These days I am spending most of my online social networking time on tumblr, which is ironic, as it took me well over a year before I got the hang of it.
I had been homeless on the web since MySpace turned into a ghost town and the forums I had visited also died at around the same time – probably all due to the unstoppable rise of facebook. While I’ve been able to transfer quite a few of these contacts to facebook, I never really liked spending time there. In 2010, I signed up to twitter, which I like a lot, but it is a medium more than a place. I can use it to widen the audience for blog entries (on blogspot) or photos (on flickr), but if I spend more than five minutes watching my twitter timeline (following some 1600 people!), the futility and randomness of it gets to me. Unless there is some major political scandal to kick around, which is always fun on twitter. (I also tried google+ but that never took off, and I am registered with LinkedIn, but it bores me to tears.)
So, well, tumblr and I started out on the wrong foot. I signed up in June 2011 when somebody whom I knew from mutual blog-following on blogspot moved her blogging activity to tumblr and I wanted to stay in touch. However, she soon succumbed to the temptation of the NSFW blogs available on tumblr and ended up reblogging that kind of stuff endlessly without posting anything of her own.
In the first months I didn’t come across any individuals who were actually posting their own content. Everything I saw back then seemed to be just swirling round in circles (which I guess is where the name tumblr comes from?) and come from unattributed sources, i.e. probably stolen. Using tags like #science I found some vaguely interesting blogs that I still follow, like the mother nature network, which covers science and environment, but that didn’t really pull me in.
The legacy of my very first contact in tumblr meant that I had no shortage of addresses for erotica, but once I eliminated all peniswaving blogs, I was left with a few lesbian ones (which I still love) and one that systematically reblogs “topless Tuesday” photos. For a few months I just let these float by, but at one point I started to wonder who these women were. If I liked the face above the boobs I looked up the blog and found quite a few interesting people who – and that was rather important to me – did post their own content, rather than just reblogging all the time.
Some of them even very kindly followed me back, so by that stage – perhaps 1 year into the experience - I had around 20 followers (as many as my blog on blogspot has, except that I don’t think that anybody still checks the blogs they follow there). That gave me a little bit more confidence to expect that somebody, at some point might actually look at contributions I post, so I systematically posted links to my articles and blog entries from blogspot. That helped a little bit, some people became interested in the science bits I had to offer.
Then I widened my spectrum, discovered that there is a one-click option to share my flickr photos on tumblr, also posted the odd video, and ended up sharing everything I posted elsewhere (blogspot, twitter, flickr, facebook) on tumblr as well, and more. By the beginning of this month, the increased activity succeeded in attracting new followers on a daily basis, and catalysing new friendships in a way that I hadn’t really experienced since the demise of myspace.
Tumblr really has become a place on the web where I like to spend time, where I’m surrounded by people who I like, even if they are still mostly strangers. I find it amazing how openly people communicate about very intimate problems over there, and how supportive and loving most people are (apart from some anon. trolling – personally I’ve switched off anonymous asks, so I don’t have that problem). I’m beginning to worry that this is too good to last and that Murdoch might soon buy it up and ruin it (this irrational fear will in the future be called the MySpace trauma). I'm just hoping it stays exactly as it is.