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Privacy vs. Pseudonymity
February 19, 2013 8:38 AM   Subscribe

"Pop quiz: what is the favorite social networking site of Americans under age 25? If you guessed Facebook you are way behind the eight-ball, because Tumblr now enjoys more regular visits from the youth of America." Tumblr is not what you think. "Tumblr provides its users with the oldest privacy-control strategy on the Internet: security through obscurity and multiple pseudonymity [... it] proves that the issue is less about public vs. private and more about whether you are findable and identifiable by people who actually know you in real life."
posted by Rory Marinich (78 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
yeah but like at least half of Tumblr is Benedict Cumberbatch by volume.
posted by The Whelk at 8:42 AM on February 19, 2013 [13 favorites]


...and the rest is reaction gif stuff. Which is fine, because I think they're hilarious.
posted by jquinby at 8:43 AM on February 19, 2013


I know I'm getting old because Tumblr is still a bit confusing to me. People seem to rarely leave comments below posts (instead there's just likes and reblogs with the very very very occasional short comment) and I often see reblogging nested like, 12 deep.

I generally only keep up with a few Fuck Yeah and Corgi Tumblrs at this point.

(I know there's also been draaaaaaaaama over tags on Tumblr, but then again it was Fandom and there can be drama about anything.)
posted by kmz at 8:45 AM on February 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


Tumblr is not what Adam Rifkin thinks it is either. I'm pretty sure that Fandom dwarfs the three categories that he thinks Tumblr content falls into.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 8:45 AM on February 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


Ha, Sherlock fandom is exactly who I was talking about.
posted by kmz at 8:45 AM on February 19, 2013


at least half of Tumblr is Benedict Cumberbatch by volume.

The volume of a normal Cumberbatch varies between 1 and 10 ml.
posted by uncleozzy at 8:47 AM on February 19, 2013 [9 favorites]


If Tumblr gets more pageviews than Facebook among the <25 demo, I suspect it has a lot less to do with Tumblr's approach to privacy settings and a lot more to do with Tumblr allowing porn.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:47 AM on February 19, 2013 [15 favorites]


kmz, yeah, the reblogging nested threads have been irritating from the start (I was using Tumblr back in 2007 when they introduced it, and immediately it seemed like they were fixing one problem – comments – by introducing another one entirely). Still, of all the major social web sites, Tumblr's the one that feels most like the deep web exploration of my childhood, more chaotic and occasionally unsettling than Facebook or Pinterest or Twitter. I think its complete okayness with being an Internet Thing rather than an extension of your real self in any way – Tumblr doesn't ever even ask you for your name – is a part of why that is.
posted by Rory Marinich at 8:48 AM on February 19, 2013 [22 favorites]


I agree with Kadin2048. Personally, I have no other reason to be on Tumblr. . .
posted by Evstar at 8:49 AM on February 19, 2013


Oh yeah that's the other Thing Tumblr is for, amazingly niche curated pornography. Fuck Yeah Purple Socks With Toes whatever.
posted by The Whelk at 8:49 AM on February 19, 2013 [14 favorites]


Tumblr really reminds me of how LiveJournal used to be, back in like 2004-2006 (which is when was in high school). Theoretically a personal blogging site, but really a weird, dense, hard-to-search collection of blogs, discussion communities, humor sites, roleplaying games, porn, fandom shit, and even commerce of various kinds... and you could add all your friends, you just had to ask them what their LJ name was.

Then we all graduated and were allowed, via our college email addresses, to join Facebook (which was still exclusive back then). But I really miss that version of Livejournal and it makes me want to get on Tumblr... even though I may be too old for it...
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:49 AM on February 19, 2013 [24 favorites]


The last time I foolishly and aimlessly wandered through random Tumblrs, I came away with the impression it was the Library of Alexandria for amateur porn, despite Tumblr's insistence that they're cracking-down.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:50 AM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh yeah Tumblr reminds me of Livejournal a lot a lot, but with pictures not words. (or like, comics)
posted by The Whelk at 8:52 AM on February 19, 2013


See, I'm used to LJ. I still browse my LJ friendslist even though I almost never post any more and almost everybody's moved on. But LJ (and LJ derivatives like Journalfen or Dreamwidth) facilitates deep conversation threads in the comments. Tumblr? Not so much, as far as I can tell.
posted by kmz at 8:53 AM on February 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


uncleozzy: "The volume of a normal Cumberbatch varies between 1 and 10 ml."

Any more and you have a Cumberbunch.
posted by boo_radley at 8:53 AM on February 19, 2013 [22 favorites]


As a Tumblr theme developer, one of the best moments I ever had, better than when Paramore used one of my themes (and then abandoned it, the fuckers), was when a brand-new black and white design I made was picked for a tumblelog fittingly named Damn Good Anal. "I have helped people give other people porn" felt like a surprisingly satisfying accomplishment.

Also, I keep having the nagging feeling that Tumblr could be a really fantastic community site, if only I knew people who wanted to keep the sort of community I wanted. I don't think it's an age thing, showbiz_liz; I was using Tumblr in high school and it already felt way too... Tumblr-y. I remember inviting my friends and expecting we'd have all these great heart-to-hearts and realizing that nope, we're gonna share gifs of hot guys and cute girls instead. The image post is too enticing not to be abused.
posted by Rory Marinich at 8:54 AM on February 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'll be 100% honest: I have no idea how to use Tumblr. It makes zero sense to me. It's the first thing on the web that has made me feel truly old, and I think I'm okay with that.
posted by uncleozzy at 8:55 AM on February 19, 2013 [13 favorites]


I tried to start a tumblr a few years back and was frustrated by the lack of comments/interaction happening. I couldn't even successfully install a mod for a comments section. I don't visit the site aside from amusing single-serving tumblrs. Outside of that and fandom, a lot of the teens I know seem to just post artsy pictures of seminude people staring into the distance vacantly with a blurry/hazy aesthetic. I might be out of its age range as well.
posted by naju at 8:55 AM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Honestly the only issue I have is that Tumblr is a damned firehouse, it's exhausting to keep up with.
posted by The Whelk at 8:56 AM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


although without Tumblr I wouldn't have found this and my life would be less complete
posted by The Whelk at 8:58 AM on February 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


On a more serious note...One of the grief-inducing aspects of the image-heavy Tumblrs is just how fucking buggy the code supporting the pages must be. The erratic loading, and slow, skipping page scrolling is infuriating. It's like some pages were designed to showcase just how crappy CSS can be.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:58 AM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I also wouldn't have starting watching teen wolf hey yooooo
posted by The Whelk at 8:58 AM on February 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


The tumblr iPad app has good selections that contribute to a sense that there's a tumblr voice and style. It's very compelling in that regard, like sitting on the edge of a party full of smart kids who wanted to go to art school but are instead majoring in one of the soft sciences. When I land on tumblr from outside that app, though, it seems a lot more fragmented and shaggy.
posted by mph at 8:59 AM on February 19, 2013


Porn and pseudonymity go hand in hand. That you can share porn without parents and employers knowing is kind of the whole point of pseudonymity for this demographic.
posted by NathanBoy at 9:00 AM on February 19, 2013


Huh.

Tumblr as I know it is about varying forms of social and racial justice and the accompanying drama, hatred, "that is not your image to reblog, culturally appropriative person!" stuff, etc etc. I'd say I have learned more from tumblr politically speaking than from any other platform, despite some of the drama.

It's a little disconcerting and very postmodern in a Fred "Ric" Jameson way to go from a post about, say, a police shooting of a disabled immigrant to a brightly colored queer cheesecake/fashion selfie - vertigo, the swims, etc.

I hope this article isn't a sign that tumblr has jumped the shark - I kind of hate it for the performativity aspect but I kind of hate almost every other option much, much more.

There's a very elaborate code of tumblr morality that does, actually, make me feel old - it's rude to just look at someone's tumblr and not follow it so that the person can see who you are; it's particularly rude to, say, read a tumblr like a blog, going through pages and pages of it without following. Sadly, I do this anyway as I think I would not be well-served by having my own tumblr, and also I don't like the way the dash works - if I want to look at a whole bunch of "Fuck Yeah Those Eighties Round Glasses That Were Preppy But Are Now Queer Fashion Statements" in a row, I don't want them just popping up as they are posted.

There's also a lot of tension between the urge to share and the urge to keep private, hence the endless concerns over tags, reblogging and so on - a perpetual attempt to develop a hegemonic morality about that stuff but that basically never works because there's simply too much going on. That is, it may work most of the time but never works all the time, so there's endless fulmination even as perhaps the underlying social morality changes - no one ever says "well, in general people are good and respectful about reblogging, so I'm not going to fuss about the 5% assholes out there", it's all "YOU ARE ALL ASSHOLES" all the time.
posted by Frowner at 9:03 AM on February 19, 2013 [13 favorites]


MetaFilter: I have helped people give other people porn.
posted by Strange Interlude at 9:03 AM on February 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Tumblr is awesome, but what I see is a $40M burn rate without a clear revenue strategy. Pseudonymity, image heavy content, liberal interpretation of copyright, and clean spare publishing design are all great things. But they make it awfully hard to sell ads.

The amount of momentum and viewership Tumblr has should be very valuable. We just have to see where they go with it. The fine article here links to a Forbes magazine article about Tumblr's business and finances that has good info.

I've never seen a Tumblr ad; they seem rare, and I run an ad blocker. Can someone link some pages or snapshots that show Tumblr generating revenue?
posted by Nelson at 9:07 AM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


As a variation of Security Through Obscurity, I've noticed that a lot of users make their Tumblr pages and ugly and unreadable as possible, because they're not supposed to be read that way. They're meant to be read through their friends' dashboard feeds, and non-friends who try to follow them can simply be blocked.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 9:07 AM on February 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


There's a very elaborate code of tumblr morality that does, actually, make me feel old - it's rude to just look at someone's tumblr and not follow it so that the person can see who you are; it's particularly rude to, say, read a tumblr like a blog, going through pages and pages of it without following.

In your Tumblr subculture, maybe-- there are many, many Tumblr subcultures and all they share is "hosted on Tumblr." The things I hear about social justice and "fandom" Tumblr "codes" (like this "don't tag your hate" bit--sports Tumblrs will tag whatever teams/players are pictured or mentioned in the post, whether or not they're fans of that team or player) are not at all what I see from sports, art, and local history Tumblr cultures.
posted by Electric Elf at 9:12 AM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Tumblr as I know it is about varying forms of social and racial justice and the accompanying drama, hatred, "that is not your image to reblog, culturally appropriative person!" stuff, etc etc. I'd say I have learned more from tumblr politically speaking than from any other platform, despite some of the drama.

YES. It is at once a fulfillment of the promise of the early web – everybody has a voice! anybody can say anything! – and the promise of the social web – find people you care about! meet likeminded people! broadcast yourself! It has the GeoCities/MySpace aspect of customization, and the Facebook/Twitter aspect of offering a feed which is relatively sterile and minimal and non-irritating. And the result is that some very strong communities have formed within it, ranging from the Homestuck Fandoms to the radical queer communities (both of which my roommate and his boyfriend follow). It really is inspirational and wonderful. I've been predicting for a while that the next big thing will be content filters for readers – if you could offer people a way to say "Right now I want to read long essays and right now I want porn and right now I want gifs", Tumblr could feasibly become a one-stop destination, like an RSS feed but more awesome.

I've never seen a Tumblr ad; they seem rare, and I run an ad blocker. Can someone link some pages or snapshots that show Tumblr generating revenue?

They have a lot of different weird revenue-making plans, which combined seem to keep them afloat. I know they run festivals, though I don't know if they make money off of them, and they sell premium themes for professional users for a fairly hefty price. They also let users "promote" posts which I imagine works like advertising, only I don't think promoted posts show up unless you're already following a person. Probably half a dozen other things I haven't paid close enough attention to notice. I actually admire how wacky their money-making attempts are; they seem to understand that incorporating advertising right into the system would hurt the site, and thus far they've avoided doing it.
posted by Rory Marinich at 9:12 AM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have a dusty tumblr (since I ran out of pictures of my own to post to it), but I follow a few tumblrs each day for the funny and weird.

I do have a question: what is the battle between tumblr and "missing e"? It seems like software every "big" user uses and which tumblr itself hates, for reasons unknown to me.

Also, as a software developer (or software "developer", if you want) if you ever want to see how well people take upgrades and new "features" just read tumblr a day after they introduce something new. Though it is good to be reminded that people would MUCH rather have you fix the shit that's currently broken than play with new shiny.
posted by maxwelton at 9:17 AM on February 19, 2013


Can someone explain what is meant by the fuss/controversy about reblogging? Is it an attribution issue, or is it more analogous to hotlinking? An explanation of the controversy regarding tags would be nice too - I'd imagine that people are just using popular tags to get more views for the things they blog/reblog, like using Trending Topic hashtags on twitter for unrelated things? I feel like these things are part of a important (and nuanced) background/language that only active Tumblr users grasp...
posted by antonymous at 9:18 AM on February 19, 2013


I should add that I'm not sure how well tumblr does this, but it is also much better to run with the way people actually use your product and cater to that audience than to pursue whatever the marketing droid or venture capital guy say you should do. When your core users all want one particular thing and have no use for another, it's probably wise to listen.
posted by maxwelton at 9:20 AM on February 19, 2013


I love Tumblr. I think it's amazing and the ephemera that spews from it is nothing less than exquisite. (Even Seapunk: blue hair, bad electronic music, and 1990's-esq Maya 3D GIFs can be somewhat redeeming)

I follow numerous Tumblrs (In my head I say Tumbles) of screencaps of 1980s VHS randomness, internet art, sculpture, nsfw-softcore stuff (removed 'radioactivelingerie' because I couldn't view it at work).

There was a LiveJournal community that was proto-Tumblr called Spaceghetto that really encapsulated the anonymity behind a username (instead of just being anon), yet, had a distinct aesthetic.

And that's what Tumblr really is: a catalog of your aesthetic. You follow/reblog things that strike you, and you post things that strike you.

edit: My roommate, a photographer, dislikes Tumblr for the same above reasons. It's completely without attribution and your art simply gets churned & burned as another JPG to quickly scroll through in an endless melange.
posted by wcfields at 9:23 AM on February 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


The Whelk: "yeah but like at least half of Tumblr is Benedict Cumberbatch by volume"

Nah, he's pretty skinny.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 9:26 AM on February 19, 2013


They have a lot of different weird revenue-making plans

May be, but their primary "revenue" so far has been $125M in venture financing. Which is a tried-and-true method and a good way to build a business, but eventually the party's going to end and they're going to need to make real money. The Forbes article says 2012 had $13M in revenue and $25M in expenses. That's actually better than I would have guessed, and if the hoped-for $100M revenue on $40M in expenses happens in 2013, that'd be awesome.

I appreciate the run down on various revenue ideas they've tried, but I'm skeptical any of the clever ideas like selling premium themes will justify a $800M valuation. Good old fashioned advertising might, or maybe the "sponsored posts" variant. But either revenue strategy runs a real risk of polluting the community and clean design that currently makes Tumblr what it is.
posted by Nelson at 9:28 AM on February 19, 2013



Can someone explain what is meant by the fuss/controversy about reblogging?


I suspect that there are many controversies over reblogging. Some include:

1. Reblogging while stripping away a key portion - ie, someone has written a comment about an image and you just reblog the image while still showing that it's a "reblog" - giving the impression that the person didn't make any comments
2. Fetishizing stuff - like, taking someone's self-portrait and posting it without their permission on a porn tumblr. This happens regardless of whether the image is what many people consider "porn" and often happens to bloggers of color, queer bloggers, trans bloggers and fat bloggers.
3. There's a more finely grained social justice question of reblogging - like, let's say that I as a white person reblog a whole bunch of content from women of color. Am I just doing it to make myself look good? Will people pay more attention to it because a white person reblogged it? (Usually yes.) Thus, am I building my own cultural capital from the work of people of color? Will I disseminate the material in a stupid and politically counterproductive way? Will I reblog, for example, something that is meant to affirm the identity of women of color bloggers as if it were about me affirming my identity as a white person? (Like, some body-positive or community-positive stuff.) This is a really hard balance to strike, I think, because it's very hard to protect content on that level in an open system like tumblr - there's no real way to post something and have it only seen by queer bloggers or whatever. And then there's the fine-grained political aspect - like, is it automatically politically harmful if I reblog an Audre Lorde quote or is it only harmful under certain circumstances?

Vis-a-vis tags: the tag issue I run into is people doing gross things like posting pictures of white people in fake native regalia and tagging it "native american", or posting orientalist porn and tagging it "chinese" or whatever, so that if you are an actual native person and you click on that tag, half the content is gross and racist.
posted by Frowner at 9:28 AM on February 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


also Tumblr+Social Justice=Best twitter ever
posted by The Whelk at 9:33 AM on February 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


I love Tumblr because I love having time in my day where I can browse something without hardly any words. I put up photography there and follow some other photographers and rebloggers, but it's positively meditative most of the time. (Though I am sometimes annoyed at some of the rebloggers I follow, who will post 30 awesome vernacular shots then a handful of spread pussy shots. I've had to drop some that got too porny too often, since that's not what I'm looking for there.)
posted by klangklangston at 9:57 AM on February 19, 2013


Is Missing E's single-click reblogging/quick queing fixed yet? The lack of it is totally fucking up my workflow and my Tumblrs haven't been updated since it broke.
posted by griphus at 10:05 AM on February 19, 2013


Facebook was never cool.
posted by lkc at 10:06 AM on February 19, 2013


I'll be 100% honest: I have no idea how to use Tumblr. It makes zero sense to me. It's the first thing on the web that has made me feel truly old, and I think I'm okay with that.

In case you're ever Tumblr-curious, a good way to do it is to find a Tumblr you like, look over on whichever sidebar and see who they follow. Do a quick first page summary of each of those tumblogs and follow any of them where you like some of the content. Followed blogs go to your feed. Check your feed every now and again. Whenever you see something reblogged that you like, follow the original poster (or even the last step on the reblog chain) of that item. Occasionally weed people out when they're flooding your feed with stuff that bores you.

Congratulations, you now have a steady stream of content to amuse yourself with in waiting rooms and train rides.
posted by codacorolla at 10:07 AM on February 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


For me the reblogging isn't so much controversial and more just bewildering. But again I'm not a very heavy Tumblr user.

In terms of tags, the big dramas I've heard about both involve Sherlock (the BBC show) fandom. When Sherlock lost to Downton Abbey for some award recently, some fans decided they would spam the Downton Abbey tag because that'll show 'em. The most hilarious part was that they managed to misspell Downton Abbey anyway, as "Downtown Abbey".

I also recall an earlier wank where a South Korean band released an album called "Sherlock" and there were a bunch of show fans super angry because posts about the album were being tagged, well, what you would.
posted by kmz at 10:08 AM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I assumed they were already doing sponsored posts in the dashboard sidebar, because sometimes it seems like you get cool random stuff for the "Tumblr radar" item but it sure seems like you're getting some advertisements.

Nthing that people use tumblr in their own way but it's often pretty pictures, which is mostly what I'm there for: pretty pictures chosen by my friends (and occasionally fandom stuff).
posted by immlass at 10:12 AM on February 19, 2013


Is Missing E's single-click reblogging/quick queing fixed yet? The lack of it is totally fucking up my workflow and my Tumblrs haven't been updated since it broke.

Missing e is still being tweaked to fix these things.

For the record if you get the User-Agent Switcher for Chrome and set it to IE9 you can have Tumblr like it was before the last (horrible) update, but Missing E features like replying to replies and etc. still don't work (I don't know about one-click reblogging). And you'll be browsing in a virtual IE9. So you know. Weigh your options there.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 10:13 AM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Facebook was never cool.

This is wrong as shit. Back in 2005-2006 Facebook was the coolest thing ever, and it remained so for a good couple of years.
posted by Rory Marinich at 10:15 AM on February 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


So based on codacorolla's description, it sounds to me like Tumblr is Pinterest for teenagers. Or is Pinterest just Tumblr for adult women?
posted by vytae at 10:15 AM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Facebook stopped being cool when they got rid of the face.
posted by Rory Marinich at 10:16 AM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I swore up and down that I would NOT migrate from LJ to Tumblr. Then I tried Tumblr. Haven't used LJ in over a year now.

If I produced visual media myself, I would probably move to platforms like Jux. For a freeloader, nothing beats Tumblr's reblogging functionality.
posted by fatehunter at 10:20 AM on February 19, 2013


SRSLY Facebook stopped being cool when they opened it up to everyone. My MOM is on Facebook, OK? She tended to the guy who shot Lincoln, that's how old she is, and she's on Facebook.
posted by Mister_A at 10:33 AM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


> Back in 2005-2006 Facebook was the coolest thing ever, and it remained so for a good couple of years.

Nah, people liked facebook because it seemed like you could probably get sex out of it somehow and because, at first, you needed a .edu email to get in. And not just any .edu, a fancy .edu. But it was never cool.

Myspace was cool for a bit, because bands.
posted by postcommunism at 10:36 AM on February 19, 2013


Can someone explain what is meant by the fuss/controversy about reblogging?

Related to the previous three listed:

4) I run an (extremely niche) Etsy store with a friend who is a pretty decent photographer. We use Tumblr as a lazy way to advertise and cultivate an audience/customer base. She takes pretty, arty pictures of our stuff, we post it, and the repeated reblogging can give us more way exposure than we'd normally get.

But a little more frequently than we'd like, the source credit on our product pictures gets removed or changed. Or instead of reblogging and keeping our attribution intact, someone saves the image to their desktop and posts it themselves, without crediting us or leaving a link to the shop. Or people will save the image, crop out the watermark of our shop name, and post it as their own work. This happens pretty often to many lots of Etsy sellers and photographers whose prints may be available somewhere online, and whose photos may rack up 1000's of reblogs and likes on Tumblr, but no one ever credits them or links to their shop.

We grudgingly accept it as part of the youthful and, uh, "carefree" culture of Tumblr, and because, well... what are you gonna do? But for sure it's kinda irritating to see someone become Tumblr-famous by "curating" pics of your and other people's merchandise or artwork, without even a perfunctory nod in your direction.
posted by hegemone at 10:36 AM on February 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


Facebook hasn't been cool since $uckerberg turned it into a website. It peaked back when it was just a old dowry chest full of wood shavings and anti-Semitic political cartoons from Croatia.
posted by griphus at 10:40 AM on February 19, 2013 [10 favorites]


I follow some art and some cute animal Tumblrs, and add a new post of my own a few times a month. (Plenty of Cumberbatch in the illustration tags, of course.) Like someone said, it's kind of mesmerizing just to scroll through and sometimes see very cool and/or very cute things. (Baby wombat OMG, etc) But it's always a bummer when artwork/photography does not link, or at least list, the artist.
posted by Glinn at 10:43 AM on February 19, 2013


So based on codacorolla's description, it sounds to me like Tumblr is Pinterest for teenagers. Or is Pinterest just Tumblr for adult women?

I wrote a longer comment that the Internet connection I'm on decided to eat, so here's the Reader's Digest version...

Tumblr and Pinterest (and to a certain extent Facebook and Twitter) are all curated stream of content websites. They all operate around the publication and then resharing of material that allows people to come on and get a quick fix new material. They also operate on the way that they allow people to construct brands (or identities, if you want to be less cynical).

They begin to differentiate from one another in a few distinct ways, which the article touches on...
  • Anonymity. Facebook and (mostly) Pinterest are real-name areas. Twitter is sort of a mixed bag. Tumblr is (mostly) pseudonymous. You can use Facebook under a pen name, you can use Tumblr under your real name, but by and large people tend towards one or the other depending on the service.
  • Fantasy versus normative content. Facebook tends to elicit people talking about their day and sharing things that are important to them (like inspirational memes and toddler photos); Pinterest tends to focus on literal product consumption, like wedding ideas and outfit designs, sometimes even with links to the product purchasing pages for these items; Twitter (once again) tends to allow for both - you'll find academics pimping their careers alongside Twitter comedians talking about dad-balls and the Ron Paul necronomicon. Tumblr is mostly rooted in fantasy... the fetishization of retro-futuristic idealizations of the past (soft grunge, sea wave, cyberpunk, glitch art), fandom, pornography, video games, etc. Some services are places where you show a face that you want others to see and associate with IRL you, some services are places where you build a persona that you want to represent some ideal version of your inner life.
  • Commerce. The way that these sites monetize differs wildly. Facebook, by necessity, needs to be locked down and uniform, Pinterest even more so, Twitter slightly less so, and Tumblr least of all. The way that these sites either pretend to resist commerce, or willingly embrace it has a large part in the way that they construct their image, and probably plays a good deal in to us calling them 'cool' or 'uncool'.
  • Success metrics. Each of these sites offers a game-like number which lets you know how you're doing on the site. Facebook has cheery little red numbers that lets you know about likes and comments that tells you 'you have a healthy real social life'. Pinterest lets you see how many people turn to your feed to know what to buy and what to look like. Twitter has klout scores and follower ratios to let you know whether or not you're influential. Tumblr will tell you if the Estonian video game advertisement that you stole from a .ru site that hasn't been updated in five years has captured the Zeitgeist of the second and garnered several thousand reblogs. Each of these things imparts meaning in different ways that lets you know how well you're doing socially, and more importantly, lets you know how much better super-users are doing than you.
Let's take a common action... posting an image. All four of these sites let you do that, but the affordances, the cultural associations, and the outcomes of that action take on vastly different meanings depending on what piece of software you use. If I wasn't in the field that I'm in, then I think longitudinal studies of super-users who identify primarily with one service or another would be fascinating. My gut instinct is that you would begin to find distinct variations in SES, world-view, and cultural backgrounds.
posted by codacorolla at 11:02 AM on February 19, 2013 [31 favorites]


So tumblr is the collective unconscious of the internet?
posted by The Whelk at 11:05 AM on February 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Tumblr is the id. Facebook is the ego. Your septagenarian Aunt Gracie commenting "so handsome!" on your shirtless bathroom picture is the superego.
posted by griphus at 11:08 AM on February 19, 2013 [12 favorites]


Cumberbushel (n): the product of a Cumbersome.
posted by zippy at 11:09 AM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Most of the webcomic creators and artists I've discovered have been through Tumblr links to each other and from other places. Some of them post whole comics on it, some just fragments with links. But there is a lot of good stuff out there, much of it original.

All of thos artists have gotten burned by people ganking their work and taking credit for it; if you saw those cute Dictator Valentines going around, that was an idea first done by webcomic artist Ben Kling and then stolen and done as a photo meme. More direct steals...one egregious example was taking a Jesus-mocking cartoon and making it Jesus-praising by photoshopping in new words and posting it to Facebook where it got tons of likes...are common.

I am pretty sure stealing other people's work was around pre-Tumblr, though.
posted by emjaybee at 11:31 AM on February 19, 2013


Missing E [for the "e" that is missing from Tumblr] is a browser extension that makes Tumblr usable. It provides smooth, one click reblog, allows you to reblog yourself, loads the dash controls at the top of each page etc. Tumblr has a kluge-y interface which gets worse with each revamp.

Maddening Web 1.0 problems-- the focus does not move to a dialog box when you open it, selecting an item from a drop down list requires a second click to submit the item.

The intertwined comments are unsightly, and take way too much space. Some of the "all image" templates don't show comments or captions.

Some people delete the comment stream, but leave the "Notes" history which shows the reblogging count and the original poster. I often delete banal and self-evident comments like "want!" "like!" or "so cute!" leaving the artist attribution intact.

I would hope that somebody, liking the artist, would click thru to their home page and make contact-- expressing appreciation or making a purchase.

Some people save the image to a local drive, and repost without the reblogging count and no credit to the artist or the original poster. Secretive sociopathic scumbags who cheapen art and degrade the social content of the web.
posted by ohshenandoah at 11:32 AM on February 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Facebook was cool for precisely the reason that it required a valid University address. It was the most freeing site, because you could put up anything you want without repercussion. Noone who knew what it was cared, and those who didn't know what it was or for whom it was just another site on the internet, it wasn't "real" and nothing on it mattered.

Myspace was a fucking disaster in comparison, because anyone could join, and there were no networks. That is what Facebook has become.
posted by Yowser at 12:36 PM on February 19, 2013


Tumblr is the best place to get hipster porn (literal porn of hipsters) and goth porn, plus a breeding ground for mockable tribes like Otherkin and Otakukin. I avoid it except for the odd hilarious one like Watchful Entity or that cool cyberpunk one I linked ages ago.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 2:02 PM on February 19, 2013


Oh and Fuck Yeah The Mountain Goats. My friend and I tried to start a viral tumblr where people sent in their bad sex stories but it never took off.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 2:07 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's a very elaborate code of tumblr morality that does, actually, make me feel old - it's rude to just look at someone's tumblr and not follow it so that the person can see who you are; it's particularly rude to, say, read a tumblr like a blog, going through pages and pages of it without following

Wow. Never seen any of that. I just post and reblog stuff I like and don't give a shit about the rest. As for making some kind of moral choice about whether to reblog something because of the colour of skin of the person you're reblogging? Wow. I don't live in that universe.

I was a Tumblr early adopter - I obtained the plastic.tumblr.com address, and used it for years for collating content from other sites of mine - Flickr photos would go there, blog posts, whatever. Tumblr actually had a feature that allowed you to give it a pile of RSS feeds and it would bring all that offsite content together onto your Tumblr for you. Then, suddenly, they had a policy change where they decided that feature was no longer their focus. Then they decided that people who actually used that feature were violating their terms of service, and they banned me and I lost plastic.tumblr.com. Bastards.

I've got a new Tumblr blog now, which I use to post or reblog surreal, bizarre, funny and interesting images I find around the web. Like this. And I can't express how much I don't give a shit about the colour of skin of the person who posted the image originally.
posted by Jimbob at 4:04 PM on February 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


tumblr is good but it could be better
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 5:51 PM on February 19, 2013


Back when I was trying to set up my photo blog, I initially tried making it a Tumblr with a custom domain. For some infuriating unknown reason, it would never take, even after I set it up the way you were supposed to, even redoing it multiple times. And the dashboard was just unusable. I gave up and went with Blosxom on my own server. Totes old-fashioned, I know. But I felt like that decision was validated when the first massive Tumblr outage hit after that and my stuff stayed up, while all the Tumblr-hosted photo blogs went down.

I understand that now Tumblr has developed strangely weird and delightful depths that have much more to do with the site's vast meme-generating capability than with anything so unhiplike as the ability to make custom domains work. I've definitely been charmed by a few that have been posted to the blue.

But if Tumblr users are offended by my daring to look at their blogs without reblogging them or friending them or whatever, well, they can continue to be offended. I am so not interested in getting involved in the kind of protocol battles I occasionally got caught in on LiveJournal ("How dare you say X! This [public] blog is a safe space for Y people, and we don't want people here who believe X," etc.).
posted by limeonaire at 6:53 PM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


But if Tumblr users are offended by my daring to look at their blogs without reblogging them or friending them or whatever, well, they can continue to be offended.

Yeah. Social aspects of websites are not compulsory, you know. Tumblr was set up as a microblogging service - one that you can easily follow people on, of course, but you don't have to. Of course you don't. Like with Twitter - I use Twitter because it's useful. I follow a set group of people who are posting interesting things, so when I look at my timeline I see things that are useful to me. I don't expect the people I follow to follow me back - I'm quite sure I'm not saying anything most of them give a shit about. And I'm not going to follow everyone who follows me, for the same reason.

But there is this weird culture that creeps into places like that where a certain (I'm assuming immature, insecure, desperate for attention) contingent attempts to overlay weird social rules. I can only guess most of it is about increasing that all-important follower account, to prove how famous you are. I'm not playing that game. I'll follow your Tumblr / Twitter / whatever if doing so will improve my experience, not in order to make you feel chuffed at your friend count.

And, conversely, I'll reblog / retweet what you post to a public website if it suits my purposes.
posted by Jimbob at 7:00 PM on February 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Also, yes, Pinterest is way too consumerist for me. Most people I know who are really into it are also really into mindless shopping. I like finding out about neat things I can buy on Etsy sometimes, but I tend to get nausea of existence if I spend very long on any given Pinterest board. And if I have to look at another "inspirational" quote in the form of a wall decal...
posted by limeonaire at 7:17 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


You know, I don't know how people are managing to keep up with twitter, facebook, gplus, tumblr, et.al; and get anything else done. I mean, it's exhausting to have this constant barrage of micro-interactions that I feel like I'm supposed to respond to in some way.

Example; before social media became a thing, I never, not once, ever saw a picture of a friend's meal. I was ok with that. Really.

I dunno. I'm old. I remember when we were excited to have a browser that showed images. But I've had to turn off most social media because I can either constantly respond to sometimes clever, but overall unimportant minutia of other people's lives, or I can get on with my own.

I envy people who can somehow manage the torrent of information, and still accomplish other tasks, but I have just become overwhelmed by the socialnet.
posted by dejah420 at 7:17 PM on February 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


See, I love weird Twitter or whatever we're calling it these days because it takes me out of the minutiae of getting and spending and the intensely personal. During a string of recent crises in my life, it's sort of been my saving grace; I can tap over to Seesmic on my phone and be transported into a world of delightful absurdity. So the parts of Tumblr that serve that purpose, I'm (at least theoretically) into.
posted by limeonaire at 7:25 PM on February 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


I can tap over to Seesmic on my phone and be transported into a world of delightful absurdity.

Yes. This. I don't know how people do what you describe either, dejah420. That doesn't interest me in the slightest. But these services are still useful and fun if you don't sell your soul and existence to the "social network". Twitter and Tumblr are both firehoses of information, but I don't have to sit there all day staring at them in fear that I'll miss something. Instead, I can spend 15 minutes on my lunch break with them and come away with a concentrated little hit of information and amusement. It doesn't matter if someone doesn't reply to something I send to them. It doesn't matter if I don't reply to things people send to me. It doesn't matter if 14 people unfollow me because they don't like something I post. Who gives a shit, life's too short.
posted by Jimbob at 12:37 AM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]



Also, yes, Pinterest is way too consumerist for me. Most people I know who are really into it are also really into mindless shopping.


This has made me wary of it, as someone who can easily be triggered into binge-spending when they feel down. It was suggested to me as a good way of keeping visual lists or records without having to download pictures onto my hard-drive, so I have a couple of pinboards where I've got pictures of crochet projects and the like. I haven't really worked out what else to do with it yet and I'm not really interested in using it as a social network.However, I've heard many say that there is a certain lifestyle/aesthetic there, particularly for craft or wedding-based boards, that leads people into experiencing consumer lust and envy.

A friend of mine is a beauty blogger, and told me that there is a certain type who does really really well - attractive thin white young women who post many Instagram pictures of nail varnish bottles on their floral bedsheets or shots of them with 'the boy' eating a cupcake, and who will happily promote and rave about any product a PR will send to them rather than looking critically at it. (If I'm looking for reviews of a product, and I click onto a link that describes itself as a 'lifestyle blog', then it's likely to follow this template rather than be useful to me.) I've seen something similar in the craft blogging world - I've thought about starting one myself, but there's a certain lifestyle thing going on there too that doesn't interest me, and now that blogging has become a career starter as much as a hobby, I feel put off by the SRS BZNZ of it.
posted by mippy at 5:22 AM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I haven't got much to add, except that I use Tumblr mostly as a way to keep track of the various stuff that I find online and that might be useful someday. My Tumblr is 100% text-based and mostly consists of links to 20+-page PDF files, some of which are in Dutch, but nevertheless it was included in the Tumblr directory and now has several thousands of followers (who may jump ship once they actually see what's on offer - which is fine with me, anyone is welcome to use or not use the blog as it suits them).
posted by rjs at 1:26 PM on February 20, 2013


It's also worth noting that as the current generation of 0 - 10 year olds comes of age there's a pretty strange (at least strange as far as we're concerned - perfectly normal for them) digital landscape.

First of all, you're not supposed to be on a social network if you're 0 to 13 because of COPPA. A lot of 0 to 13 year olds are, because they want to be part of the real world, and not part of a cloistered area reserved especially for them, so many children are already comfortable with the idea that it's the norm to lie in order to get access to social media. There hasn't been much research done on this group of users, despite indications that a substantial portion of them are in some sort of social online world, and that they make up pretty heavy numbers of total users.

Second of all, the places that they're allowed to be are often massively multiplayer online games, like Club Penguin, which often have tiered access based around selling them digital trinkets which act as status symbols. The norm isn't some abstract representation of your social circle extruded on to a website (which is normal for me, in terms of social networking, since social networking for me is likely to be always defined as my first experiences using Facebook in college), the normal is instead interacting with hundreds of pseudonymed penguin avatars in some sort of virtual game environment where you happily to have your numbers changed in a database. Think a world where TF2 hats are perfectly normal and acceptable.

I have a feeling that this is going to greatly change expectations for what a social area is as these kids come of age and enter young adulthood. They're going to expect something completely different than Facebook, and they're also going to have totally different values associated with the use of their real name, and the sorts of activities that are available on these services.
posted by codacorolla at 1:51 PM on February 20, 2013


Everyone I know seems to have multiple tumblrs. I don't use it and even I have three of them. One's theoretically "mine" but I never use it, one's full of photographs of a graffiti wall near my house, and one's for people to ask questions of the main character from my current comic, which are answered with drawings.

That last - the "Ask Blog" - is an interesting format that Tumblr has spawned. I think it started with the My Little Pony fandom, with people both posing as official characters and as their own fan-ponies. But I see it all over now. You'll even see characters crossing over from one person's ask blog to another. Some of them even have narratives that emerge around the questions they choose to answer.
posted by egypturnash at 3:36 PM on February 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have a feeling that this is going to greatly change expectations for what a social area is as these kids come of age and enter young adulthood.

I don't know. Kids are adaptable. If I was basing my expectations of online social experiences on what I had seen of them, aged 0-13, I'd be hoping the internet to operate like a dial-up BBS.

Well, okay so I do kind of wish it acted like that. Whatever.
posted by Jimbob at 7:00 PM on February 20, 2013


Sherlock fans go ballistic on Tumblr again.

And it just confirms I don't fucking understand Tumblr. All those reblogs and replies and stuff have the same notes below them. Oy.
posted by kmz at 2:20 PM on February 22, 2013


Interesting, that fashion is a default tag when you create a new account, that sounds awfully profitable.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:25 AM on March 8, 2013


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