From FYSE 1396: Digital Media Literacy
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Tumblr is a social networking site that allows users to share pictures, links, videos, memes, stories, and much more. Originally founded by David Karp in 2007, Tumblr is now owned by Yahoo! Inc. In May of 2013, Yahoo! reported that Tumblr has approximately 300 million monthly users, and this number continues to grow each day.[1]


Marco Arment
David Karp

In 2006, David Karp and developer Marco Arment created Tumblr. Karp had always been interested in blogging, specifically in microblogging, which is a more concise form of blogging. He hoped that Tumblr would serve as an outlet for other microblogging enthusiasts. Tumblr gained instant popularity with over 75,000 users within the first two weeks. In September of 2010, Marco Arment left Tumblr to create Instapaper.[2] Karp continues to develop the site to better suit new users.


Tumblr acts as both a social networking site and a type of digital scrapbook. Users may choose to have a more public profile in which they share media that they find interesting or that they feel represents them. Alternately, users may have a private page and post for their own gratification or for future reflection. Tumblr features a Dashboard, which is similar to Facebook's News Feed. The Dashboard streams new posts by other users and features controls at the top for the creation of new posts. [3] Tumblr gives its users the opportunity to express themselves, leading to a large amount of diversity. For example, some pages specialize in ballet, while others focus on movies. The majority of users, however, are not active bloggers; rather, they are people that simply follow other blogs on Tumblr. David Karp calls this the 99% Rule, meaning that only 1% of Tumblr traffic is from the post creators. The other 99% simply scroll their Dashboard and read other posts.[4]

Baym's 7 Key Concepts

Interactivity and Reach

Tumblr can be as interactive as a user desires, but it is still limited to the main "reblogging" and "following" features. The "reblogging" option, which was added to the site in 2007, allows users to share posts by other Tumblr users.[5] "Reblogging" is similar to the "retweet" on Twitter in that it encourages socialization. This social aspect of Tumblr allows the website to have a larger reach. The content that one person "reblogs" is shared with all of their followers. This creates a cycle of content exposure for different users. The "reblog" also serves a broader purpose as it gives people the opportunity to express themselves by sharing the posts that they identify with most, further shaping the personality and vibe of their own page.[6]

The ability of a user to develop their own Tumblr personality affects the interactivity of the site. "Reblogging" things that appeal to other users encourages people to "reblog" that same content. This in turn might even cause the reblogger to gain more followers. A user's capability to share content that interests them attracts users who have similar passions. In this sense, users are constantly exposing themselves and their likes to others, increasing the number of interactions with other users.

Tumblr further resembles Twitter through the "follow" and "tag" features. Users can follow blogs they like, which will then appear on their dashboard. Using a tag on a post allows other users to find similar photos, videos, blogs, etc. with the same tag. For example, a person that likes dogs might search "dogs", and they will find posts related to dogs. This person might then decide to follow the author of one of the dog posts, promoting interactivity.

Temporal Structure and Mobility

Nancy Baym describes two types of media- synchronous and asynchronous.[7]. Synchronous media is almost instantaneous, occurring in real time. Asynchronous refers to media that has a time delay. Although the two types of media are seemingly very different, the temporal structure of various media is not always clear. While there are synchronous aspects of Tumblr, like the Dashboard, which updates in real time, Tumblr is primarily asynchronous. Users must spend time drafting their post before publishing it, creating a time lag.

Despite this time lag, Tumblr has become more synchronous since the advent of the Tumblr app. In 2009, Jeff Rock and Garrett Ross developed the official iPhone app[8] The application enables Tumblr fans to access Tumblr from almost anywhere. People can now post and review other posts as they wait in line at the grocery store or wait for their airplane to arrive at the gate. This decreases the time lag because users do not necessarily have to wait until they return to a computer to check Tumblr.

Mobile App

Rather, they can see the posts as their dashboard updates in real time.

Storage and Replicability

The ideas of storage and replicability refer to the permanence of media activity. Tumblr is easily stored and replicable as posts accumulate on a person's profile over time. Each successive post adds to a person's scrapbook of posts. A user is able to delete a previous post, but they cannot be sure that it was not already seen and reproduced by another user. Tumblr users, who use Tumblr to express themselves, may easily forget the permanence of their activity.

Social Cues

Digital media often lacks social cues, and the absence of social cues can sometimes cause messages to be misunderstood. Tumblr is by nature a visual networking site, as users frequently post pictures, videos, and memes. These visuals help to provide Tumblr users with more social cues. Tumblr pages like WhatShouldWeCallMe use video clips to imitate common occurrences in everyday life. Tumblr has strong visual cues, but it often lacks auditory cues. Auditory cues, such as tone of voice, are crucial to conveying messages. Tumblr posts may attempt to provide auditory cues by typing in all caps or bold-faced font, suggesting angry or emphatic speech. However, there are not written substitutes for all types of emotional speech, so in this regard, Tumblr fails to provide social cues.