Tumblr’s staff blog has posted a long update on the future of the platform, alluding to coming changes that include redesigning its reply and reblog features. The goal, according to Tumblr staff, is to make Tumblr less intimidating — implicitly at a time when it could attract users disillusioned with platforms like Reddit and Twitter.
“In order for Tumblr to grow, we need to fix the core experience that makes Tumblr a useful place for users. The underlying problem is that Tumblr is not easy to use. Historically, we have expected users to curate their feeds and lean into curating their experience. But this expectation introduces friction to the user experience and only serves a small portion of our audience,” says the post (emphasis in original). “To guarantee Tumblr’s continued success, we’ve got to prioritize fostering that seamless connection between people and content. This involves attracting and retaining new users and creators, nurturing their growth, and encouraging frequent engagement with the platform.”
The strategic changes are grouped into several categories, including “expand the ways new users can discover and sign up for Tumblr” and “create patterns that encourage users to keep returning to Tumblr.” Some of the suggestions are broad, and many simply indicate Tumblr plans to experiment with possible improvements: the “create patterns” section includes action items like “conduct an audit of our messaging strategy” and “test what the right daily push notification limit is.”
“The underlying problem is that Tumblr is not easy to use.”
But the changes suggest Tumblr is interested in positioning itself as a stronger competitor to mainstream social networks, particularly for creators who want to share material on the platform. The goals include helping creators attract more engagement and making sure people see engaging posts every time they open Tumblr — one goal is to “improve our algorithmic ranking capabilities across all feeds.” (Tumblr’s feeds include a home dashboard of people you follow, plus an “explore” tab with suggested posts from across the site. There’s also a video service called Tumblr Live, which I have never seen anybody use but which is apparently supremely weird.)
The most obvious change for existing users may be a series of planned updates to the reply and reblog system. “The current way that conversations work on Tumblr across replies and reblogs is confusing for new users,” the staff blog says. Tumblr plans to let users reply to a particular addition to a reblogged post (very loosely equivalent to a quote-tweet) instead of grouping all replies under the original. It also wants to “explore the feasibility of removing duplicate reblogs within a user’s Following feed,” in case you don’t want to watch popular posts ping-pong around your social circle.
Interestingly, the update doesn’t mention Tumblr’s plans to integrate with decentralized social networking protocol ActivityPub.
Tumblr has had a tumultuous past decade after being acquired by Yahoo in 2013, merged into Verizon in 2017, and sold to WordPress.com owner Automattic in 2019. The site has stabilized under Automattic and produced some surprising cultural trends, like the nonexistent Martin Scorsese film Goncharov, and it’s anecdotally drawn users who are worried about the upheavals at Twitter and Reddit. Part of its appeal, however, has been as a respite from heavily monetized and optimized social feeds — and a better replica of other sites’ sticky social experience may not be what some longtime users want.