In one of the various other guises I wear online I’ve spent a lot of time on Tumblr in the past year. I joined to try and figure out what, if any, uses there were for a blogging platform with such a heavy focus on images. I read an article about how the Guardian, the UK’s aspirational workplace of choice for anyone who works in digital publishing, had used Tumblr to highlight images from London fashion week. I was intrigued.
I set up a Tumblr and followed a few work colleagues. Big mistake. You see Tumblr isn’t like other social media sites. Tumblr isn’t where you connect with friends or share the pictures from last week’s BBQ or coo over the pretty niece or nephew on the other side of the world. And that’s because Tumblr is full of porn. 22% full of porn if these stats are to be believed.
And not just dirty sleazy sexy porn – Tumblr is full of something that a lot of people seem to consider *just as embarrassing* as porn. Tumblr is full of fandom.
I say this as someone who has dressed up for cons, as someone who dutifully taped seasons worth of TV onto VCR tapes and overspent on specially packaged pre-recorded videotapes of two Star Trek episodes, as someone who has read, written and beta-ed fanfiction and wished she had enough artistic talent to draw fanart.
I’m a fan and I’m proud of it. Tumblr these days reminds me of how LiveJournal used to be in the early 2000s, and how Yahoo groups were before that. It’s the contemporary equivalent of that joyful shriek us awkward geeky 90s kids let out when we first got online at a library or uni computer and realised that there were other people out there who also liked Due South and totally saw that chemistry between the two leads.
And so Tumblr is full of my people.
And also porn.
And it can do this because very few people ( a few crazy celebrities aside) use their real name on Tumblr. You choose to follow people not because they are famous in their industry or because they sell-out Wembley regularly, but because they reblog funny gifs or interesting commentary. Its a way for the inner geek in all of us to shine. Artists and authors are the kings and queens of Tumblr – young adult authors John Green and Maureen Johnson, comic book writers Kelly Sue DeConnick and Matt Fraction are the few I can think of right now – because they are smart, articulate people, who engage not only with their fans, but with the site as a whole.
And Tumblr is not like Twitter where celebrities talk amongst themselves and you feel like a Dickensian orphan with your nose pressed to the window – anyone can reblog anyone with or without commentary, it’s an incredibly pure form of community engagement.
But for everyone except those few Tumblr royals, anonymity is everything.
It allows you to like and reblog content based purely on its merits and your opinion. It allows you to have intense discussions about popular culture and politics. It enables text posts to be seen millions of times. It builds a worldwide community.
And it all happens because no one knows it’s me.
Even Stephen Colbert can see that.