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:


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:


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.


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.

The Digital Garbage Net is back-ish.

After a long hiatus, I’m returning to blogging at this site. For a long time, I had great difficulties finding a voice for this blog. Solely academic? Photography? Popular culture? General snarkiness? “D: All of the above”? As my efforts towards tenure took precedence, I let this blog languish, like a dusty library book so overdue you just want to forget about it.

Since then, I’ve found that other social media are in many ways a far better fit for the broader interests noted above. I’ve been a frequent user of Twitter, and have also recently learned the shared joys of Tumblr.

I’m not certain about the future of this blog, but for now, I’m going to narrow its focus, posting primarily on digital culture, technology, and law. For the foreseeable future, I suspect that my Tumblr blog — — will be my primary blog, with this site, The Digital Garbage Net, secondary. However, posts relevant to both the Tumblr blog and this site may be cross-posted.

Umpire Jim Joyce, a near-perfect game, Twitter spam, and the wisdom of “Tin Cup”

Having read about the blown call that cost Detroit pitcher Armando Galarraga a perfect game on the 27th batter, I became interested in the umpire, Jim Joyce.  After making a bad first-plate safe call that cost Galarraga a perfect game on what should have been the very last out, Joyce acted with grace, apologizing directly and profusely to Galarraga.  As SI notes, Joyce was “crushed.”  Galarraga also acted with class, saying “I give a lot of credit to the guy saying, ‘Hey, I need to talk to you because I really say I’m sorry.'”  Both of them are professionals with class.  After all, it’s when you screw up, or when somebody’s error screws you, that your character really shines (or doesn’t).

Too bad that some of the amateurs on the Web don’t have similar class.  Shortly after the bad call, somebody vandalized Joyce’s Wikipedia page to declare he was dead.  That’s just sick.  Yesterday, I saw that Joyce’s name was a trending Twitter topic, but the results were polluted with Twitter spam.

Such online foolishness illustrates what Andrew Keen derided as the “Cult of the Amateur” in his book by the same name.  Keen says:

We — those of us who want to know more about the world, those of us who are the consumers of mainstream culture — are being seduced by the empty promise of the “democratized” media.  For the real consequence of the Web 2.0 revolution is less culture, less reliable news, and a chaos of useless information.  One chilling reality in this brave new digital epoch is the blurring, obfuscation, and even disappearance of truth.

Continue reading “Umpire Jim Joyce, a near-perfect game, Twitter spam, and the wisdom of “Tin Cup””

Random Twittery thoughts

The Twittered Inauguration. Though I doubt President Obama will twitter from the podium tomorrow, many others at the inauguration will post tweets, photos, and videos at what the NY Times is calling a “wireless Woodstock.”  Although wireless networks are adding extra capacity, they’re still asking people to try to limit their wireless use.  No shock if Twitter comes to a crashing halt at some point tomorrow.

Twitter as a news source. I like to Twitter, but mostly to aggregate links of personal interest.  But Twitter is increasingly emerging as a powerful source of breaking news.  I turned to it during the Gaza invasion as well as after the safe crash-landing of U.S. Airways Flight 1549.  (The most fascinating pic was taken by Floridian Janis Krums and posted through Twitter.)  Though Twitter isn’t necessarily authoritative or reliable, it’s a great way of getting the pulse of what concerns people right now.

You’re in Steelers Twitter Country. One last twittery thought.  Being from the Steel City, no shock that I’m a big Steelers fan.  Go Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII! But I gotta say: last night’s AFC Championship game was a brutal and exhausting four-hour marathon.  As Peter King put it,”If I’ve ever been to a game with more intense hitting, I don’t remember it. This was primeval.”  Like the players on the field, I was seriously worried for Raven Willis McGahee, who was carted from the field after a hard hit from Ryan Clark.  Although it was a physical game, this is not what you ever want to see and I hope he’s ok.  Many others shared that thought, and last night, McGahee was one of the trending searches on Twitter.  I was happy to see many well-wishes for McGahee from Steelers as well as Ravens fans.

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.