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On Tumblr, Algorithmic Feeds, and the Gentrification of a Website

tumblr is the only corporate social im willing to use at this point, purely because of how vastly different it is from its contemporaries, structurally and culturally, but they're very clearly doing something that is quickly turning me away. for lack of less sensitive term, staff is practically gentrifying the platform. (forcing shit from other socials that tumblrs lack of were the only reason i still used it)

given i use spacehey daily, im sure youre already aware that im not a big fan of the contemporary concept of the "social media". i wont go on my whole pedantic/esoteric rant about distinguishing the definition of a social media and a social network because thats a whole other essay for another time and its not worth the argument given im already trying to discuss something else at the moment. (ive literally written a research paper about this because i seriously am that obnoxious about the subject)

so; one of the most substantial changes that happened to social websites in general over the past 2 decades was the introduction of algorithmic feeds. for those unaware, tumblr is in fact the very last major social platform that still doesnt operate (primarily) off of algorithmic content, and this is direly important to the continued use it receives from older bloggers. the majority of people who regularly use tumblr today and have for years are still here because it is the last bastion of chronological dashboards. this also plays a huge role in why theres such a dramatically different atmosphere on tumblr compared to other platforms.

reblogs are literally the only way that things can "go viral". posts do not ever spread if people dont actively decide "i want to share this with my friends" and hit the reblog button, as well if their friends dont think the same. whats especially important is that this system is entirely end-viewer-oriented; it does not particularly favor reactionary content like an algorithm does. on a platform like twitter, any kind of engagement at all (replies, likes, qrts, etc) will be taken by the algorithm as an indication that the post is likely to resonate with people in some way, regardless of whether the post in question is receiving positive or negative engagement, and regardless of whether or not it is thoughtful or warrants that- not to mention how this problem is even further exacerbated by the character limits on microblogging social media platforms like twitter.

so people love tumblr for the fact that posts that you wouldnt share with your friends simply will not garner any popularity most of the time. this fosters a far more unique and interesting community and types of viral content, but youll notice that a little while ago, tumblr quietly added the "for you" page. realistically, nobody who actually has used tumblr since before that tab was added would ever even touch it because it is a spit in the face of what makes people love the platform. but they knew most people dont vocally give a shit like i do.

the first problem arises when you consider that new users from places like tiktok and twitter will naturally assume the tab was always there and likely use it as their primary means of discovery. they wont learn or understand the way that the proper system tumblr uses of follows and reblogs actually works, which is steadily creating an enormous and frankly insurmountable divide between new and old users of the platform. its already fostering the kinds of passive interaction from people who dont understand tumblr's mechanics that is honestly genuinely harmful to the community overall. people will inevitably be misusing the tools that the platform has due to not understanding their function or assuming similarity to things they already know from other platforms. honestly, this in itself would not even be that much of an issue because we could simply ignore the new users who refuse to make the effort to understand how to use the app and fall for the advertising trap that is the for you page...

but the problem is getting way bigger as tumblr is slowly but surely pushing the "for you" page onto other dashboards. youll see posts with a little "based on your likes" banner at the top crop up more and more. theyre quite literally trying to subtly force an algorithm into place where there wasnt one before. (ive been made aware you actually can turn this off from within an entirely seperate settings menu from the regular one that you open on the notifications screen for some reason?? the fact that i didnt even know this after using tumblr for this long is wild, but it doesnt invalidate my argument in that they turned it on automatically without asking or telling users) its not egregious enough to make me leave yet but its definitely been happening more and more frequently to the point that i am seriously doubting if i should consider continuing to use the website/app. this is the biggest structural issue, but its not the only example of what im talking about where tumblr is trying to pretend to be like other contemporary social medias in order to lure in new users without teaching them how things work so that they can use them as advertising guinea pigs.

another example would be the abrupt and frankly pointless introduction of tumblr live, which is entirely unnecessary and has received near unanimous criticism from older users. but a bigger one is something that a lot of people, especially newer users, mobile only users, or those straight other platforms have probably not even noticed- the completely silent removal of subdomain urls. (which is why people here call usernames urls in the first place) this one is way more apparent of an issue as far as my questionable use of the term 'gentrification' goes.

if i asked you the question "what is tumblr?" what would you say? more than likely, you would answer that its a social media- and to be clear, you would certainly not be incorrect in that assessment, but thats not the important part. as far as i can see, thats the first thing that comes to mind when i ask most people what they think of what tumblr "is" in its contemporary state. but if i asked somebody that a decade ago, they would likely give a completely different answer; they would say its a "blogging site". that's because fundamentally, that's what tumblr actually is and is supposed to be. a social blogging host platform. the dashboard and screen was always only half of it as far as the functionality went.

everyone used to have a personal website for their blogs, and people would often hook their tumblr blog up with its own custom domain as well. tumblr was first and foremost simply a blogging platform with social elements. while that subdomain (personal website) functionality does still exist, and you can see it on my blog because i customized my blog's css themes, they actually completely silently added a switch that gets rid of it, and they automatically turned it off for anyone that hadnt fully configured that page already which slowly consolidates everybody towards the exact same uniform tumblr-blog style like what you see on the mobile site. it forces a uniform visual aesthetic and functionality, which is one of the things i hate the most. in the first place, the enormous number of people who hadnt set up their page properly is largely because tumblr has for a few years now actively discouraged, hidden, or obfuscated the 'personal website' aspect of the service for whatever reason they may have using a method ill get into in a moment. it may be because they thought it was too convoluted for newer internet users who dont understand, or it may have been a more calculated effort to abandon older infrastructure and replace it with replicas of more contemporary systems like are used in other social medias, but it doesnt make a difference to me.

blogging is all about self-expression, and restricting that defeats the point so fucking hard. on the mobile app, my page will look something like this.

A picture of my tumblr blog in 'profile' view.

though this screenshot is taken on desktop. the url here is "". this is an entirely separate and pretty recently added functionality called the profile view, which is entirely different from how the website used to operate, which is demonstrated for clearly by the fact that this is not what my blog is actually supposed to look like. in fact, you cant even see what blogs are supposed to look like on the mobile app at all. if you open your browser and go to my actual blog url, "", you can see the intended design, which is very similar to my spacehey profile.

A picture of my tumblr blog in website view, as I intended it. It looks very similar to my spacehey profile design.

im honestly not unconvinced that they intend to eventually completely distinguish the old blogging system (akin to wordpress and blogger) from the social media aspect of the site entirely, though thats more of a crack theory. the fact remains that they began to silently get rid of people's actual blog pages, slowly forcing uniformity with the mobile app. (this is less important, but another part of that that drives me up the fucking wall is that i cant even use the tumblr website in my main browser anymore. they made it so it only works in certain browsers, and im sure i dont need to explain why that is absolutely insufferable behavior)

tumblr is absolutely trying to mimic other social media platforms like tiktok and twitter in order to attract users from them and give them a more 'familiar experience' and its absolutely a detriment to the experience for people who use tumblr specifically because it isnt like other corporate social platforms. this is a separate gripe, but...

ive said before and will say again, twitter users should not look for an alternative to twitter, they should just stop fucking using it. thats like going from smoking a cigarette brand that uses slave labor to one that doesnt. youre a more ethical person but youre still giving yourself lung cancer.

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♱Sunshine♱'s profile picture

Though I am not that active on Tumblr, never have been either, I honestly agree though. Especially the "based on your Likes" thing has always annoyed the hell out of me. It was bad enough on Instagram but for Tumblr to implement it is just disappointing.

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you can turn it off from your dashboard at least, even if its difficult to find.

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paragon's profile picture

I've only been using tumblr for 7 years so maybe I don't have ground to stand on, but I don't get too miffed about changes to the website like the ones you described...but that comes with some caveats. Since I use ublock on my browser, I don't see advertisements, and I blocked "Recommended for you" stuff entirely with it.

The removal of subdomains by default, I don't care about at all. Of course, I have my own custom theme and domain, but this is really not a crucial factor to me. In fact, in some twisted way, it actually helps me filter out who I want to follow, since I would be less likely to follow someone who doesn't have their own domain, which probably means they joined tumblr recently and are not inundated with the culture of the site.

I do agree with you on tumblr live, no surprise or further explanation needed.

I suppose since my tumblr experience has not been significantly changed in the last half decade, it's hard for me to care about changes happening to the website. It helps also that the dev team for tumblr is seemingly incompetent and can't make effective large scale change anyways.
What actually still bothers me was the 2018 content ban, only because it caused an exodus of so many people that I liked. But ever since that incident, I haven't been seriously affected in any permanent way. It's still just me and my 20+ people I like on my dashboard talking/blogging about what's cool. It still feels organic and human.

I suppose all the work I've had to do to maintain that experience drags tumblr down a bit...

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i mean, much of what im describing doesnt directly impact me yet either! theyre trying to maintain a divide between new and old users so that nobody gets mad, i frankly that seems to be working given your apparent reluctance to interact with newer users in general. i think this appeoach is problematic inherently

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Katal's profile picture

Spot on. I'm so sick of every single site becoming the same. The Tumblr live snooze shit is so disgusting. You can turn it off for only a week at a time? Various sorts of slop, ad after ad, video after video forced on everyone just to squeeze a bit more money out. I would ask what the end goal is but there is none, just progressively worse tiny changes for the sake a a few more cents.

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capitalism-infected websites.

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mY_ch3mic4l_husb4und's profile picture

This is so beyond true, I recently hopped back onto tumblr after being a frequent user in the 2010’s and was shocked at how different the platform is now. I’m also so glad you remembered the usernames because that drove me insane. The introduction of short form video and platforms made for users and not by them will be the downfall of modern internet.

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i think we can overcome the shortform plague, personally, but the divide it created will definitely never be overcome.

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Real asf.

by mY_ch3mic4l_husb4und; ; Report

I wanted to start using tumblr this month because I got so tired of modern social media and missed the times during 2011-2014 where I would just read blogs and even have my own on blogspot. I had this abandoned Tumblr account that I had used for not even a year around 2017 and when I logged back in now I was so confused. Where is the browsing page? why is there a for you page? and it doesn't even work properly, whenever I refresh it I see the same posts over and over. I was disappointed. My hope was to get back to blogs with a touch of social media, so it is easy to discover users and fellow blogs. However all I found was... a site that doesn't seem to know what it is itsself. :(

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cici's profile picture

i thought i was insane noticing the slow removal of pages. i had to download a chrome extension to get rid of recommended posts because they were so useless & clogging up my actual dashboard. i use tumblr to find & reblog old fashion images so i don't encounter a lot of these issues actively, but when i use the site to just follow people & check their active profiles they feel so invasive. it's definitely because of the boom of users when people thought twitter would shut down. a huge chunk of those people gave up on the website entirely so quickly too. why ostracize the user base who has consistently used your website in favor for one that will delete the app version in 3 days???? i'll never understand

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i was actually only just made aware after the tumblr version of this post you actually can apparently turn this off from within an entirely seperate settings menu from the regular one that you open on the notifications screen for some reason lmao. the fact that i didnt even know this after using tumblr for this long is wild, but it doesnt invalidate my argument in that they turned it on automatically without asking or telling users. either way, it is possible to turn them off natively now, apparently.

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