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FreePint BlogWrite here, right now - how Tumblr changed blogging: Part two

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By Martin Belam and Will Myddelton


In the second part of a two-part article, Will Myddelton and Martin Belam look at how Tumblr is being used by a range of organisations, from libraries to news organisations, and how easy it is to search for niche information and follow tumblelogs.


Last month, Martin and I explained what Tumblr was all about, and why people are choosing it as a very simple blogging and web publishing platform. In Part two of this article, we’ll explore how organisations are using it, and how it can be used as a search and research tool.

View Part 1 >>

How are organisations using Tumblr?

Libraries are one type of institution to move onto Tumblr. The NYPL Wire Tumblr, for example, is a self-styled attempt to “inspire lifelong learning, advance knowledge, and strengthen our communities” (

And if it isn’t libraries themselves publishing, then blogs like “Libraries in popular culture” and “F*** Yeah! Libraries” keep library coverage alive on the service.

Museums are also represented. The Allen Memorial Art Museum is maintaining a presence on the service whilst the physical building is closed for renovation ( Another example is the heavily picture-led Brooklyn Museum side (

News organisations have also moved in to colonise this new space. The Economist use their Tumblr presence to provide an alternative window into the content on their website. They have customised the Tumblr code to present a very visual, magazine-styled theme ( Huffington Post similarly use their Tumblr to showcase the best of the content they are publishing – a typical post might include a round-up of “The best of the blogs”.

At the 2011 SxSW Festival, The Guardian experimented with Tumblr by pairing journalists with a web developer attending the event, and producing joint tumblelogs from Austin, Texas. The content was then aggregated back on the main website.

The New York Times has taken a different approach and focused on one specific aspect of their publishing, their style coverage. At they concentrate on publishing high quality, high resolution photographs that have appeared in the publication.

A view of Tumblr from the inside

An important part of the Tumblr experience is the way that information and content is shared amongst users. If you are signed into Tumblr, and visit another Tumblr site, you will see a “Follow” button in the top right-hand corner of the page. Clicking this adds the site to the range of tumblelogs that you follow. This is important because, when a user first logs in to their publishing dashboard, what they actually see is not a list of their own content, but a list of content from other Tumblr blogs they are following. The interface encourages users to “re-blog” content they have enjoyed onto their own Tumblr account. This means that information traverses across the system very rapidly.

A view of Tumblr from the outside

So, how can Tumblr be of use to the researcher? One thing of note is that the medium somehow encourages people to post content in a “niche”. If you can identify some good tumblelogs in the niche you are researching or are interested in, you should find you have a good flow of material.

Most people publish to the site using the default formula of {username}, which means a search on Google or Bing for “your keywords” will search across multiple Tumblr sites that are relevant to your keywords.

The “Explore” page on Tumblr offers a graphical mosaic snapshot of what is popular at the time, allows you to see a list of the most popular tags that people have employed on the service, and charts their relative popularity and activity.

A search facility is also available within Tumblr, which looks at the tags that people have used to apply to their posts. You should be aware, however, that several of the routes to publishing on Tumblr either conceal entering tags behind an “advanced options” function, or do not make tagging available.

The Tumblr spotlight is a directory of contributors to the service who have caught the eye of the team at Tumblr and earned recognition. The directory is divided into over 40 categories, including topics like science and parenting alongside the baby animal laden “cute” section.

So what else do you need to know?

Not much. Go and get stuck in. It is simple to set up an account, and even if you don’t publish much (or indeed anything at all) on behalf of yourself or your organisation, you can use it as a base to follow what is going on in the site. With 23 million Tumblr blogs to choose from, there must be something to spark your personal or professional interest.


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Martin Belam is Information Architect for Before joining The Guardian, he worked as an Internet Consultant with organisations like the BBC, Sony, Vodafone and the Science Museum.

Martin also blogs about information architecture and the media at and can be found on Twitter as @currybet.

Martin can be reached at

More articles by Martin Belam »

Will Myddelton is a user experience designer from North London who currently works for a large property website in the UK. He uses Tumblr for his blog, Hidden Gems, because every other platform ended with him trapped in a nightmare of nested taxonomies, uncommented code, incompatible widgets, failed version updates and late night changes to server admin settings – which is not what blogging should be about. Say hello on @myddelton

More articles by Will Myddelton »

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