Strongly Emergent

What comes from combining humans, computers, and narrative

The Bittersweet Rise of Tumblr

I knew in an abstract sense that Tumblr was big: this many millions of users, that many millions of unique impressions, a polished mobile app, a path to — holy blap! — actually making money. This isn’t the same as getting a visceral impression of Tumblr being big, which is what happened to me recently. I learned all of these things in the space of a day or two:

  • Professional despicable person Rupert Murdoch has a Tumblr now - I guess it’s to complement his Twitter account.
  • You can just wander into the middle of a week-long argument in which two to four participants are quarreling, at that interesting register of polite people debating firmly-held beliefs energetically, about Marx, Žižek, and the efficacy of Lacanian psychoanalysis in enacting the revolutionary program.

  • Tumblr’s robust support for animated GIFs is a critical competitive advantage, and its privacy controls are “worse” than Facebook’s, but make its users much happier.

I am nothing remotely resembling an early observer of Tumblr. I know it through things like the Tragedy Series and industry-specific reaction gif blogs. It’s fascinating, though, to have the sudden realization of “wow, this is kinda big.” A particular interest for me is the way Tumblr enables fandom and the particular brand of subversive-here, disappointingly-banal-there, remix culture that fandom loves. There are infinite Homestuck fanblogs, there are animated gifs from virtually all the good TV of the past decade, and there are enough Texts From Last Night mash-ups to choke a horse. It reminds me very strongly of LiveJournal in LJ’s own days in the sun, going from being this weird little thing that was very personal and fandom-oriented to suddenly being Big. I have no idea where things are going, but considering how deeply vile Facebook is and how deeply determined Dick Costolo to make Twitter suck, I have to hope that Tumblr makes both of them eat dirt.