In late 2007, I was approached by the man who would eventually become my content manager. He told me about a site that I should watch, one that he really liked and saw great potential in. I looked at it. After a couple of days of playing around with it, I dismissed it.
There was too much crossover with Twitter and WordPress for the site to ever be successful. It had a catchy name, but otherwise the interface was too complicated for micro-blogging and not robust enough for full-blogging. I didn’t visit Tumblr again for 2 years. Thankfully, my content manager kept going with it and we have nearly 600 Tumblogs in our network.
I say “thankfully” because I don’t like missing the boat. In 2012, that boat will set sail thanks to another $85 million in funding from notables such as Greylock, Richard Branson, and Sequoia Capital. They’ll need it at the rate they’re growing, now boasting over 40 million new posts per day, over 13 billion monthly page views, and over 623 million minutes per month spent on the site.
Our own coverage of Tumblr over the last year has been relatively negative, pointing out when Tumblr is down and general frustration about the way the site often wrecks long posts when it does go down. Things are getting better and we’re hopeful the improvements will continue. In many ways, we’re betting on it.
Why Tumblr Is The “Beater”
Let’s be clear. Despite the tremendous rise of Google+, it is still immensely smaller than Facebook while offering very similar services. There is an adoption challenge that Google+ must overcome to truly be successful. They are still so small compared to sites like Tagged.com and LinkedIn, and Facebook towers over both of them.
For Twitter, Google+ poses an entire other set of problems as they fight off the potential of losing their real-time relevance if Google or Facebook can master it.
Tumblr is the curveball. It is attracting a different group of people. It is attracting the future. While everyone else is competing for the boomers and Gen-X, Gen-Y and their successors are piling onto Tumblr and posting content like crazy. The fastest growing demographic on Tumblr is teen girls. This should (does?) absolutely terrify other social networking sites because they represent the flow of change in the future.
Look at MySpace. They grew based upon this demographic. What they failed to do was offer something to the users when they got older. Tumblr is different. It grows with the individual. Today’s Justin Bieber crowd will be tomorrow’s university crowd. Today’s university crowd will be tomorrow’s business leaders. Tumblr offers a venue for every stage of life.
Will Tumblr take down Facebook or Twitter? No. What it will do and is doing is offer an alternative network for both discovery and expression that far-exceeds the capabilities of either site. On Twitter, you can post what you had for breakfast. On Tumblr, you can post what you had, put in a picture of your breakfast, add a video of how good you felt after eating it, and write a poem about the wonder of a good breakfast… all on a single post.
Facebook and their new Timeline is going the way of life-streaming to the extreme. They want to be the record of your life. Many people will love it. Others will hate it. What Tumblr offers that Facebook does not is an expression engine through which users can not only post what they’ve done, but also create a log of anything they want attached to that activity or life event. It’s a subtle difference, but the more-robust interface is ideal for digging deeper into life in ways that Facebook simply can’t do.
Twitter is for moments. Facebook is for snippets. Tumblr is for full expression.
The Only Question Left
In the end, it all comes down to business and money. Tumblr’s business model is still in question. Assuming they are able to get a valid revenue stream going (a long assumption, I know) then they will have relatively clear sailing ahead.
Get the users. Get the content. Get the eyeballs. Make the money.
They are well on their way for the first 3. If they have an answer for the last part, they should have no problem with being a sustainable network that competes for our attention with Facebook and Twitter, only from a different angle. With the funding they just received, we can assume that the revenue stream isn’t too far down the line.