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Tumblr and the Network Effect

http://mashable.com/2011/08/31/tumblr-record-uniques/

As mentioned in the article “Tumblr Tops 13 Million U.S. Uniques in July” by Jennifer Van Grove via Mashable, the network effect works to both attract new users and to retain current users. As Tumblr gains a more massive user base, its value rises. As a result, people begin to “adopt” the system as an additional network of which they are part (Lipsman). Just as Facebook grew to be addictive for many as it allowed people to receive updates on the lives of their friends with just one glance, Tumblr is becoming more widely adopted as it keeps people updated on their interests and chosen content. With a growing user base comes a growing content base as well. The greater mass of content allows for more options when users select who to follow on the basis of shared content interests. The user becomes addicted to the Tumblr Dashboard (similar to the Facebook Newsfeed), a collection of content from all of the Tumblrs that are being followed.

Perhaps the growth in popularity of Tumblr can be attributed to its uniqueness as both a blogging platform as well as a social network. Unlike Twitter or Facebook (platforms through which connectivity occurs largely through already established friendships and relationships), Tumblr makes possible connectivity between people who may not know each other in real-life, but do share similar interests based on posted content on-line. Although real-life friends do “follow” each other, many of the connections made through Tumblr are between strangers.

The connections made between Tumblr users emanate the “bridges” concept that is introduced in chapter 3 of Professor Easley’s book, Networks, Crowds, and Markets: Reasoning about a Highly Connected World. Unlike many other social network platforms in which bridges between isolated networks rarely occur, Tumblr, with its focus on connectivity based on shared interests as opposed to established friendships and relationships, makes possible bridges between strangers quite often. The “reblog” feature on Tumblr is a powerful mechanism that catalyzes the formation of both bridges and local bridges between users.

For example, if User B reblogs one of User A’s posts, then followers of User B may increase the viewer-base of User A as followers of User B trace the content’s original poster back to User A’s blog. They may, in turn, choose to follow User A if they like the content that they see. A virtually unknown blog, or, in other words, a blog with only a few followers, may increase their following by getting “lucky” and having a popular blog, or a blog with a multitude of followers, reblog their content.

diagram

More technically, say we define Node A as a relatively isolated blog with few connections. There is only a remote chance that the nodes that are connected to Node A also connect to Node B. Thus, a bridge forms if Node A connects with Node B. This may occur when Node A chooses to “follow” Node B or “reblog” Node B’s content. In turn, the nodes that were originally connected to Node A and find interest in the content that Node A reblogged from Node B may decide to check out Node B and possibly connect with Node B. Connectivity thus increases between the two previously-isolated networks causing a boom in interconnectivity. In the Tumblr world, this happens quite often, and it results not only in posts that can become extremely viral, but also spurs a sharing of new interests and information that would otherwise have been unknown were it not for the bridge.

This scenario can be related back to the network effect. With a growing number of Tumblr users comes a much more expansive network of users and more opportunities for bridges to form, interests to meet, and ultimately greater value for the system to be achieved. Such value attracts new users and encourages current users to maintain continuous use.

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