Tumblr is a blogging service that exists somewhere between blogging platforms like WordPress and the microblogging powerhouse Twitter. Tumblr makes it easy to share media: photos, videos, quotes, links, and audio. And Tumblr is seeing growth in daily active users and page impressions, while blogging is declining as an activity among those under 33 years old. In fact, blogging and virtual worlds were the only two online activities to decline among those under 33 in a recent update to the Pew Internet & American Life study on generations.
So what accounts for Tumblr’s popularity?
Its primary feature is its simplicity. Tumblr’s layout makes it simple to share different forms of online content. It doesn’t matter if it’s a video from YouTube or a song from SoundCloud. Each post’s layout can be optimized for the type of media being shared. For many who start using Tumblr, this simplicity is key to its popularity. Blogs made it simple to update a website with new text every day. Tumblr makes it simple to update a website with new multimedia everyday.
Tumblr is visual. A recent New York Times article attempted to delve into the decline of blogging and got this quote from teenager Kim Hou, “It’s different from blogging because it’s easier to use,” she said. “With blogging you have to write, and this is just images. Some people write some phrases or some quotes, but that’s it.” In fact part of Tumblr’s popularity with users lie in the visual curation the service enables. Users can pull together images from across the web that focus on a different Internet meme or content theme.
Tumblr is also popular because it is dynamic. The site has seen explosive pageview growth, going from 335 million pageviews in December 2009 to 2.5 billion in December 2010, while its audience of unique visitors (19 million per month) has grown at a steadier pace over time. Part of this pageview growth can be accounted for by users who end up on the site and remain highly engaged, diving into the dynamic, visual content featured across the Tumblr network, whereas blog readers typically stick to the article they came to read without much hopping around for new reads afterward. And Tumblr is now encouraging its users to act as curators by calling on them to tag as much Tumblr content as they can in order to make it even easier to discover new content via Tumblr’s new Explore feature.
Brands are also using Tumblr as a means of reinforcing their visual identities. Levi’s, Ann Taylor, and Comedy Central have all started to use Tumblr to curate images that reinforce their brand character. In Ann Taylor’s case, the Tumblr is the company blog. Comedy Central’s Tumblr features any piece of funny content the curators come across, not just clips from Comedy Central shows. The Economist uses Tumblr to dedicate posts to high quality charts and graphs, quotes, and reader comments that would normally take a backseat to long-form, written content. Pendleton Ward, the creator of the cartoon Adventure Time, uses Tumblr as a space where fans can submit show-inspired artwork. Twitter is the perfect platform for bloggers and marketing experts who rely on communicating text-driven ideas; these brands show Tumblr has emerged as a powerful alternative platform for creatives and users who want to communicate as visually, and succinctly, as possible.
So should marketers care that blogging is declining? Brands with strong links to their visual identities and popular culture will benefit from this new freedom from churning out long blog posts. Perhaps creatives in the social space will start looking to Tumblr and similar services to break free from the 140-character limits of Twitter as well. Long term, some speculate that teens infatuated with Tumblr will return to blogging once they discover that short-form content limits their creativity. But it’s more likely they’ll move on to whichever platform makes it simpler to express themselves, and increasingly this expression will be dynamic and visual, not static and text-based.
Simeon Spearman, 03.01.2011