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Tour of Tumblr

September 22, 2013

I got to go on a tour of Tumblr, arranged through my library school. It made me giddy with delight!

Giddy blithering follows under the cut.

Friday, I went on a tour of the tumblr offices, arranged by one of the student organizations at library school. Based on my own experience and what I see on my own tumblr feed, I almost pictured the building itself to be full of millions of different colors of nail polish, DVDs of every science fiction TV show made since 1980, cavorting kittens, the entire cast of the Avengers and a spread of homemade baked goods on display. Also a good supply of librarians in excellent glasses.

Well, Tumblr looks like dotcom offices have looked since the dawn of HTML- lots of computers and desks, with plenty of fun art on the walls. And a table tennis table. (This leaves me idly curious whether anyone has ever collected data on the number of foosball tables versus table tennis versus pinball in dotcom and other tech offices.) Other you-know-you’re-in-tech touches: fruit and soda and beer available in the fridge, a cold brew coffee tap, comfy couches. A dog-friendly office section. And a general sense of whimsy. Which makes perfect sense for Tumblr. We met with three Tumblr employees (none of whom were librarians but all of whom had excellent glasses): Conrad is in charge of weeding out spam posts and outsmarting spammers. At one point in the tour, he was referred to as the Sultan of Smut. Did I mention the whimsy? 
We met Cara, who is a testament to good, enthusiastic networking: she was an early user of the site, and connected to the woman who is now her boss. Cara’s job is to be the outreach coordinator. As I understand it, she looks for themes and connections between Tumblr tags, to see what people are talking about… compiles the Tumblr Tuesday list of noteworthy Tumblrs organized around some theme. Part of her job is also reaching out to communities on Tumblr, arranging user meets, monitoring tags to see what people are talking about, and trends and more general member services. This sounds like a dream job to me. Like outreach librarianship- cool, enthusiastic programming that serves the community!

I do not remember the name of the third Tumblr person we met- his job is to be on call and take care of tech emergencies on the site, to keep it running. He was sort of an impromptu addition to the tour. I can’t imagine dealing with servers linked together and dealing with data on the level of the numbers and the speed it must take to manage Tumblr’s constantly updating and reblogging users.

We also walked by the desks of some of the “evangelists” whose job it is to reach out to bloggers and blogger communities who don’t use Tumblr yet. There’s an art evangelist… a food/cooking evangelist, a books evangelist: she started the Reblog Book Club. Her desk was piled with stacks and stacks of lovely review copies. Tumblr book blogger evangelist: that sounds like the dreamiest of dreamy dream jobs to me! I wonder if I could do that and still be a librarian in some way. Maybe on weekends?

I am fascinated by the idea of all the millions of different tags and topics that stream across Tumblr in a day, in an hour: what’s trending and when, and why. My inner anthro major, turned library student fascinated by folksonomy really wanted to get a look at the tags in real time, or to see what some of the ebb and flow of the zeitgeist looks like. Trends and trending fascinate me. Both our tour guides and my fellow librarians were talking about fandom and about the different kinds of obsessions that emerge and coalesce on tumblr. I could think and talk for hours about the social constructs on Tumblr.

Every single post on Tumblr is archived. Is it bad that my first thought was “that’s a LOT of fanart….”?

The Tumblr staff also gave good, if pretty standard advice for best blogging practices: Have a unique and strong voice, and use well-crafted, well-chosen images is what it boils down to. Conrad raised an interesting notion: spammers are getting savvier in how they position themselves, making at least a token effort to show a human persona on a site, with a picture, with a name, before spamming away. Makes them harder to hunt down.

And now I am following some of my library classmates on Tumblr, as well as a few blogs the Tumblr employees recommended. One I haven’t looked at yet: “sexpigeon” which I’m assured is an excellent Tumblr. With a name like that, how bad could it be?

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