Tumblr : Behind the scenes

8/11/2012 11:09:50 AM

This week, a look at the company behind one of the newest social networks

At a glance

There are a lot of blogging tools around, all designed to make sharing your thoughts and ramblings with the world very, very easy. But in 2007, a new kind of blogging platform was launched. Tumblr is all about community and sharing: it’s a very easy platform for sharing not just words but pictures, music and video and, like Twitter, it allows you to repost things other users have posted, making everything feel very interconnected. It’s a simple idea, but a very clever one.

Description: Tumblr’s founder, David Karp

Tumblr’s founder, David Karp

The credit for the site goes to David Karp, who came up with the idea when he was just 20. He was working as a software consultant for UrbanBaby when he noticed a growing trends for ‘tumblelogging’ - a kind of microblogging, not as succinct as tweets but mostly short-form, dashed-off blog posts. Since no dedicated platform for that kind of blogging existed, he decided to build one. Tumblr was launched in April 2007, and within two weeks, it had over 75,000 registered users.

Many social networks or blogging platforms find that while a lot of people sign up, many of them stop bothering to update after a while; Karp reckoned that if he made things easier, users would stick around. It seems to have worked - Tumblr has an 85% retention rate.

In October 2008, Karp sold 25% of the company to investors, including venture capitalist Spark Capital. The company was valued at $3 million, and the buyout made Karp rich and allowed him to develop Tumblr further. In 2009, Tumblr acquired Tumblerette, an iOS app that let it produce its own official iPhone app. Blackberry and Android apps followed in 2010. As always, Tumblr wanted to make things as easy as possible for its users, to keep them constantly engaged.

Description: Tumblr Iphone Apps

Tumblr Iphone Apps

So far, so sickening: Tumblr was an overnight success masterminded by an incredibly young entrepreneur, making us all feel like awful underachievers. But there are two main problems Tumblr has yet to sort out. One is that, since Tumblr makes it so easy to share images, music and video, it makes it very very easy for piracy to flourish. Under US safe harbour laws, it’s unlikely to get shut down as a result - it’s the user, not the service that’s held responsible for copyright infringement on Tumblr - but it will need to find effective ways to clean up problematic material.

The other is money. There are a couple of ways Tumblr can make money out of its users - selling premium blog designs, for one thing, and offering users a chance to be part of a high-profile directory for a fee - but it’s not enough. Sooner or later, it’s going to have to figure out how to monetise its users. But considering there are currently around 57.6 million blogs being run through Tumblr, and 50% of its users are under 25, it seems likely there’ll be a way to make money out of the platform.

If Tumblr follows the same trajectory as a zillion other tech start-ups, it’ll start looking around for a buyer, or else decide to go public. If it does, it’ll be interesting to see what the platform is valued at. My guess would be… well, quite a lot.





David Karp

Based in

New York

Known for

Blogging, sort of

Annual turnover





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