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This wiki entry, on Tumblr, was originally created by Marie-Hélène Bacon, Winter 2012. It was revised by Michael Goodfellow, Winter 2014. Note from Michael regarding 2014 revisions: For this revision, I expanded the discussion of educational uses of Tumblr, regarding the lack of ads, as well as educational affordances and general customizability. I also commented on non-typical uses, such as use by intelligence services. In addition, I updated the overview to note the acquisition by Yahoo! in 2013. These content revisions improved the entry, because since 2012, Tumblr has moved from a start-up blog service associated with picture sharing, to a publishing platform utilized by everyone from SOPA protestors to the NSA. Beyond these content editions, I also added notes for previously written sections and reworded or rewrote a number of previously written sections. In terms of formatting, I revised headings, corrected typos, corrected paragraph formation, and corrected for APA style in the Notes. Please use the "View history" function for a more detailed understanding of my revisions.

Tumblr Logo

Tumblr is a microblogging platform and social network that is currently owned by Yahoo!. Tumblr was founded by David Karp in 2007[1]. As of February, 2014, Tumblr currently hosts approximately 172,000,000 blogs[2], sometimes referred to as tumblelogs. Tumblr was acquired by Yahoo! in June of 2013[3]. Currently, Tumblr continues to operate as an independent platform and ecosystem, using an authentication platform independent of Yahoo! authentication and services.

Overview: Affordances and Implementations

Tumblr includes a wide range of features, amalgamating the best aspects of similar platforms, such as Twitter and WordPress. However, Tumblr surpasses both platforms in its simplicity and in its ability to share content easily and display it in an aesthetically pleasing way, making it ideal for use in the classroom. Teachers and students, no matter their comfort level with technology, can benefit from the flexibility Tumblr affords.

Tumblr has a number of additional benefits over WordPress that make it ideal for educational uses and other uses. For example, WordPress charges users for features such as customized templates. In contrast, Tumblr has many free custom templates available. As well, a number of blog services allow a user to register a domain name and host it using the blog service. WordPress charges an annual feel for this service, but Tumblr offers it for free. It is also worth noting that Tumblr blogs are free from mandated advertisements or branding, including both user-facing pages and reader-facing pages. This makes Tumblr ideal for educational use, whether students are using Tumblr to publish as a class activity, or whether they are viewing a tumbleblog as part of a classroom assignment.

Tumblr has various uses outside of the classroom, as well. For example, Tumblr has been used by protest groups during the Arab Spring. Tumblr itself has also used its service to protest[4] SOPA. In addition, after Edward Snowden leaked a trove of NSA documents to the public in 2013, Barrack Obama directed the NSA to publicly release as much classified document as possible[5]. The NSA chose to use Tumble as the sole venue for that publication, using an account titled Intelligence Community (IC) On the Record.

Posting Content

Tumblr File Upload Menu

Once users have created an account, adding content is equally easy. With the simple click of a mouse, users can add content to their tumblelog, either from their personal computer or from a URL by selecting the Text, Photo, Quote, Link, Chat, Audio or Video buttons, respectively, from the menu at the top of the dashboard.

To partially address plagiarism and copyright issues when a user upload material that he or she did not create themselves, each of Tumblr's upload pages also includes a place in which to provide the link to the original content source.

When creating a posts, a user can opt to publish it immediately, save it as a draft, publish it privately (in which case only the user can access the post from his or her dashboard), select a specific date for publication or add it to the queue. Queuing posts enables a user to publish his or her posts at a given interval so as not to flood followers' dashboards with several posts in a row. It also allows the user to keep his or her tumblelog active even when they are away from the computer.

Text After selecting the ‘Text’ button from the menu, the user simply needs to type text into the box provided. Although the primary function of the text post is evidently to share written material, this feature also enables a user to upload images (.png, .jpg or .gif) directly into text posts. The text post function also includes HTML capabilities enabling a user to further customize posts if the user is comfortable with HTML code. Finally, there is an integrated spell check feature which helps the user to proofread text before publishing the post.
Text Post Upload Screen
Photo A user can upload photos in JPEG, GIF (including animated GIFs up to 1 MB in size), PNG or BMP format up to 10 MB in size[6]. A user may upload a single photo or a photoset, which can include up to 10 photos per post. Tumblr provides different layout options for users to choose from, and displays them in this manner on the dashboard, resizing images to the appropriate display width. To view the images at full resolution, a user need only click on the image. A user can also add an unlimited amount of text to caption their photo post.
Photo Upload Screen
Quote The quote post is very similar to the text post, the principal difference being the quotation display formatting. To share a quotation, a user must simply enter the quoted text into the ‘quote’ box and the source in the ‘source’ box. Once uploaded, the quoted text appears on the dashboard in a different font and size than a typical text post and will includes the source directly below the quotation.
Quote Upload Screen
Link The link upload function allows a user to create a post with large hyper-linked text. A user can add a description to their links, which have the same features as a text post (HTML, ability to upload images and spell check).
Link Upload Screen
Chat Contrary to what people outside the Tumblr community may believe[7], this is not a chat feature. Rather, it is a way of posting chat records in a visually pleasing way. It can also be used to share any type of dialogue exchange. Much like the quote page, the chat page formats text for display on the dashboard and tumblelog, providing a bold title followed by the dialogue quotation in script format.
Chat Upload Screen
Audio A user may upload one MP3 audio file, up to 10 MB in size, per day[8]. Tumblr also links to external MP3 files and provides a SoundCloud search bar for locating streaming audio.
Audio Upload Screen
Video From the video upload page, a user can embed video that is hosted on YouTube, Vimeo or other video-sharing sites. Alternately, a user can upload up to 5 minutes (100 MB) of video per day[9]. This allows users who are less comfortable with embedding codes and external links to share short clips directly through the Tumblr platform.
Video Upload Screen

Connecting with Other Users: Blogs, Social Networks and Classrooms

Tumblr also has social networking capabilities, as users can 'follow' other tumblelogs. Tumblr collates all new posts on the dashboard's feed, thus making it similar to an RSS feed. Tumblr provides real-time notifications of new blog posts at the top of the dashboard. To view the new posts, a user must refresh the page. A user can also reblog posts from other users, similar to the Share function on Facebook.

Users can also communicate with each other via several methods. Each user has a private inbox and can share private messages with other uses. If a user wishes, he or she can also activate the "Ask" feature. This allows other users to submit questions to the user of a given blog. If the user who receives the question wishes, he or she can answer the question and make the question and answer publicly available on the blog. This is a popular feature for users who do not publish a biography on their Tumblr and who instead assemble a list of questions and answers about themselves. The "Ask" feature has wide potential for educational use. For example, a teacher-hosted blog can solicit and questions about assignments or the course from students, and automatically publish them for members of the course to view.

In addition, since 2012, Tumblr has allowed uses to integrate their Tumblr posts with Facebook and Twitter. Using the Control Panel interface, a user can instructor Tumblr to permanently sign into their Facebook and/or Twitter accounts. Twitter and Facebook then function as Apps inside the Facebook App Center. When composing a post, a Tumblr use has the option to share the post to their Facebook and/or Twitter accounts, in addition to the post being available to the Tumblr community.

While connecting with other users is important, it's also worth noting that it is possible to limit accessibility to a tumblog using a password function. This is an especially useful feature if a class blog wishes to limit access to the current roster of classmates.

Tagging and Tracking Tags

The Tumblr platform also includes a tagging and tag tracking system. Users can tag their posts with relevant key words so that other users performing searches can locate this entries. Users can also save a tag search, which is known as tracking the tag. All tracked tags appear on the right-hand side of the dashboard. As new posts appear, the respective tracked tags indicate how many new posts have been marked with this tag.

Tumblr as an Amalgam of Other Platforms’ Best Features: A Comparison and Critique

Tumblr Dashboard

The simplest way to recognize Tumblr’s adaptability to the classroom environment is by comparing it to its popular counterparts Twitter and WordPress.

Like Twitter, it enables users to follow other users’ posts, send private messages, and view content on a newsfeed. This newsfeed is integrated into the dashboard, displaying the most recent content at the top of the page in the same way Twitter displays tweets. Unlike Twitter, however, posts are not limited to bite-sized 140-character morsels. As actor/screenwriter John Francis Daley put it: "I'm sick of these ‘exceeding 140 characters’ jokes where people tweet that they have something important to say, then get cut off at the las"[10]. His tongue-in-cheek comment pinpoints Twitter’s largest limitation – its inflexible sharing format, limiting users to acronym-riddled quips or links to articles and thumbnails of photos left wanting for an explanation. On the other hand, Tumblr’s dashboard not only allows users to display lengthy text, but it also allows users to share images, audio and video.

Given that Tumblr provides for more expansive material than Twitter, it naturally draws comparison to such blogging platforms as WordPress. Once again, Tumblr displays marked advantages over its counterpart. A quick comparison of Tumblr’s and WordPress’ dashboards suffices to demonstrate that these are essentially quite different. While both are the control centres for the users’ blogs, Tumblr’s serves as a form of news feed, displaying content from all the tumblelogs that the user follows. Whereas WordPress users are limited to 3 GB of storage space and may not upload audio files with a free account[11], Tumblr users enjoy virtually unlimited storage space – roughly 75 photo posts or 100 text posts per day[12]. Tumblr also provides both audio and video upload capacities free of charge, though there is a daily limit for both file number and size. However, Tumblr users may bypass the video limit by embedding clips directly from YouTube, Vimeo or other video sharing services.

Tumblr’s dashboard layout is simple; with buttons for sharing seven different types of media, users need not be very web-proficient to share material on this platform. Furthermore, Tumblr allows users to modify their blog’s html free of charge – a service that requires a paid upgrade for WordPress users[13]. These features make it easier to focus on the material shared than on the technical elements of the platform itself, which, in WordPress’ case, may be challenging to navigate. Tumblr is not without faults, however. The site experiences periodic technical difficulties, the most noteworthy of these occurred in December 2010, when the Tumblr platform and its blogs were unavailable for over 24 hours[14]. Moreover, Tumblr has yet to implement a chat feature to enable back and forth discussions, which are currently limited to direct messages to users’ ‘ask boxes’. Philosophically, Tumblr has also been criticized for being casual and solely entertaining, a sort of gallery of “pretty things”[15]. In fact, roughly half of Tumblr posts are images[2], making it a competitor to such picture and link-sharing platforms as Pinterest. Like Tumblr, Pinterest also allows users to follow others based on common interests[16]. There are some key differences, however. For example, Tumblr users do not have the option to follow certain tags, the way that Pinterest users can follow certain boards. As well, Pinterest’s platform only enables users to curate images and provide links, leaving out the blogging and web design features that Tumblr retains.

Specific Uses in Education

With such versatility and relatively few technical hiccups, Tumblr can be a powerful tool for classroom use.

ScreenCast Video - Getting Started

This screencast about Tumblr was created to provide an introduction to the basics of the platform and some ideas on how it can contribute to a constructivist approach in a classroom. Added by Kate Willey, June 4th 2015.

Web Design: Blogging and/or Blog Design, at Any Level

Tumblr’s ease of use makes it an ideal tool for blogging. Because the platform offers much flexibility free of charge, educators and students can create blogs without the hassle of establishing a budget for hosting and design. For beginner bloggers, Tumblr offers several free themes in its Theme Garden, as well as some premium themes. The installation for these themes is simple and requires no coding knowledge. For users who have some experience with coding, Tumblr allows users access to their blog’s HTML code, enabling them to create themes from scratch or to modify existing themes[17]. This feature makes it ideal for educators who want to teach web design but who do not have the necessary funds to access to such programs as Adobe Dreamweaver for their entire class. While Tumblr does not necessarily provide all of the features of such a program, it enables students to experience the basics of web design.

Improving Writing and Literacy: Community, Comments and Peer Editing

Tumblr enables users to ‘like’ (♥) or ‘reblog’ posts to their own blogs, providing feedback on the popularity and/or quality of the post. While casual Tumblr users may enjoy the notoriety that ‘likes’ and ‘reblogs’ provide, students can use these features to provide feedback on classwork that other students post. The ‘reblog’ feature enables users to add their own comments, questions or even images to a post. Students may thus use this feature to have peer editing exchanges or other discussions. However, the look of such exchanges may lead to confusion for new users, as comments added to 'reblogs' may look disorganized. Fortunately, Tumblr also provides alternative ways to integrate discussions into its platform.

Although in many ways Tumblr may be a competitor to Twitter, it can also serve as a partner platform. To this end, Tumblr includes a feature that sends links to new blog posts to users’ Twitter feeds. Consequently, a class already connected through Twitter may use Tumblr as a secondary platform to share lengthier work in a more visually appealing and organized blog format, while maintaining shorter exchanges through Twitter.

Tumblr also includes a direct message feature that can be used to converse with other users. This feature (commonly known as the ‘ask box’) can be problematic, however, as it does not allow for paragraphs or integration of links or photos, the way ‘reblogging’ does. It also does not enable back and forth conversations, limiting users to a single question and answer exchange. Although Tumblr's menu indicates that users can share chats, this option is not a chat feature, but rather a quotation formatting algorithm.

However, Tumblr allows users to integrate Disqus, an external comment system, into their blogs. Thus, students can sign up for Disqus and comment on each other’s posts, transforming their blogs from casual picture and media sharing arenas to comment-rich blogs. By using this feature, students can post drafts of their written work, which others can comment on using their Disqus account. While it includes the Web 2.0 feature of synchronous post notifications, Tumblr also lends itself well to asynchronous communication. Students can engage in discussions with peers from a classroom across the globe by following individual accounts, or simply engage in one on one exchange with a Tumblr pen pal. This can be part of a humanities curriculum, focusing on different cultures and practices, or simply be a way of providing peer feedback on writing at a distance.

Monitoring Student Work: The ‘Follow’ Feature

Tumblelogs have a 'follow' button so that other users can subscribe and view posts in the Tumblr feed.

Tumblr also serves as an ideal platform for teachers to monitor student activities and progress through the ‘follow’ feature. A teacher can follow an entire cohort and view their posts in real-time. Cleveland, OH Educational Technologist Jonathan Jarc uses Tumblr in his classroom, arguing that, “On the teacher end, I can create a simple ‘follow’ list of my students to see each update right in line with one another, and I can also see feedback other students have offered.”[18].

Following students' blogs on Tumblr allows teachers to keep track of the progress of certain projects and monitor interactions across the platform. The student and teacher can also exchange private messages through the ask box if necessary.

Displaying Projects with Varied Media Content

The ability to display mixed media and comment on posts makes Tumblr an ideal platform for e-portfolios. PC Magazine Online quotes web strategist Jeremiah Owyang, who says, “People aren't creating steak, they are creating shish kebab - lots of small things for fast consumption”[19]. In essence, this is what Tumblr does best for Educational Technology: it collates work for display and peer review.

Some project ideas include:

  1. E-portfolios
  2. Classroom periodical (newsletter or online magazine)
  3. Sharing short stories, poems or relevant quotations
  4. Keeping a learning log or classroom journal
  5. Virtual vernissage for photography or art courses
  6. Vlogging

Informing Students and Parents: Real-Time Updates on Content and Assignments

Educators may create a tumblelog to keep students and parents informed about what is going on in the classroom and provide reminders about upcoming assignment due dates. Rather than providing parents with their personal email, a teacher already involved on Tumblr can direct parents and students to their ‘ask box’ with any questions or concerns they have about the course. The teacher can even set up multiple tumblelogs for different courses using the same account, and require a password for students to access each blog, so that the content is not open to the public eye.

Some things teachers may post on a classroom blog include:

  1. Course syllabus
  2. Class rules
  3. Reminders
  4. Printable forms
  5. Updates on what is going on in the classroom
  6. Reports on recent field trips
  7. Class projects
  8. Classroom periodical

Because Tumblr allows users to post a variety of content and has few storage limitations, it may even be an ideal platform for delivering course content in distance education and e-learning settings. Unlike more elaborate platforms like Blackboard that have several subpages, all posts appear on the dashboard, making it easy for students to access all content without having to sift through materials. Including a monthly or weekly archive on the course tumblelog would then make it easy to keep track of past lessons and content. Indeed, the simplicity of Tumblr stands in stark contrast to social networks like Facebook and Google Plus, to educational interfaces like Blackboard, and to publishing platforms like Kindle.

Sharing Relevant Links

Students and teachers alike can use Tumblr to share links to relevant academic material. Tumblr includes a plugin that users can add to a browser to enable quick and simple sharing of content from other sites, without having to access the Tumblr dashboard directly.

Students and teachers may consider sharing:

  1. Reports on current events in various formats (newspaper articles, video, podcasts)
  2. Educational videos
  3. Tutorials and screen casts
  4. Scholarly articles
  5. Resource websites

Educational Uses for Tags

Tags and tag tracking allow students to conduct informal research into popular topics easily on Tumblr. Although a large percentage of tumblelogs are casual in nature, searching tags may enable students to research current events, public figures and other pertinent topics. In addition, educators may ask their students to label their posts with a specific tag so that the posts are easy to locate. However, Tumblr tags do have a disadvantage to Twitter hashtags when searching for textual information. For example, when searching a Twitter hashtag, Twitter provides a descending, chronological, textual archive of the tag. However, when searching tags in Tumblr, Tumblr presents the search results across multiple rows and columns, rather than descending. As well, Tumblr often presents search results for a tag using images contained in the tagged post, rather than text. The result is that a search for a specific tag on Tumblr yields a page that visually resembles a search on Google Images, whereas a tag search on Twitter is visually closer to a web search results page or a database search results page.

Mobile Services, Apps and Compatibility Across Platforms

Tumblr is currently available in mobile format on a variety of mobile devices[7]. Students who use the Apple iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch can use the free Tumblr app, which replaced Tumblerette, a Tumblr app that iPhone users could obtain for a small fee[20]. Certain apps, like Instagram, allow users to send content directly onto their Tumblr account.

For educators who fear that using Tumblr in the classroom may simply be adding more technological confusion in the plethora of social networking sites, Tumblr provides a simple solution; it can be integrated into other platforms like Facebook and Twitter, so that users can use the platforms simultaneously[7].

Tumblr also includes a browser plugin that enables users to post content from other sites directly to their tumblelogs without having to visit their Tumblr dashboard[7].


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