I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the reblog. Tumblr seems to have captured something unique. The reputation system that they invoke isn’t like others that work all they can to pull the user in and not let go. On tumblr for instance, the user is never notified when someone follows them, nor when someone reblogs their post. Tumblr doesnt go out of its way to hand out reputation “points”, yet it still manages to create a structure for meaningful social interaction. I can only speak from my own experience, but tumblr has engaged my interest in a way that few online social networks have managed – it has, in a way, sucked me in.
On tumblr, we are forced to make our connections the “old fashioned” way. The user must actively seek out recognition from his/her peers, in a way that most networks have made automatic. How easy is it to friend someone on Facebook and then never think about that person again? How many twitterers have hundreds of friends that they supposedly “follow”? Sure, you can “follow” hundreds of people on Tumblr as well, but the functionality of the Dashboard is such that it you are likely to experience diminishing returns to scale (i.e. number of people you follow). When I noticed that a new user was following me a few days ago, I went and read through a few pages of posts before I dared clutter my Dashboard with another friend.
Perhaps Tumblr has “stumblred” upon something that many social sites have left behind. The user is forced to do some of the work that most sites have automated, but this only lends itself to a more careful decision-making process of who to follow. When the social is left to the user, the site becomes more about the content than the number of meaningless social connections one makes (Tumblr does not build in a list of who a user follows, and how many follow that user for others to see). At the same time, however, I would argue that because of that focus on content, the social connections one makes prove more meaningful.
Or perhaps those “missing” functionalities have just not been added yet. I am tempted to say I would regret it if they were.