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.

Sites and course pages

For new STU students, welcome to law school!

My home page is at http://nathenson.org.

This site, digital garbage, is my academic blog on law and technology.

I also run a personal blog at http://nathenson.org/blog.

Course pages are available to STU students through Blackboard at http://webcourses.lexisnexis.com.   You’ll need to get your Lexis ID from the law library.

UPDATE: Lexis is in the process of updating its main law school homepage.  The update has led to problems for users of Internet Explorer 7.  If you have difficulty logging into Blackboard, try using Mozilla Firefox.

Comcast and the creepiness factor

I’ve written before about the “creepiness factor,” the uneasy feeling some get when they realize their blogs and social-networking postings are read by “unwanted” visitors like police, employers, professors, etc.  Add to that list corporate America.  The New York Times writes about Comcast’s efforts to reach customers complaining about it on blogs and social-networking sites.  One student complained about Comcast on his blog:

Shortly afterward, he received an e-mail message from Comcast, thanking him for the feedback and adding that it was working on a new interactive guide that might “illuminate the issues that you are currently experiencing.”

[He] found it all a bit creepy.  “The rest of his e-mail may as well have read, ‘Big Brother is watching you,’ ” he said.

A woman’s Twitter complaint about Comcast led to a quick but unexpected response:

“It’s one thing to spit vitriol about a company when they can’t hear you,” she said in an interview.  It’s another, she said, when the company replies.  “I immediately backed down and softened my tone when I knew I was talking to a real person.”

I can see why some people might be creeped out by Comcast’s outreach efforts, but they shouldn’t be.   People keep assuming that the relative anonymity of the web will keep their postings effectively invisible.  That’s naive.  There’s nothing anonymous about the Internet when postings are quickly found by those who want to see what you’re doing (such as prosecutors, as Kaimipono Wenger blogged about recently), or by companies who want to know what you’re saying about them.  The sooner people realize that “relative” web anonymity is not really anonymity at all, the more savvy they’ll hopefully become about their online postings.

Plus, done tactfully and personally, direct outreach by companies might be a good thing.  Direct emails?  Sure.  Public comments on blogs or Facebook walls?  Not so good.  It might embarrass already-angry customers and put them on the defensive.  Worse, it might trigger flame wars involving others.  But a direct email is far less confrontational, and far more likely to lead to satisfied, albeit occasionally creeped-out customers.

BoingBoing “unpublishing” blog posts

When is it ok to delete a blog post?  Dan Solove wrote about this a few years back at Concurring Opinions, where he points to additional posts at Prawfsblawg (here, here, and here). More recently, BoingBoing faced public scrutiny when one of its authors removed posts related to blogger and sex columnist Violet Blue, although nobody noticed the removals for about a year.  A message board dedicated to the issue has generated over 1600 messages since July 1, some very heated.  The moderator for the board writes:

It’s our blog and so we made an editorial decision, like we do every single day. We didn’t attempt to silence Violet. We unpublished our own work. There’s a big difference between that and censorship.

We hope you’ll respect our choice to keep the reasons behind this private. We do understand the confusion this caused for some, especially since we fight hard for openness and transparency. We were trying to do the right thing quietly and respectfully, without embarrassing the parties involved.

Clearly, that didn’t work out. In attempting to defuse drama, we inadvertently ignited more. Mind you, we weren’t the ones splashing gasoline around; but we did make the fire possible. We’re sorry about that. In the meantime, Boing Boing’s past content is indexed on the Wayback Machine, a basic Internet resource; so the material should still be available for those who would like to read it.

Oddly, BoingBoing speaks in terms of “unpublishing” rather than deletion.   (Their policy page states “We reserve the right to unpublish or refuse to unpublish anything for any or no reason.”)  Sure, “unpublishing” sounds less big-brothery than deletion, but I don’t really see the difference.

Moreover, “unpublishing” isn’t quite accurate: BoingBoing doesn’t mean “unpublished” in the sense of a book (or blog posting) that has yet to be published.  They mean disabling public access to something that has already been posted, like in the DMCA 512(c) sense where material is removed or access to it is disabled.  (WordPress does have an “unpublishing” function, but that’s still a misnomer.)  A more accurate term might be deposting, depublishing, or good ‘ol deletion.

Nevertheless, it’s useful to explore a potential distinction between deletion and depublishing, and other questions raised when a blogger wants to remove posted materials:

  • As a starting point, what is the meaning of “publication” in an age where materials can be changed or removed?
  • Under what circumstances is depublication justified?
  • What practices are needed to distinguish “depublication” from “deletion?”  Is a reservation of rights declaring a right of depublication sufficient?  Should a notice be posted where the materials used to be (as Dan Markel suggests)?
  • BoingBoing notes that the removed materials remain on the Wayback Machine web archive.  Do web archives help to justify depublication?
  • Does depublication serve an important social function by severing the association between author and depublished content?

Hat tip to Noam Cohen.  And a disclaimer: I did make some edits to this post after posting.

Twitter microblog

Marty Schwimmer reports that Southwestern law professor Michael Scott is using Twitter to post microblogs of articles on copyright law, internet law, and privacy law.

That’s a fantastic idea, and one that solves the problem of what to do with interesting reads that are worth pointing out, but for which I don’t want to write a full blog post.

I’ve created a microblog for this site here.  A mini-feed can be found in the sidebar, and I’ve also created a dedicated page on this site with an expanded list of recent tweets here.