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Tumblr defies categorization. It's a blogging platform. A social network. A place to follow—and create—trends. A uniquely designed personal site. Ultimately, it is this flexibility that makes Tumblr a unique way to share your content.
Tumblr gets its name from “tumblelog”—the term coined to describe a short-form, date-ordered blog. Instead of a focus on longform writing as most blogging platforms, Tumblr is designed for shorter posts. You can share a video, audio recording, chat snippet, photo, or a full text blog post—your choice. Your blog can easily be a media-rich page full of short posts like a Facebook Page, or it could be a text-heavy blog full of longform content, or a mix of the two.
When you sign up, Tumblr asks you to choose a username. This becomes the name of your blog, which essentially acts as your profile or site address. It can be viewed by anyone by default, and it lives at the unique URL created during sign-up (yourusername.tumblr.com). You can add a custom domain to Tumblr later if you'd like, or can hide the site behind a password to make a private place to share your creations.
Most of the action happens in the Dashboard area, where you can find and follow other users, and post new content. Whenever you come across another Tumblr blog you like, click the Tumblr Follow button and their new posts will show up on the dashboard in your activity stream. You can also like anything that catches your eye, and repost content to share with your own followers, much like a social network.
When you post content, there are seven different formats to choose from. Text posts can be written in plain text, HTML, or Markdown, with the option to include photos, videos, gifs, and embedded content. Photos can be given captions, and can be uploaded in groups to form galleries. Quotes and Chats (reported conversations) are given suitable formatting, and you can add a brief summary to Links. There is also the option to add Audio from a web source, and post Videos.
One of Tumblr’s greatest attractions is the simplicity of posting on your blog. Tags let your posts find a wider audience and keep stuff organized, but there's no other blog admin to consider. Instead Tumblr's focused on content and community, something else that makes Tumblr more like a social network than a blogging platform.
That is, a highly customizable social network. Every blog starts with the same theme (or design), but you can choose either to customize the default design, or install another from Tumblr's theme store. Some are free, others from design firms for sell You can try any theme, free or paid, on your own blog before installing it—and then tweak to your heart's content.
Most themes have in-built settings which allow you to adjust the look or functionality of the design. Depending on what options the developer has included, you may be able to switch between multiple layouts, pick colors for each part of the design, or add links to your other social profiles. In addition, Tumblr’s code editor allows you to live-edit your theme—or even write a theme from scratch. You can add static pages to your blog as well. These show up in the main menu, and can offer all the same content as a text post—perfect for a "Contact" or "About us" page for your business.
It is this flexibility that, perhaps, has fueled Tumblr’s growth as a thriving online community with a slight bias toward visual media. While most people use their blogs to curate interesting things from around the web, many share their own work. For mainstream words-and-photos bloggers, the ease of publishing makes the platform a joy to use, although you do lose out on some of the functionality of a WordPress blog. It more than makes up for that with the community, something many bloggers successfully leverage to build significant audiences.
In other words, Tumblr is the publishing platform that you want it to be. A simple and lean publishing platform, a social community, a customized website for free—Tumblr is all of these and more. It'll take a bit different strategy than your average blog or social network, but just may be the tool you need to turn your followers into an active community.
Originally published November 18, 2015; updated June 18, 2018 with additional alternative apps and details.