarely contribute new content) and I would definitely say it’s a social network. While I think Matt Mullenweg’s idea of implementing ecommerce isn’t a bad idea, that’s the only way I could see Tumblr becoming of much use from a business perspective.

    The only people I see who are “successful” on Tumblr (that is, people who gain something other than entertainment and friendships) are artists. Depending on what you follow, it’s not uncommon to see commission pricing, prints for sale, Patreon promos, etc.

    I’m very curious to see how the acquisition plays out. I never would have guessed Automattic would get involved with Tumblr, but it makes some sense. It’s close enough for Automattic to have valuable experience to bring to the table but different enough to be a new frontier.

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