On the Inside: Tumblr’s headquarters doubles as an exhibit of its own users’ art

This is On the Inside, a Digiday series that takes readers on a tour through brands, agencies and publishers to find out what makes them different.

Tumblr has been having a good year. In May it was reported that, along with Pinterest, it was among the fastest-growing social networks: Pinterest enjoyed a growth rate of 97 percent over the previous year, Tumblr 94 percent, according to GlobalWebIndex. Facebook was the only social network to see a decline in people who call themselves active users.

“It’s easier for the smaller networks to record sizable percentage increases as they start from lower starting points,” GWI wrote at the time. “Even so, there’s no escaping the fact that Facebook recorded a decline, and one that is consistent in all parts of the world.”

That growth rate may be getting another boost. Tumblr to date has always been more of a broadcasting platform than a conversational one — a core feature that founder David Karp was insistent not be ruined by ads or other bells and whistles. Reblogging a post was about as conversational the service got. Under Yahoo’s ownership, however, things are changing: Tumblr finally joined the ranks of Facebook and Instagram and Snapchat by adding a new instant messaging feature — one that is likely to boost engagement (and please advertisers).

Launched November 11 to a limited pool of users who could then invite fellow bloggers, the messaging tool is gaining traction. Users sent more than 9 million messages in the first two days, Karp said at a Fast Company event last week. In the first 48 hours, according to Karp, the messaging function spread from 1,500 to 450,000 blogs. The rest of its users will get the feature within the month.

It doesn’t stop there, either. Two weeks ago, if you logged onto Tumblr, you would have found the first-ever livestreamed NFL football game at the top of your feed as part of a Yahoo experiment to drive engagement. Expect more.

Some estimates put the company’s user base at around 500 million, about half of whom are under 35. From the beginning, Karp was insistent that it was a medium for creators and curators. As a result, a lot of art and artists found their way onto the platform. The new messaging feature is born out of direct user feedback — it was the most requested feature from its users — and will theoretically become a way for creative types to connect over shared interests.

Indeed, the most popular forms of Tumblr posts have always been photos — GIFs especially — and, more so than Facebook, often focus on some fringe interest or obsession of a core group of followers. (Beyond art, it is also a bastion of pornography.)

Today, some of the most interesting art generated and circulated on Tumblr makes its way on the actual walls of Tumblr’s New York headquarters. Digiday took a tour of the Tumblr offices for a look at what makes the unique social network buzz — and how it translates its artsy ethos into a tangible office culture.

“As we built out our office space, we wanted it to be a living, breathing dashboard, whether it be the art on the walls, the colors you see,” said Megan Leet, head of office experience and events at Tumblr. “People who typically do GIF art made prints; there’s digital art.”

Watch the video above for a peak under Tumblr’s hood.

Video by Hannah Yi


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