TBH, I might nearly forgotten about Tumblr. Even if it has been on my iPhone’s residence display screen for years, I by no means open it. Till Tuesday, when phrase went round that WordPress proprietor Automattic had purchased the microbloging service from Verizon, the one particular person I might bear in mind following on the service was Wil Wheaton. Then, after the information broke, I obtained nostalgic. I began scrolling via the app. It nonetheless had quite a lot of the rubbish—bizarre adverts, reblogs from customers I wasn’t tremendous desirous about listening to from—that had led me to desert it within the first place. Nevertheless it additionally had one thing else, one thing I missed: group.
Sure, I’ve different on-line communities now. Twitter, in fact. Fb, I suppose. Instagram, for memes and insecurity. However none of these have the open, self-governing trade of concepts that Tumblr as soon as had. Frankly, we want it now greater than ever.
In Tumblr’s halcyon days—which I’ll place within the three or 4 years across the time Yahoo acquired the corporate for $1.1 billion in 2013 (Verizon obtained it when the corporate purchased Yahoo in 2017)—group was key. The positioning was a library of fanfiction, a house to extra memes and GIFs than anyone particular person might ever have a look at, not to mention reblog. Its myriad fandoms lit up the web like a warmth map of Shanghai suburbs. It grew to become a hub of popular culture feminist discourse. Frank Ocean used the positioning to come back out; Taylor Swift used it to deal with followers. (She nonetheless does.) Science nerds used it to make cracks about evolution. It was, and sometimes nonetheless is, a dwelling embodiment of what the web can and must be.
That, in fact, additionally makes Tumblr the antithesis of different social media hubs like Fb and Twitter and Reddit. Within the years that these websites outpaced Tumblr in reputation and visitors, they usually did so on the expense of customers. Misogynist harassment, white nationalists, Russian trolls—they took off on social media. Tumblr, like Instagram however with extra of Twitter’s options, felt like a far safer place.
Matt Mullenweg, CEO of Tumblr’s new proprietor Automattic, appears nicely conscious of this. In an interview posted at this time with The Verge, Mullenweb famous, “Tumblr pioneered quite a lot of what later would present up on Twitter, Instagram, WordPress, all types of different locations. So it is at all times been a really inventive group, and I actually am trying ahead to seeing that simply unleashed.” He would not go as far as to say he needed to problem these opponents head-on on their very own turf, however his willingness to not let the service wither on the backside of a company stability sheet exhibits promise.
That is to not say there aren’t issues Tumblr must do to deliver again the spirit of ’13. The positioning did have its personal issues with “state-sponsored disinformation and propaganda” over the past US election. There’s spam. There’s additionally the problem of grownup content material. Late final 12 months the positioning issued what was successfully a porn ban, sending intercourse staff right into a panic—and on to different websites. Chances are high, Tumblr’s new homeowners will not deliver again the porn (Mullenweg has mentioned as a lot), nevertheless it might point out that it will do extra to reasonable, to let, say, erotic artwork proceed to have a spot on the positioning even when hardcore pornography does not.
Actually, moderation is essential. What made Tumblr such a haven in its heyday was that it felt like a spot the place freak flags waved proudly and everybody felt supported. Communities self-policed and all the things was shared and shareable. Need to discuss Glee? Tumblr was there for you. Want the proper Beyoncé GIF? Information about Barack Obama’s re-election marketing campaign? Ask and ye shall obtain. Politics, comics, essays, discourse—it was all there, and simple to search out.
Tumblr’s standing as a hive of scum and villainy is so well-known it is actually a joke, however its under-the-radar standing leaves room for hope. If all of us promise to go there and simply, you already know, be cool, it may very well be a spot that fosters concepts as a substitute of flame wars. There’s an election arising; individuals want this. In his interview at this time, Mullenweg introduced up the truth that Fb rolled again quite a lot of its API options after the Cambridge Analytica debacle. These rollbacks might need been crucial, however in addition they, he famous, proved to be an enormous change when it got here to the openness of the net. The identical was true for the RSS feeds that Tumblr used to permit. “I might like to deliver options like that again,” Mullenweg mentioned, “as a result of I might love for Tumblr to be a greater a part of the open net.” Would not all of us?