Quick-Blog Site Tumblr Takes Off In An Uncertain Marketplace

Originally published on June 15, 2011 10:58 am

Lauren Kasman is no stranger to blogging. Over the past eight years, she's been typing away in her room and jotting down her thoughts for friends to read. When she moved to Washington, D.C., for college, she wanted to connect with others outside of her social circle.

"I felt like no one was listening. And with a blog the whole point is to have someone on the other end," she says. "Otherwise, you know, it's like placing a phone call to no one."

Kasman's frustration grew. She couldn't quite figure out how to connect with others. Then, her friends told her about Tumblr.

She created an account on Tumblr, or what's called a tumblog, in this case. Within a day, she had 10 followers — people who have linked to her blog and are reading what she writes.

Users can post text, images, videos, audio, quotes from a story or famous person, and links to other websites by clicking clearly visible buttons on the top of the main screen.

In January, the 4-year-old site had more than 7 million individual blogs. In the past six months, the number has nearly tripled. Tumblr now has about the same number of bloggers as Wordpress, a blogging site that has been around for eight years.

Mark Coatney, who works at Tumblr, equates using Tumblr to a daily activity many of us know pretty well.

"It's more almost like, you know, an email experience in a way," he says. "You'll dash off an email or do a tweet or something like that because it's quick and easy, so it's kind of taking that thinking and applying it to blogging."

Coatney's job is to help media outlets like The New York Times, Newsweek and The Huffington Post start their tumblogs.

"It kind of speaks to what I think is a new and emerging thing in journalism, which is kind of talking to your audience on a peer-to-peer level," Coatney says, "as opposed to the broadcast model where you put it out and people consume it."

More Personal

Meanwhile, Kasman is using the dashboard — a scroll of every post by everyone she has chosen to follow — to quickly pick out what's worth reading, watching and listening to. On the top right corner of each post, there are a few symbols. Each one allows users to interact with the Tumblr community.

If Kasman likes a post and wants to save it for future reference, she can do it by clicking the heart button. If she wants to add her two cents to a conversation, she can do that, too.

She can directly reply to a post. Or she can do what's called a reblog, which reposts the entry on her page.

"You start to feel almost, like, rewarded for telling people your stories, and I think that's one of the things that allows you to get a bit more personal," Kasman says.

Tumblr tries to differentiate itself from competitors by acting as an offline, or real-world, connector. The company organizes social gatherings at coffee shops and restaurants.

But it's not the only company trying to offer easy-to-use blogging that makes it easy to connect with other people and their blogs. It has smaller competitors called Posterous, Soup and Jaiku.

But what's the reality of people having time for Tumblr in addition to updating their Facebook pages and posting on Twitter?

"I think that we're learning that we're going to have to limit the number of communities where we can honestly invest a bit of ourselves in," says Brian Solis, who works for Altimeter Group.

Analysts say at the moment, among all of the competitors, Tumblr is the easiest to use. But in a fast-changing tech world, it's not easy to predict which companies will last.

John Asante is an editorial assistant for NPR's Talk of the Nation. He has been blogging on Tumblr for nearly two years. During that time, the site has helped him make new friends across the country and even meet his current girlfriend.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

NPR's John Asante has this report.

JOHN ASANTE: Lauren Kasman is no stranger to blogging. Over the last eight years, she's been typing away in her room, jotting down thoughts for her friends to read. When she moved to Washington, D.C. for college, she wanted to connect with others outside of her social circle.

LAUREN KASMAN: I felt like nobody was listening. And, you know, with a blog, the whole point is to have somebody on the other end. Otherwise, you know, it's like placing a phone call to no one.

ASANTE: A lot of other people also like Tumblr. In January, the four-year-old site had more than seven million individual blogs. In the last six months, the number has nearly tripled, and Tumblr now has about the same number of bloggers as Wordpress, a blogging site that's been around for eight years.

MARK COATNEY: So it's more almost like, you know, an email experience in a way, right? You know, you'll dash off an email or do a tweet or something like that because it's quick and easy. So it's kind of taking that thinking and just applying it to blogging.

ASANTE: Mark Coatney works at Tumblr. His job is to help media outlets like The New York Times, Newsweek and the Huffington Post start their tumblogs.

COATNEY: So it kind of speaks to what I think is kind of a new and emerging thing in journalism, which is kind of talking to your audience on a peer-to- peer level, you know, as opposed to the more traditional broadcast model where you put it out and people consume it.

ASANTE: Meanwhile, Lauren Kasman is using the dashboard to quickly pick out what's worth reading, watching and listening to. If she likes a post and wants to save it for future reference, she can do it with a click.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOUSE CLICK)

ASANTE: If Kasman wants to add her 2 cents to a conversation, she can do that, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF TYPING ON KEYBOARD, MOUSE CLICK)

ASANTE: She can either directly reply to a post or do what's called a reblog, which re-posts the entry on her page.

KASMAN: You start to feel almost, like, rewarded for telling people your stories, and I think that's one of the things that allows you to get a little bit more personal.

ASANTE: Tumblr tries to differentiate itself from competitors by also connecting people offline in the real world. The company organizes social gatherings at coffee shops and restaurants.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHATTER)

ASANTE: Unidentified Woman: You heard about the refreshing thing in letting...

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHATTER)

ASANTE: Tumblr is not the only company trying to offer easy-to-use blogging that makes it easy to connect with people and their blogs. Similar competitors have names like Posterous, Soup and Jaiku. But you might wonder if people have time for a Tumblr and updating their Facebook page and posting to Twitter.

BRIAN SOLIS: Then there's checking in on Foursquare and uploading pictures on Instagram, and you name it. The answer's no.

ASANTE: Brian Solis works for Altimeter Group.

SOLIS: I think that we're learning that we're going to have to limit the number of communities where we can honestly invest a bit of ourselves in learning and sharing...

ASANTE: John Asante, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.