As the New York Times reported on Monday morning, micro-blogging platform Tumblr has closed a massive round of new financing: $85 million from existing investors including Greylock Partners and Union Square Ventures, as well as new backers including Virgin mogul Sir Richard Branson. The funding comes amid continued meteoric growth for the platform, which has gone from just 2 billion page views a month to 13 billion in less than a year, and now hosts 30 million blogs. Just as the rise of blogging did several years ago, Tumblr’s success contains lessons for media companies of all kinds, and the main one is that social sharing can be an incredibly powerful force if you make it as easy as possible.
Earlier this month, Tumblr said it had racked up more than 10 billion blog posts, and recent figures from comScore showed it had 13 million unique visitors a month in the U.S. — up more than 200 percent from the same period a year earlier — and Quantcast stats show it has close to 300 million unique visitors a month worldwide. By comparison, the WordPress blogging platform (please see disclosure below) has close to 60 million blogs using the service, and about 2.5 billion page views a month on WordPress.com, where about half of those blogs are hosted, and draws about 300 million unique visitors.
So while WordPress has more blogs, Tumblr is far bigger in terms of page views, and those numbers are continuing to grow at a phenomenal rate: Founder and CEO David Karp told angel investor and Hunch founder Chris Dixon in an interview earlier this year that the Tumblr network was adding more than 250 million page views every week. And the traffic-measurement service Royal Pingdom recently noted that Tumblr is seeing close to 40 million posts daily, which works out to more than 400 every second. While it’s true that the platform has yet to develop a business model that will monetize all of those pageviews, Twitter and Facebook took some time to figure that out as well.
Tumblr is like blogging and Twitter combined
As we’ve described before, Tumblr isn’t really a blogging platform in the same way that WordPress and other similar services are. Or rather, it’s more than just a blogging platform in some fairly crucial ways. In terms of how people use it — and I have two teenaged daughters who are devoted to “tumbling,” one of the service’s biggest demographics — it’s more like a cross between Twitter and a blogging tool than it is a simple blogging platform. While you can create a blog and just post content to it the way you would with WordPress or Blogger or Squarespace, you can also use it just to “re-blog” posts from those you follow, in the same way that some Twitter users just read and retweet.
As some media outlets have discovered, this aspect of Tumblr can make it a powerful tool for distributing and redistributing content — just as Twitter can make something “go viral” in a short space of time as people tweet and retweet a link. The National Post, a national daily newspaper in Canada, posted a graphic comparing a new size of Starbucks coffee to the liquid capacity of the human stomach and watched page views skyrocket. According to a recent survey from Nielsen, Tumblr is the third-largest social-media tool in terms of time spent, just behind Facebook and Google’s Blogger platform, and it is still growing at a tremendous rate.
When blogging on platforms like Blogger and WordPress first started to become mainstream, they showed media outlets that web tools could provide the same kinds of features that were once only available to the mainstream press: the ability to publish content quickly and easily and have it read by a broad readership, thanks to RSS and other technologies. As blogging became more popular, companies like TechCrunch and The Huffington Post (and GigaOM) showed how powerful these tools could be, and eventually some media companies started to take advantage of them internally.
Make it as easy as possible and people will do it
What Twitter and tools like Tumblr (and Facebook, of course) have shown over the past several years is that if you make content creation — and even more importantly, the sharing of content — as easy as possible, you will get even more people to do it. So while the number of people who want to maintain a full WordPress or Blogger blog is relatively small by comparison, the number of people who are happy to use Twitter or Tumblr primarily to share the content of others is huge. And as we’ve described before, that kind of social-sharing activity is becoming an important signal of intent that advertisers and search giants like Google are looking at as the social web grows.
In a sense, Twitter and Tumblr and Facebook have taken the same kind of insight that Amazon used with e-commerce and applied it to media and content — so just as Amazon was able to lower the barriers for buying things online by implementing a one-click purchasing process (among other things), so Twitter and Tumblr and Facebook allow users of those services to share things with a single click: retweet, reblog, like, etc. That is driving a huge amount of social activity online, and it doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. If anything, Facebook’s rollout of “frictionless sharing” and other features means it is going to increase even more rapidly.
If you’re a media company, how easy do you make it to share your content, not just with a Facebook like button, but on other social networks as well? Tumblr’s growth shows that the easier you make it, the more people are likely to do it — assuming your content is worth sharing in the first place.
Disclosure: Automattic, the maker of WordPress.com, is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of this blog, Giga Omni Media. Om Malik, founder of Giga Omni Media, is also a venture partner at True.