The Interesting Dichotomy of Tumblr

This week on Talking Points Memo was this interesting story about “#BlackOutDay” on Tumblr, when a few users were able to generate a meaningful social movement on Tumblr.

For three Tumblr users to radically alter the landscape of a social networking site, even just for a day, is powerful. (The residual effects reverberated long after March 6, with users posting pictures with captions like, “Too late for #blackout?”)

It’s a testament to Tumblr’s embrace of a reasonably open culture that a community was not only able to do this, but that it was able to happen as just part of the site—not as part of some larger engaged social movement. I don’t think this could have happened on Facebook. Facebook has sanded off the rough edges of the site and content, it’s algorithm ensuring that users get the content that will make them most likely to stay on the site and click the ads.

Which is why it’s not a coincidence that another story about Tumblr came out last week. This time, it’s about Yahoo’s reorg, which is at least partially to help improve Tumblr’s ad sales.

The move reflects Tumblr’s struggles to broaden its appeal beyond its core audience of of artists, teenagers and 20somethings looking for a platform to express themselves. Tumblr has served as the technology behind Yahoo’s digital magazines, but it has faced challenges in luring advertising. Tumblr’s top ad executive, Lee Brown, recently left the company and joined BuzzFeed after Yahoo integrated Tumblr’s ad sales with Yahoo’s.

I think the contrast of those two views of Tumblr is pretty striking.

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