Tumblr, a blogging and social network service that allows users to upload audio and video files, pictures and text quickly, has enjoyed incredible growth in usage over the last few months. Its numbers are staggering. With 1.5 billion page views per month, 2 million posts per day and 15,000 new users signing up daily, Tumblr is connecting with a young audience—though the world of higher education has remained largely out of the loop.
A few, however, are exploring Tumblr’s potential in the field of higher ed. Betsy Soler, community manager in the Department of Marketing and New Media at Florida International University, recently told Higher Ed Live that the service is proving to be a powerful way for FIU to engage with its students.
Tumblr somewhat resembles Twitter, Soler explains, in that users can follow blogs and subscribe to what they like, interact with other users and create a community around that content. As a social network platform, users are set up with a dashboard with constant streaming updates of other users’ posted images and information. What makes Tumblr different from Twitter is that it can host images and videos directly in the stream, so that users don’t have to click away to new pages to see visuals.
The added visual functionality could lead universities to consider using Tumblr as the official platform for campus news. Soler advises against this, however, because the culture on Tumblr is much more casual. “I definitely like to reblog a lot of what students are writing about or posting,” Soler explains. That makes it best suited for artistic expression: grabbing interesting fashion statements or quirky pictures; not expounding the latest administrative policies. Tumblr also faces some issues of reliability. The site is sometimes down, since it’s growing at such a fast pace that its developers at times have difficulties keeping pace with the growth.
The layed-back Tumblr culture invites casual interaction from students. About 25 percent of FIU’s posts come from new students simply making a first contact. Like Formspring, Tumblr also offers a platform for students to post questions anonymously and have them answered online. “It’s a new way of interacting, and I think that just having that door open is definitely valuable,” she adds.
Soler’s school’s site has found an audience. With just one quick post on their Facebook page and one on their new site announcing that they were now on Tumblr, FIU has so far had approximately 130 new followers—though the actual amount of web traffic on their Tumblr site is comparable to that on their school’s official website.
Perhaps the best way to think about Tumblr is that as a multimedia-friendly Twitter—that is, users can embed audio or video files directly into their posts, and the functionality is designed to optimize interaction. One interesting feature is its “submit” option, which allows users to submit content that the host can then share with others.
These features, coupled with the fact that so many young people are already using the platform, gives us an idea about what seems to be the emerging place for Tumblr within higher education—that is, for student blogging. The informal tone of interaction on the site lends itself to being “a conversation starter,” Soler summarizes, “and I think people on Tumblr are a little more receptive to that.”