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.

Social networking word-of-the-day: “thinvisibility”

A new word for Facebookers and social networkers who cavalierly post embarrassing information about themselves to the web: thinvisibility:  Here’s a starting definition:

Thinvisibility: n.

  1. Being neither completely visible nor completely invisible.
  2. Being a tiny, shiny needle in a haystack of information overload.
  3. Being invisible to everyone except data aggregators and digital preservationists such as Google, the Wayback Machine, the NSA, and others.
  4. Being invisible to employers, colleges, police, neighbors, friends, exes, stalkers, acquaintances, and others, who are not interested in you, until they are.
  5. Being visible.

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.