David KarpA successful web venture involves some basic, low-tech ingredients: a great design, a concise pitch, a name that’s fun to say and a practical purpose. An enterprise that has evidently nailed all four is Tumblr, a three-year-old blogging and social-media tool now adopted by everyone John Mayer to the Paris Review . (The Economist even created a Tumblr blog this very week.)

Mark Coatney, a former senior editor at Newsweek and Tumblr’s latest hire, describes the site as “a space between Twitter and Facebook.” For the inside scoop on everyone’s favourite new hybrid, More Intelligent Life spoke with Tumblr’s 24-year-old founder and chief executive, David Karp.

More Intelligent Life:  Where does the name “Tumblr” come from?

David Karp: Back when we were starting Tumblr, there was a burgeoning movement in the blogosphere towards a format called “tumblelogs” [a variation on blogs that tends towards shorter stream-of-consciousness posts, often with mixed media]. These are where the initial inspiration for Tumblr came from. We wanted to be the first and best platform for “tumblelogs”, so the name seemed appropriate.

MIL: When did Tumblr officially launch?

DK: February 19th 2007, on our company Wordpress blog.

MIL: How many users have jumped on board?

DK: I think our ticker is at 6.8m today. About 25,000 people sign up for Tumblr every 24 hours. It is mind-blowing—and that number keeps going up, about 20% month over month. These numbers are sort of impossible to wrap my head around, but our goal around here is to get everyone in the world blogging, and things do seem to be moving in the right direction! [Ed's note: for a counter-take, read this.]

MIL: How many employees does Tumblr have?

DK: We have 12 employees, which is tiny when you consider how many people use Tumblr. Mark Coatney just came on to help with media relationships, Andrew Terng joined the team recently to make sure the site stays up (which is a constant challenge when a site is growing as much as we are). We are hiring a new developer very soon—but we've very purposely stayed small. All of us are pretty bureaucracy-averse and we know the more people we have on our team, the less room there is in the elevator and the more complicated everything gets. But as Tumblr grows the team will grow, just very deliberately.

MIL: Where are you guys based?

DK: Downtown New York City.

MIL: What makes Tumblr unique compared with other blogging programs?

DK: I believe Tumblr was the first blogging platform to move away from the editorial magazine-column format, and make blogging accessible to everyone—even the less verbose. I always say that if someone made a clone of Tumblr tomorrow—and many have tried! There was a Russian Tumblr clone that was so similarly designed that we were able to use it despite not speaking a word of Russian!—they couldn't replicate the community. The product is amazing and beautifully designed but what makes Tumblr Tumblr, I think, are the people who are signing into Tumblr every day and sharing themselves and the things they make and love (or the things they have very passionate things to say about!).

MIL: John Mayer, a musician and canny social-media user, recently used his own Tumblr account to herald it as “the future of social networking if your image of the future features intelligent discourse.” Care to qualify?

DK: The “intelligent discourse” part is important. We’re big believers that helping more people create online identities they’re proud of is fundamental toward ensuring more thoughtful and decent interactions on the web. The thought, which we’re starting to prove, is that you’ll be more considerate of what you say when you’re saying it on your own blog—a public reflection of you and the things you care about. That’s why we think re-blogging is just as important as the identity piece, and why we were so excited that John picked up on it.

~ MOLLY YOUNG (whose own Tumblr account can be found here)


Picture credit: edans (via Flickr)