The latest $1bn social network

Yahoo’s cool new toy: hipster blogging phenomenon Tumblr

It’s the home of bald eagles that look like Arsene Wenger and the place where Beyonce and Jay-Z posted the first pictures of their baby. Barack Obama used it to launch his re-election campaign and r‘n’b singer Frank Ocean used it to announce he is gay. In February 2007, a 20-year-old Manhattanite named David Karp created Tumblr in a two-week gap between internships. Fast forward six years and the website has been bought by Yahoo for $1.1bn dollars. So far, 109.2m users have recorded over 51bn posts.

The cool, arty circles among which Tumblr first became popular earned it a reputation as the social media platform with the most street cred. It’s more nonchalant; less in your face with branding than Twitter and Facebook, and popular with the highly sought after 18-24 demographic. This makes it an ideal acquisition for Yahoo, the ailing tech giant desperate to relive its cool youth. It also means it remains a mystery for many, despite its astronomical price tag. Here’s a brief guide for the uninitiated:

What is it and how does it work?

Tumblr is often referred to as a microblogging service and draws frequent comparisons with Twitter as a result. There are similarities: a tumblr (with a small “t”) or tumblelog is a continuous feed, with each new entry appearing on top of the last. You can also follow people’s tumblr’s and receive notifications of updates from the people you follow.

Unlike Twitter, posts have no character limit and you can choose from a wide variety of themes that present posts differently. For example, you could have a pared down, minimalist tumblr with just a single feed in the middle of the screen, or you could arrange your posts in a grid. And where twitter has been highly successful at allowing people to link to other media, tumblr has built-in templates for photo, text, video and audio posts, allowing for images and videos to appear on the feed itself.

What kind of people use Tumblr?

The elegant publishing platform is ideal for graphic-y, image-based blogs, making it a favourite of aspirational fashionistas and trendy new bands wishing to create a buzz. These days the site is too widely used to single out a particular demographic. It has, however, become associated with a particular brand of silly, absurdist humour evinced by tumblrs such as Hungover Owls, Animals Doing People Stuff and Kim Jong-Il Looking At Things. Successful Tumblrs get blogged and reblogged thousands of times and have been known to launch comedy careers for their creators.

1. What should we call me
This tumblr capitalised on resurgence of the humble Gif, a basic repeating two second animation that surfaced during the internet’s misguided adolescence. Whatshouldwecallme posts Gifs with captions describing every day situations. A Gif of a gorilla burying his head in his hands is capped with “Looking at my texts the morning after a rough night out.”

2. I love charts
The creators of I Love Charts trawl the internet for the most interesting and amusing infographics. Expect to find growth curves that set “Amount you read” against “The belief that your pain and heartbreak are worse than anyone else’s” and venn diagrams of “Things that are enjoyable in the morning” and “things that smell good” (only coffee and crumpets make it into the middle).

3. Nick Clegg looking sad
This tumblr features glum-faced pictures of our beleaguered deputy PM with captions explaining his woe. A highlight: “Nick Clegg tried to pay you in exact change, but you pointed out that one of his coins was Canadian and he had no other way to pay, so you made him put his one item back on the shelf.”

4. Kim Jong-Il Looking At Things
Who’d have thought that watching someone watch stuff could be so funny. Kim Jong-Il Looking At Things features the odd-ball despot in full military regalia on various diplomatic field trips. He looks at a fish market, a grocery store refrigerator, a glass bottle and some potters. The silly, brutal literalism of this tumblr that made it a worldwide phenomenon.

5. Food On My Dog
Continuing the absurd literalism theme: Food On My Dog. The long suffering canine star of this tumblr sits obedient and unamused with food on his head, staring dead eyed into the camera. He’s posed with sushi, spring rolls, kebabs and many more items atop his furry scalp. Foodstuffs such as ham and bacon demonstrate the dog’s impressive self-control.