New blogging site shows few limits

Watch your back, Twitter. Tumblr, a new form of social networking royalty, is saddling up to filch your crown.

This new forerunner in the social networking game prides itself as being the easiest way to blog, but few people who don’t actively use Tumblr know exactly what it is.

Tumblr, which now ranks 10th in the hierarchy of social networks – based on weekly use – was founded by David Karp in 2007. It started out as a team of two – Karp and Marco Arment as a lead developer – but has, in the four years since, grown into a corporation of more than 50 people based in New York.

The website is often described as a micro-blogging platform. In essence, Tumblr is to blogging what text-messaging is to email; shorter and more concise, but it gets the point across. The most popular websites for micro-blogging – often referred to as “tumblelogs” – are Tumblr and, of course, Twitter.

Tumblr, however, is a completely different entity from Twitter. On Tumblr, bloggers have the option of sharing a virtually unlimited number of characters in their text posts. But text is far from all users share on the site.

According to the company’s website, Tumblr, in a nutshell, is “millions of people sharing what they do, find, love, think or create.” The website allows users to “effortlessly share anything” from wherever users happen to be – providing they have an Internet connection.

This seems to hold true for Meredith Cesare, an active user of Tumblr and a 2010 Gannon University alumnae. She said she happened upon a link to the site via Twitter one night and decided to make a blog mostly out of boredom.

“I enjoyed using Tumblr when I first made my blog enough,” she said, “but it wasn’t until I started talking with other bloggers that I really grew to love the site and what it has done for me.”

When a user first logs in to the site, the page with the royal blue background and pearly white Tumblr logo is called the dashboard. In the middle of the page users will find the posts of all the blogs they follow. Above that are colorful links that allow users to create text, photo, quote, link, chat, audio and video posts.

The right-hand side of the dashboard contains links to all the posts the user has “liked” and the user’s tracked tags. Tracked tags allow people to look through all the posts that have been tagged with one particular word or phrase. So, for example, if someone tracked “balloons” and then clicked on the link, he or she would be directed to a page that shows all the Tumblr posts that have been tagged with “balloons.”

Say that when the user is looking at all those balloon posts, he or she comes across a lot of posts by one particular blog. The user can then click on the blog’s title, located at the top left of one of the posts, and be redirected to that blog. If he or she likes a plethora of that blog’s posts, the user can “follow” the blog, which ensures that all of the new blog’s posts will show up on the user’s dashboard.

Another tumblelogger, senior liberal arts major Dani Wagner, said she likes Tumblr because it’s a snap for her to locate posts about her favorite topics.

“It’s so easy to find all the stuff I like,” she said, “especially when people are nice enough to tag their posts appropriately. It’s a great way to make new friends, too.”

Through all of the different methods of communication available on Tumblr, many users, like Wagner, have found that they’ve made great friends through the site. Cesare said the friends she’s made are what ultimately made her love the site so much. She said she considers her Tumblr friends just as legitimate as the friends she has made in the “real world.”

“I think friendships made through Tumblr are special and different because instead of making friends with someone and then discovering interests you may have in common — or developing interests together — you are instead finding people who are interested in the same things you are, and then growing a friendship based off of those common points,” she said.

Cesare is not alone in having found many good friends through the site. One of Tumblr’s newest features is the ‘Meetups’ tab, where users can find a list of all the times and places bloggers are meeting face to face. These meet-ups occur all around the world and usually at least one is scheduled for every day.

Cesare met a Tumblr friend on a recent trip to Chicago, where they went to see a comedy group together. Cesare said the experience was unique.

“Knowing that someone who loves the same limited interests as me actually exists in real life, who I now can really put a face to,” she said, “is so cool.”

Though Wagner hasn’t met any of her Tumblr friends in real life, she said the possibility is always open. She said you almost have to make friends on the site in order to survive it.

“It’s hard to have real life friends on Tumblr,” she said, “because people can act a lot differently on the Internet than they do in person.”

On the other hand, one user – senior history major Eli Coppock – quit not long after making his Tumblr account. Though he said the site was easy to use, he felt that it didn’t offer much for new users.

“By the time I joined,” he said, “all the blogs I was interested in already had their own friends. They weren’t looking for any more.”

He said he tried it out for about a month before he stopped visiting the website. “You have to be good at blogging for other bloggers to notice you,” he said. “No one was noticing me, so I stopped.”

Though finding friends on the Internet certainly isn’t unique to Tumblr, a few aspects of the site definitely are.

For starters, Tumblr is one of the most customizable websites out there. As the information page says, users can literally customize everything on the site. Tumblr’s theme garden has both free and premium themes to choose from so users can make their blogs unique. Within these hundreds of theme options, they can customize the color and layout of each one.

The options for customization are endless.

In a 2009 article for Fast Company magazine, Karp said, “Our job is to make sure [users] have all the room they need to create an online identity they’re really proud of.”

Coppock said the customizability of the website was his favorite part of the experience. “I really enjoyed designing my blog,” he said. “I probably changed something on it every day.”

Another feature unique to Tumblr is known as “reblogging.” This function does exactly what the word implies – it allows users to re-blog what someone else has already posted. This allows the original blogger to get the credit for the post, but other users can show their appreciation for it as well by posting it on their own blogs.

As the information page says, the reblog button allows popular Tumblr posts to spread rapidly across thousands of blogs with just a click.

Wagner said the reblog feature is one of her favorite aspects of the site.

“You can have all the stuff you like on your blog,” she said, “without feeling like you stole it from somebody else. Nowhere else lets you do that.”

All of this customization and reblogging talk seemingly has no point, though, if users don’t know what the people of Tumblr actually post about. Though the website can be, and is, used to blog about literally anything users want, it is also a special place for groups celebrating one particular purpose: fandoms.

A fandom is basically a large group of people who are fans of any particular movie, book, TV series, actor, etc. This is the primary way tumbleloggers meet the lasting friends mentioned previously. Cesare said she met one of her closest Tumblr friends through chatting about “Saturday Night Live.”

“I have built friendships with the people running the blogs,” she said, “and now use Tumblr to keep up with their lives while sharing our fandoms.”

It is sometimes because of these fandoms, then, that many bloggers feel insecure about releasing their tumblelog URLs to the “real world.” Many users, like Cesare, like to keep their life on Tumblr completely separate from their everyday life.

Wagner said she can see why some bloggers would prefer not to let people in the real world see their blogs.

“I think if some people acted as crazy in real life as they do on Tumblr,” she said, “the world would be a really crazy place.”

She said a lot of tumbleloggers use perverse language that they wouldn’t normally use in public. She also said the bloggers tend to discuss fantastical situations with fictional characters, which often lead to role plays and other “embarrassing” proceedings.

“It’s not something I would ever want my parents to see,” she said.

Consequentially, if users would prefer to keep their real identities secret from the people they meet on Tumblr, that’s OK too. The site will never expect anyone to release personal information – even people’s first names – if they don’t want to. On Tumblr, people can quite literally have their own unique Internet personalities.

“If you want to anonymously post pictures of nothing but George Clooney,” Cesare said, “you can do that. You don’t have to have a face behind the blog if you don’t want to.”

Cesare said that, like with any other social networking website, Tumblr has its disadvantages. She said some of the most recent changes have irked her, mostly with the formatting of the messaging system. Before, bloggers could put virtually anything into a message to send to other users. This provided some negatives, because spam was sent to blogs easily.

In order to prevent the spamming, Tumblr has put new regulations on the messaging system. Users have a character limit now and they cannot format the messages by creating new paragraphs. The site has also changed its interface as to the look of the blog – many buttons and links are not in the same place they used to be.

Cesare said she doesn’t appreciate these changes much, but it’s not enough to make her want to stop using the site. Her biggest problem, she said, is that “it is nowhere near as user-friendly as it used to be.”

Regardless of the small annoyances, Cesare said Tumblr has a lot to offer.

“It’s a fun escape,” she said, “and you can discover music and art and information on things you may not ordinarily be exposed to.”


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