Is Tumblr the future of open-network social blogging? I think yes and here’s why.

This afternoon, I came across an interesting posting by ilovecharts (via lauraolin) with a Google Trends graphic comparing the search terms tumblr, blog, wordpress, and livejournal. It showed that “tumblr” has surpassed “blog” in terms of public search consciousness. That may show a small, but significant shift in the nature of social blogging.

I did some additional Trends analyses. Here’s one comparing “blog,” “tumblr,” and “wordpress” from 2007 to the present:

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Note that “blog” has remained more or less steady as a search term. However, in 2011, “tumblr” started to grow significantly and recently passed up “blog” as a search term. In comparison, “wordpress” – which is a great blogging platform I use for most of my other sites – has stayed at a low, steady level for years. This is not to say that WordPress is not commonly used, but rather that it is less visible in the collective mind of searchers. This suggests to me that tumblr is growing steadily in the minds of the public as a blogging platform. As I’ll suggest below, Tumblr’s strength is that it is like Twitter in 3-D.

Let’s run some other searches: let’s add “twitter” to the same search:

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Note that “twitter” is in much greater use as a search term. That’s not surprising. But also note the somewhat similar trajectories of both “twitter” and “tumblr.” The term “twitter” started to take off in 2009, and “tumblr” in 2011. The term “twitter” has a bigger and earlier spike, but the steady growth of both is undeniable.

But let’s not overstate things. If one adds “facebook” into the mix, that term overshadows everything.

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So what do these searches suggest? For one thing, that Facebook is still the king of social media and likely to remain so for a long time. However, Facebook serves a different function from Twitter and Tumblr. Whereas Facebook is typically used for closed or semi-closed social networks, Twitter and Tumblr are more commonly used for open networks where typically anyone can follow or view. Thus, I think the proper comparison is not between Tumblr, Facebook, and Twitter, but between Tumblr and Twitter.

Thus, the charts above provide strong evidence that Tumblr is growing quickly as a blogging platform, and that this growth is not dissimilar (though weaker) than that of Twitter a few years back. I think this is because Tumblr is like Twitter in 3-D. Here’s why:

First, like Twitter, Tumblr is built to provide the easy and attributed reposting of the Tumblr posts of others. This makes reposting the norm on Tumblr, which makes it extremely easy to build a new site. In that sense, Tumblr is like Twitter, in that repostings (“retweets” on Twitter) are common and expected.

Second, Tumblr has advantages that Twitter lacks. Tumbler is not limited to 140 words, and permits large posts in a variety of formats, such as graphics, audio, video, quotes, and more. Also, unlike the 140-character limit in Twitter, Tumblr users may use multiple tags without sacrificing valuable space.

In short, Tumblr is a blogging tool (like WordPress), but with the open social-networking benefits and norms of Twitter. In fact, considering that Tumblr permits a single post to be reposted, remixed, and shared virally, it probably makes no sense to label Tumblr as “one-to-many” or “many-to-many.” Instead, Tumblr is viral. Put differently, it is “3-D” (but without the need for special glasses or an admission ticket).

Cross-posted to my Infoglut Tumblr; title altered on The Digital Garbage Net.