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Tumblr got trending tags

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Tumblr just got trending tags and “trending blogs.”
(On iOS + Android. No web version yet.)

This is a huge change for Tumblr. And it could make life a lot easier for those of us who spend time evangelizing Tumblr to compensate for how much Tumblr can otherwise feel “invisible.”

Let’s talk about Discovery Vectors. How your stuff gets discovered.

For marketers.

If you’re a marketing nerd, you know that social platforms present different ways for your “node” (account/profile/social object/shared content) to be discovered by others on the platform, and that additional discovery vectors are a good thing. (examples of discovery vectors: an email that somebody new followed you, a comment/@reply in your activity feed, a notification that your content has been Liked/favorited, etc., having your post/profile come up as a search result)

For media/news people.

If you’re a news nerd, you know that some social platforms surface bursts of activity around words or accounts, and that this can be a critical tool to see 1) what’s going on 2) what people think of it 3) cultural impact/misinformation/memes/celebration/mourning 4) rapid-fire corrections/update. (Twitter’s trending topic is the canonical example of this. But it’s not alone. Both YouTube and Pinterest, have “Popular” channels. And their separate topic channels/categories are based on bursting popularity as well. Vine, too.)

Tumblr. So big. But quiet.

Tumblr die-hards know Tumblr has been underrated as a pulse-taking, zeitgeist-y news tool, despite the giant pool of activity going on. But why? Why, despite billions of posts, did many people say, “Tumblr who?” when news broke that Yahoo! bought it?

Tumblr hasn’t necessarily been its own best distribution/discovery channel.

During the 2012 US elections, Tumblr proved as newsy and responsive as Twitter (Twitter instantly bore a buncha Big Bird Twitter accounta, Tumblr: Binders Full of Women.) But Tumblr’s flurry of activity was way quieter than it could have been.

Would you have found out about Binders Full of Women without Twitter? (I’m on Tumblr all day, and I still heard about it first on Twitter, the night it launched.)

Twitter has a few discovery vectors Tumblr doesn’t:

  • traditional pattern-match search (Tumblr is more of a fuzzy, topic/tag-ish search. Lots get lost.)
  • Trending Topics (“bursts”)
  • visible activity streams that surface when a new account is popping off
  • more consistently structured notification stream. (more events get lost/disappear in Tumblr’s notification stream)

Tumblr’s discovery vectors have often been lovingly crafted by humans. The Dashboard’s Radar, Spotlight, and Tag Editors do a great job of keeping out spam and messiness, but they also over-index for big, already-known brands, things the editor is already familiar with, existing connections, etc. Preferential Attachment in full effect. (This is not a moral judgement. I’m not suggesting any sort of injustice. Just that for pure Discovery, it facilitates stagnancy.)

The fact that Tumblr is revisiting trends (yes, I said revisting. Tumblr did try it for a bit a few years ago.) is a huge, good thing. Not just for users. But for Tumblr itself. Tumblr can be its own best discovery channel with changes like this.

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