Tumblr: the future-minded social platform for nostalgic users

A very good read on the Atlantic, from Kaitlyn Tiffany, about what Tumblr means to internet users today and what it meant in its successful days. This part in particular made me smile:

The sentiment “I miss Tumblr” circulates regularly on Twitter, where nostalgists tend to refer to the latest topics of conversation or styles of humor as “2013 Tumblr” or “Tumblr season 2,” as in, invented a long time ago … on Tumblr. Some have even gone back to Tumblr to live in its ruins. “i love how irrelevant tumblr is,” begins a Tumblr post that, ironically, went somewhat viral on Tumblr in February 2020. “no celebrities on here, no colleagues or family on here, no one’s famous off tumblr or making money, tbh no ones even updating the site like is there even any staff? who knows? it’s bliss.”

Tumblr, as a true web-CMS, is the one with arguably the best social features (sorry Medium); and Tumblr, as a social platform, is the most plugged into the web. Every profile is mirrored as a true website, and not just available as a standard profile page on the platform, unlike Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and all the others.

With Tumblr, you can — if you want — map your own URL to the website and design your own theme. You can use it without any of the social features and build a website that barely has anything to do with the platform. Or, and that is the beauty of it, you can use it completely “inside” the platform, as you would use Twitter, without caring about the website at all.

Now, considering all this, one has to wonder what Automattic will do with it? Will they double down on its social potential? Will they keep it as it is and try to monetise it the best they can? At the time of the buyout, Automattic’s Matt Mullenberg answered a lot of questions from the Verge’s Nilay Patel and Julia Alexander, but despite many interesting answers, the future of Tumblr remains unclear:

I want to create a place on the web, which is fun and supportive and substantial. You’re an old-school web user. At one point, blogging had a real magic to it. A frisson. You’d have blog rolls and links and people would follow and comment and you’d keep up with things and it was a really, really nice social network. But it also was totally distributed and people had their own designs, and all those sorts of things. I think we can bring some of that back and reimagine it in the mobile world which is where Tumblr is also super strong.

If I had to guess, I would say that Automattic may want Tumblr to be to Wordpress what Tinyletter is/was to Mailchimp: an easier-to-use tool for users who don’t want all the features and complexity. For Tumblr and the mobile app — as I have said in my second post about Tumblr in 2022, crazy right? — it could simply mean being the easiest, cheapest, and fastest way to create a website: a dot tumblr dot com website.

But here we are, two and a half years later, and it seems that Tumblr hasn’t changed one bit, at least not yet. In the meantime — with this piece on the Atlantic, and previously on the New Yorker — I’m glad to see this surge of nostalgia around the Tumblr years, when having a blog was the cool thing to do online.