Will Sandy Bring New Purpose to Tumblr?

As post-Hurricane Sandy chaos and recovery continue, tumblr suddenly seems useful in a way that it never has before.

The Rockaways – on Brooklyn bakery Robicellis’ Tumblr, Nov. 2, 2012

Fitting the Message to the Medium

In 2008, although I had played around with twitter, I didn’t yet get it’s usefulness. But then in November 2008, the Orange County Register used twitter to aggregate eyewitness and official reports on the huge fires in their area. Suddenly, the medium of twitter had found a message it was uniquely suited to share. A year later, I was using twitter as a communication tool for the Library, and in my own art community.

Similarly, I’ve been messing around with tumblr for several years. I set one up a few years ago, but I never used it. So last year I it into a place to share mobile photos of my son’s funny writing and stories. And at work, we’ve been trying to figure out how use it for the Library for the last year (unsuccessfully).

What Message is Tumblr Good For?

“Downtown Goes Dark on Foursquare” from Gizmodo tumblr, Nov. 2, 2012

Up until now, I’ve seen tumblr used as a micro-blogging tool. But its double identity as a social networking platform means that it’s development has focused inward. If you know people on tumblr, it’s easy to connect with them. But if you’re looking to find new connections, or to get new info through tumblr, you’re going to be frustrated.  The internal search function only works on tags and categories – and forget trying to search tumblr from the outside.

But like twitter, a tumblr post can easily be created on your mobile device. Unlike twitter, tumblr displays images really well. And while the dashboard is clunky on a desktop, it’s simplicity works well on your phone. Also unlike twitter, there’s no limit to message size.

These three factors – images, mobile, and lack of size-limits – create the perfect platform for easy uploading and distribution of both guerrilla reporting (see the first image above, in which a local bakery tumblr shared an email from a mom in the Brooklyn neighborhood of the Rockaways) and quick sharing of graphics and facts (see the second image, of Gizmodo’s tumblr of Foursquare checkins in Manhattan, before and after the power went out) during the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

Have you seen similar examples of tumblr use this week? Please share them – and I’ll post more examples as I find them. 

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