What Is Tumblr? [MakeUseOf Explains]

Skye Hudson 01-10-2013

You may have heard of Tumblr before, but it’s difficult to figure out what it really is without first using the service. In the simplest terms, it’s a social network and a microblogging site; kind of like a mixture between Blogger and Twitter.


It’s populated by a wide range of content, ranging from Doctor Who and Sherlock fandoms to funny pictures of cats to nature photography. Its simplistic interface makes it appealing to a younger audience, giving them the freedom of a blog along with the content curation of a social network, all in an easy-to-use package.

But what began in 2007 as a small project by founder and current CEO David Karpe has become a worldwide phenomenon with over 138 million blogs and 62 billions posts, not to mention the fact that it was acquired by Yahoo! in June for $1.1 billion. Tumblr may have begun as a non-mainstream service for those fed up with Facebook, Twitter, and traditional blogs, but today it is mainstream enough to be employed by many companies including Adidas, The Huffington Post, and Coca-Cola.

Still interested? Tumblr can be a great community to express yourself and create a personalized feed of content that you love, so let’s look a little deeper at what exactly it is.

What Can I Do On Tumblr?

Short answer: scroll and scroll and scroll and scroll for hours.  Just like Reddit (another great Internet treasure that we have a wonderful guide The Awesome Guide to Reddit Wonder how your friends always find cool stuff on the Internet before you? They're probably using Reddit, the self-proclaimed "front page of the Internet". Read More for), Tumblr can be a time-consuming endless scroll. You say that you’ll just check your Tumblr real quick at 10pm, and before you know it, it’s 3am and you have work in the morning. It happens to the best of us.

Long answer: You can follow other Tumblr users and either “reblog” their content, or post your own content. Think of a reblog like a retweet; the content will be reposted on your Tumblr blog (AKA, your tumblog) and everyone will see who you reblogged it from, as well as who the source was.


The part that makes Tumblr such a great community, though, is the ability to add your own contribution to the post. Every time you reblog something, you can post text, photos, GIFs, or whatever you want below the original post, and everyone will see your contribution. Rather than having a commenting system like a regular blog, conversations are generally had through multiple rebloggings. This allows everyone who sees that post in the future to view the conversation as a part of the post.

Take this funny post for example:


The notes that you see on the bottom are the amount of times that this post has been liked or reblogged. Liking the post (clicking a heart icon) saves it in a list of all your liked posts, but doesn’t repost it on your tumblog. Reblogging a post (clicking the two arrows) will simply repost it on your blog after popping up a dialogue box for you to add your comments. (Hint: hold Alt while clicking and it reblogs without opening a new dialogue; a step that’s much quicker if you have no commentary.) The third option, the arrow jumping from a box, gives you the ability to share through email, Facebook, Twitter, or by creating a permalink.


You can find tumblogs to follow by browsing by category or by searching for things that you like. Below is what you see when browsing the Tech category, and you can see some of the other categories along the right.


The search feature appears on your dashboard and allows you to search through tags and blogs at the same time. You can even track tags so that anything with that tag will appear on your dash. So say you just absolutely love Harry Potter and want to see every Harry Potter post ever, even more than the hundreds of fan tumblogs you already follow. Well, just track the Harry Potter tag and you’ll see all of them. This is a good way to find new tumblogs to follow too.



Once you’ve found a good niche of blogs, you’ll probably notice that some tumblogs you like are reblogging funny stuff from others, and you’ll go and follow them. Eventually, you’ll build up a big enough pool that there is always interesting content on your dashboard, and hopefully you can accumulate some followers along the way.

What Is The Dashboard?

Your dashboard is the homebase. It’s like your newsfeed on Facebook or your Twitter feed on Twitter. It’s where you will scroll for hours and where you will begin to create your simultaneously hilarious and intellectual posts. Take a look at what it looks like below.


Alright, so that’s what you’ll see every time you log on. On the top, you have buttons for Home, Messages, Help, Settings, Logout, and Search. Below that are your options for posting, and below that, you’ll see an infinitely scrolling list of the all posts from the tumblogs you follow. To the right, you’re able to check out your own blog, your liked posts, the blogs you’re following, and find new blogs to follow. There is also a random post on the right as well, which occasionally may tickle your fancy.


As you can see, there is a simple interface for anything you want to post, whether it’s text, photos, videos, audio, etc. Photos can be uploaded in photosets that display multiple pictures/GIFs in a gorgeous layout that you really don’t see on any other platform. Users have gotten really creative with photosets, like this one, essentially telling stories or paraphrasing videos through animated GIFs.

You’ll get notifications over the Home icon when a blog you’re following posts something new. You’ll get a notification over your Messages icon if anyone sends you Fan Mail or an Ask. Fan Mail is a private message that you can reply to (think Private Messages on Twitter) while Asks can be replied to either publicly or privately. Asks are convenient for blogs that like to answer questions publicly, but you can disable the Asks feature if you want.

To view all your posts and who has liked and reblogged your stuff, click on your blogs name off to the right. Tumblr supports multiple blogs, but if you create more than one, you always have one main blog and then the lesser blogs. If someone sends Fan Mail or an Ask to one of your lesser blogs, it’ll come to your main blog, and you’ll only be able to reply through your main blog.

How Do I Get Started?

Tumblr is simple to setup and start using, but it doesn’t get really addictive until you dig out your niche of favorite blogs. Look for things that interest you. Whatever you like, no matter how weird or non-mainstream, it is probably on Tumblr. Oh, and remember, many parts of Tumblr are NSFW, so be cautious what you search for if you don’t want to find that kind of content. By default, Safe Mode is turned on in the settings, and it will hide NSFW content (if it’s labelled properly) from search pages and your dashboard.

Anyway, to get started, head over to and you should see a page like the one below.


I say that you should see a page “like” the one above because the background image changes every time you visit the website. Just enter your email, password, and desired username. Your username will be your URL in the format “”, but don’t worry, your username can be changed later if you’re not completely sure yet.

Once you’ve created an account, you start setting up your main blog. Here, you can name your blog. This won’t be in the URL, but it will be the title that people see when they visit your blog. You can also upload a picture (think Facebook profile picture), a background photo (like Facebook’s cover photo), and a short description for your blog. It can all be changed later, so don’t stress too much about it.


You’ll then be prompted to download the app. The good news is that Tumblr has apps for Android, iOS, and Windows Phone. The highly visual/image-heavy nature of Tumblr makes it great to scroll through on your phone in your spare time.


Now that you’re all set up, you’ll want to customize your blog. If you look on the right side of your dashboard, you’ll see the title of your blog and the URL below it. It seems like one button, but the URL will lead you to your actual blog that the public sees, whereas the title will lead you to a dashboard-looking view of your posts and notifications. To customize your blog, click on the URL.


Above is my test blog. If you click on the customize button in the upper right, it opens the customization interface that allows you to change the theme, edit the HTML, or make small changes like font size or color. The customization bar will hang off to the left, allowing you to preview your blog as you customize.


Once you’re all customized, you’re done. Go find some blogs to follow! Below is the official Tumblr Staff blog. Notice the follow button in the upper-right corner; that’s how you follow people and get all their posts on your dashboard. The little mail icon will allow you to send Fan Mail. To send an Ask, there will usually be text somewhere in the blog with something along the lines of “Ask me anything.”



Tumblr has gone incredibly far in 5 years, and it’s easy to see why. It’s a simple, fun interface for image-heavy microblogging, and since it has so many users, it’s even an attractive platform for businesses to be on. For companies with products that look great in pictures, Tumblr is a wonderful chance to highlight their gorgeous products; in that way, it’s even kind of like Instagram. It’s really the intersection of everything that is great about blogging and social networking.

If you love Tumblr, you’ll definitely want to check out these 10 browser extensions 10 Useful Browser Add-ons That Will Transform Your Tumblr Experience Tumblr is a huge blogging platform where you can create and maintain a blog (or several blogs) with minimal hassle and work. While the photo blog concept existed before Tumblr, it’s Tumblr that made them... Read More to improve your experience. We also have all sorts of amazing tumblogs for you to follow including 10 funny Tumblr blogs Need A Good Laugh? Follow These 10 Tumblr Blogs Are you big fans of Tumblr? Here at MakeUseOf, we certainly are. The blogging platform brings together the idea of blogging together with social networking and has become home to some of the most creative,... Read More for a good laugh; 7 news and political Tumblr blogs Tumblr Isn't Just For Photography: 7 News & Political Blogs To Follow Are you big fans of Tumblr? Here at MakeUseOf, we certainly are. The blogging platform brings together the idea of blogging together with social networking and has become home to some of the most creative,... Read More 8 Tumblr blogs for writers and readers 8 Tumblr Blogs Every Writer & Book Lover Should Follow Tumblr is known as being a great blogging platform for visual content, and is a photographer's smorgasbord of just about everything you could possibly imagine. That said, there's also an incredible wealth of content that... Read More , and 6 Tumblr blogs for history buffs 6 Fascinating Tumblr Blogs For History Buffs Are you big fans of Tumblr? Here at MakeUseOf, we certainly are. The blogging platform brings together the idea of blogging together with social networking and has become home to some of the most creative,... Read More .

What do you think of Tumblr? Do you think it’ll stick around for awhile, or is it just a passing fad? Do you run a tumblog? Let us know in the comments!

Related topics: Blogging, Tumblr.

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  1. Katharine W
    October 2, 2013 at 5:39 am

    I admit I'm a tumblr addict. I have three blogs, one for fandom stuff, one for random other stuff (photos, art, links, etc.) and another one where I blog five desktop wallpapers every day.

    I think as long as Yahoo doesn't mess with it too much, it'll stick around for awhile.

  2. jb1ab2
    October 1, 2013 at 7:08 pm

    I like Tumbler, it is simple and easy to get started.

  3. likefunbutnot
    October 1, 2013 at 7:06 pm

    tumblr: for the day when you've run out of eyes-bleedingly disturbing crap on 4chan and you need to broaden your horizons with eight new fetishes at the same times that are all catered to by one unbelievably specific blog.