The rise and rise of Tumblr

Tumblr has never been one of the tech world’s startup darlings. It’s had a tiny portion of the hype that services like Twitter or even Quora have received. However, despite this, quietly, Tumblr has become massive – somewhere around last November it started to experience ‘hockey stick’ growth.

Here’s Tumblr founder David Karp talking to Techcrunch at the beginning of February:

“We are growing by a quarter billion impressions every week. Last week Tumblr did 1.2 billion impressions, or pageviews, and it is adding 250 million every week. Just think about that for a second. Over the last 30 days, that came to 4.2 billion pageviews.”

So what’s going on here? Why has Tumblr suddenly become so popular?

Well, while there are undoubtedly some product specific reasons for the rise of Tumblr (which I’ll outline later), I think its success represents a wider trend on the web – the rise of image sharing.

People have been sharing images on the web since pretty much the early days of the BBSs. However, in recent years, a huge increase in available bandwidth and the development of bigger, higher resolution screens, has driven a rise in the popularity of the image sharing and scrapbooking.

As with most of these things this trend started on the cultural margins with the huge growth in the influence of the image boards (Futaba Channel and the other Chans), as well as the rise of more specialist image creation and scrapbooking platforms like Fffound, Pinterest, etc.

But this isn’t just happening on the relative margins of net culture anymore, it’s becoming a mainstream activity. As most people now know Facebook is by far the biggest image sharing site on the web with over 50 billion recorded uploads. And the pictures are arguably key to success of the platform. They’re often the starting point of conversation – whether that’s about children, holidays or new cars. On sites like Tumblr, the dynamic is different, there’s more of an emphasis on sharing among communities of interest. But in essence it’s the same – images are powerful, cross-cultural social objects.

Interestingly, a few publishers woke up to the power of Tumblr last year, however, very few brands have, apart from in fashion – with Oscar de la Renta and Alexander McQueen taking the lead.

Look at the Selvedge Yard for example. Why don’t auto manufacturers open up their photo archives and let Tumblrs curate them? And sportswear manufacturers? What could Tumblr do for Uniqlo, or Sony?

Talking of which, I said that I’d try to explain the success of Tumblr at the beginning of this piece, so here goes:

  1. The reblogging mechanic ; and
  2. The bookmarklet In many ways Tumblr is what Delicious should have been if Yahoo hadn’t bought it and ‘sunsetted’ it or whatever. After all the URL is always less compelling than the actual content.
  3. It’s a community platform – the follow mechanic helps develop community, something that’s not easy done on other blogging platforms.

Finally, irrespective of whether Tumblr becomes a mainstream web platform or not, promoting shareable visual assets, in my opinion, should be a key part of any brand’s digital content and marketing strategy going forward. But don’t just take my word for it about image sharing, here’s a recent quote from Facebook’s Marketing Director, Randi Zuckerberg:

“My #1 tip to businesses who want to grow their Facebook Presence requires no additional work — it’s simply to include a photo with every post. A picture truly is worth a thousand words, and if you have a global brand, a photo needs no translation.”

And if a picture is worth a thousand words, just imagine how much an animated gif is worth. (There are a lot of animated gifs on Tumblr).

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