By Elizabeth Barry
The Internet has come a long way. It was not that long ago when online profiles were solely for Internet dating but now media has taken the Internet to a new stage of interaction. Facebook and Twitter have seeped into our everyday relationships and our online presence has become part of the identity we present to the world. If we want to focus on our career, we update our LinkedIn site, if we want to be more creative we try a new filter on Instagram.
Last month, when Marissa Mayer, the President and chief executive officer of Yahoo, announced the company’s acquisition of Tumblr, concern was expressed by the site’s 108 million bloggers, which you may not have noticed if you are not one of those bloggers. The site differs from other social media sites like Facebook in that it isn’t about you.
Each blog has a different focus, from the more general topics of fashion and photography to the more specific, such as ‘Old Love’ that features pictures of forgotten celebrity couples and ‘White Men Wearing Google Glasses’ that, not surprisingly, features white men wearing Google glasses.
Social media analyst Tricia Wang, an avid Tumblr user, says the platform encourages unbounded use. “It allows you to experiment and play,” she says. “It’s the big city, and each new tumblelog you create is like a new bar or neighborhood where you can try on a new self and see how it fits.”
We have become accustomed to the fact that our online identity on traditional social media sites reflects, to a large part, our real selves. Our interactions online affect our everyday life – don’t expect to change your relationship status on Facebook without your significant other noticing.
However, Tumblr allows users to create an online identity separate from their own, a second life almost. Users can post, comment, reblog and interact with other users in the Tumblr guise they have created.
“Very few people from my real life know I have a Tumblr,” says law student Isabella Barnes, 22, who has been active on Tumblr for over a year. She says that when Tumblr is a topic of conversation, she has to make a conscious decision whether to reveal she is on Tumblr.
immediate growth story for us,” she said.
This is not the first time a lack of profits has been ignored in social media buy-outs. When Facebook bought photo-sharing app Instagram a year ago for $1 billion, the company had not generated any revenue. Despite Instagram’s users have quadrupled to 100 million since the acquisition, the app has yet to post a profit.
However, Facebook has kept the app largely the same, including the decision to not have ads appear on users’ photo streams; not yet, anyway. According to the many Twitter users who originally threatened to jump the Instagram ship when the deal was announced, the photo-sharing app has yet to be “ruined” by Facebook.
A similar reaction was heard in the Tumblr sphere when Yahoo announced the Tumblr deal. Gizmodo editor Luke Hopewell described it as “the angriest reaction we’ve seen from the world’s largest 14-year-old girl collective” on a recent edition of the ABC’s Download This Show. He said the concern is over advertising. Despite the reaction, Yahoo has promised “not to screw up” the popular platform. So what exactly is there to screw up?
“Tumblr is an entity like no other,” says Isabella, whose Tumblr focuses on tattoo culture. “It’s a site that makes a concerted effort to incorporate your often anonymous personality into social media. On Tumblr, you can be whoever you want to be.”
On social media sites such as Instagram or Twitter, users who accrue large numbers of followers can experience certain levels of fame in their ordinary life due to the prominence of their profile. On Tumblr, the option to remain anonymous means there is a heavy focus on the content rather than the user.
Of course, this is not true for all users since as many Tumblr users focus on themselves as much as their content. “There is a large teen sector I would describe as extremely active in a personal way; they post a lot of things about their personal struggles, such as bullying, school relationships, depression and pop culture,” Isabella says.
A recent survey of young people’s social media habits revealed that 61 per cent of people between 13-18, and 57 per cent between the ages of 19-25 use Tumblr. Compare this to Facebook where 55 per cent of users are between 13-18 and 52 per cent between 19-25.
These statistics support a growing trend of young people turning from established social networks such as Facebook to those that are more tailored to users’ private interests. Even Isabella admits she is “not overly addicted to Facebook anymore”, choosing instead to engage with people on Instagram, Tumblr and Snapchat.
This rejection of Facebook may have to do with the increasing
number of older people on the site. Los Angeles writer Erika Brooks Adickman, 30, started MyParentsJoinedFacebook.com to have a space to vent with other twentysomethings about parents invading their online space.
Social researcher Hugh Mackay says, “Facebook is still a wildfire phenomenon, but there is now a strong desire to reconnect with a community.”
This need for community connections can be found in sites such as
Tumblr. Isabella says it is easy engage with Tumblr communities.
“You can search tags and form relationships and friendships.” She says there is a
point of difference between Tumblr and other social media sites. “I find that you can forge new friendships with people over Tumblr very easily, unlike other social networking sites where you tend to converse with people you already know in real life.”
So, it seems Yahoo’s main motivation right now is to be seen to have left Tumblr alone, to have not “screwed it up”, to have maintained its cool, in much the same way as Facebook has left Instagram alone, and garnered much praise in the Twitter-sphere in the process.