Tumblr might be the biggest social network you've never heard of. You might well have come across Tumblr in the wake of the London riots, as it was used for a popular blog showcasing images of rioters amusingly-photoshopped to show them clutching stuffed toys or wearing Justin Bieber T shirts. If you've seen an image like the cartoon org charts of different technology companies that suddenly seems to be everywhere, it's probably spreading on Tumblr.
Tumblr is best known as a micro-blogging service used for sharing photographs. Posts can be text, quotes, links, audio clips recorded on your phone, videos or 'chats' (a compelling way of presenting a conversation), but fully half of them were photos last year. It's particularly popular in specific industries like fashion and style, because it reaches a young, mainstream audience that's 60 percent female.
But the social features are also key to Tumblr's popularity: Tumblr users can follow each other and frequently 'reblog' individual posts. Tumblr is also increasingly popular, although it doesn't get the same coverage (or the same VC investments) as Twitter and Facebook. It's growing at twice the speed of blogs on Wordpress.com — in six months it doubled the number of Tumblrs to 18.4 million compared to 19.8 million Wordpress.com blogs, up from 16 million in the same six months. There are now 25 million Tumblr blogs with 40 million posts a day, 47 million unique visitors and 2.7 billion page views a month.
In Tackling Tumblr, Thord Daniel Hedengren describes the appeal of Tumblr as being "to online publishing what the compact camera was to photography", and the ability to create posts that combine different media in a far quicker and simpler way than most platforms. But Tumblr really shines when that's combined with themes that transform the standard layout.
Most Tumblrs are simple, scrappy designs — even the staff blog is a simple layout. But there are powerful designs in the Theme Garden, both free and premium. Photosets give you great options for presenting multiple images in one post. The book showcases some of the most useful and unusual themes and walks you through customising a theme (including adding Disqus comments) or creating your own in HTML and CSS — although the design used isn't as attractive a many of the free themes available. It also covers how to use the service for something more like a web site than a blog, adding permanent pages and widgets (like Facebook fan page links, Skype buttons, LinkedIn profiles and Flickr badges).
Many of Tumblr's powerful features are also easy to use once you know they're there, and the book covers the highlights. For example, you can schedule posts at specific times or put them in a queue to be published at regular intervals, which is an excellent way to automate updating a site. You can enable comments or use the Ask feature to let visitors leave questions that won't be public until and unless you answer them.
Tackling Tumblr is a clear and friendly guide to setting up and using the service for more than just simple microblogging. But where it really shines is in giving you an idea of what you can achieve with Tumblr — which is a lot more than you might expect.
Tackling Tumblr: Web Publishing Made Simple By Thord Daniel Hedengren John Wiley 288 pages ISBN: 978-1-1199-5015-8 £19.99