Tumblr’s Media Direction: Mark Coatney Joins

Mark Coatney leaves his Newsweek gig as a senior editor and joins Tumblr as ‘media evangelist’, working to get media companies more involved in the service:

Jenna Wortham, Tumblr, a New Spin in the Flurry of Social Media

Mr. Coatney, a 43-year-old journalist, is the latest hire at Tumblr, a fast-growing blogging service based in New York that says it has 6.6 million users.

Until last month, Mr. Coatney was a senior editor at Newsweek, where as a side project he headed up the magazine’s social efforts on Twitter and Facebook. Last year he decided to add Tumblr to his repertoire.

“I saw it as an opportunity to talk to our audience in a new way,” he said. On Twitter, he said, “the main feedback comes mostly from retweeting,” or retransmitting an interesting message. On Tumblr, “the tone is a lot more conversational.”

Mr. Coatney quickly cultivated a following on Tumblr for his thought-provoking, quick-witted posts. Often they included commentary that was funny and bordering on acerbic — something he was able to get away with largely because “no one at Newsweek really knew what I was doing,” he said.

The credibility he established among Tumblr users, and the fact that Newsweek was one of the first big publishers to sign on, cemented Tumblr’s decision to hire him, company executives said.

Over the last few months, other media outlets have caught wind of Tumblr, which is free to use. The newest recruits include The Atlantic, Rolling Stone, BlackBook Media Corporation, National Public Radio, The Paris Review, The Huffington Post, Life magazine and The New York Times.

But many of those outlets have done little more than set up a placeholder page. In his new job as a “media evangelist,” Mr. Coatney’s role, and in some ways his challenge, is to help them figure out what to do next.

Mr. Coatney describes Tumblr as “a space in between Twitter and Facebook.” The site allows users to upload images, videos, audio clips and quotes to their pages, in addition to bursts of text.

As on Twitter, users can follow other users, whose posts appear in a chronological stream on a central home page known as the dashboard. Users can indicate that they like an item by clicking on a red heart next to it or “reblogging” it.

Commentators never seem to get down to the core difference between Tumblr and other blogging solutions. As a result, they miss the rich social dimension that Tumblr offers.

I recently characterized this as having both an ‘inside’ and an ‘outside’ view:

Stowe Boyd, WordPress Releases ‘Like’ And ‘Reblog’: We Need TumbleBacks, People!

The Outside View — When Tumblr users are looking at other Tumblr-hosted blogs, they see several controls that are not visible to non-users. Along with the blog content, they see ‘like’, ‘reblog’, ‘follow’ and ‘dashboard’ icons, like this:

The ‘like’ button (the heart) is a way to create a haptic gesture that winds up on the post’s ‘notes’ list, a history of all the ways that the post has been touched by others.

The ‘reblog’ button makes a copy of the post on the user’s blog, and adds that action to the original post’s notes history.

Clicking the ‘follow’ adds the blog to the user’s list of followed blogs, which is a perfect segue to the second view in the poststream model.

The Inside View — When the user logs into Tumblr (or when they clink on ‘dashboard’ after being logged in), they are presented their Tumblr dashboard, which aggregates posts from all the blogs that the user is following, plus posts from their own blog, and notes that other users’ actions have left on posts. Here’s the third page of my Tumblr dashboard from this morning (I wanted to show a note and the page controls):

The ‘like’ and ‘reblog’ controls are displayed on all the posts in the poststream, and work in the same way as described.

You can see that wakeupfromthedramscene has started following my UnderpaidGenius blog. Other notes also are displayed, although their are none in this page of my poststream:  reblogs, likes, and answers to questions (any text post that ends with a question mark allows for answers to questions to be accumulated).

So, I think Coatney is right to see Tumblr as sitting somewhere better Twitter and blogging. The inside view is based on an open follower model, and social gestures like ‘likes’, ‘reblogs’ and ‘asks’ fill in for much of the communication that Twitter supports so readily. But Tumblr’s rich media – images, videos, audio, and various sorts of text-based posts – make it a more literary, or interests-based medium, especially at first glance.

As a direct result, communities of people with similar interests quickly aggregate, and connect through ‘following’ relationships, in a way parallel to Twitter, but using other parts of the head since it is not an endless stream of text-based tweets and links.

Perhaps because of this media richness, and the media-oriented communities that form within Tumblr, partnerships with media firms seems a natural course to take, especially highly focused publications with tight communities. Consider groups like young parents, avid sports enthusiasts, gadget heads, or social activists: these would be natural communities that could benefit from participation of cornerstone media companies investing in a slightly more advanced infrastructure than comes off the shelf with Tumblr.

For example, a cycling magazine might build a Tumblr-based website (called Wheels) that includes pages dedicated to specific interests, like new bikes, performance training, leisurely cruising, and bike-based holidays. Members of the Wheels community could follow Wheels, and be followed back in turn. Any posts that the community members tagged appropriately would be streamed through these pages, and the best and most interesting might be featured or highlighted on the Wheels topics pages.

At any rate, it would be a straightforward prospect to develop this sort of componentry to offer media companies, and to allow them a means to use the follower model to sharpen their connection to communities, and to do so without becoming yet another Facebook colony.

Note that WordPress and Typepad have been moving steadily in the direction of Tumblr’s innovation, adopting social gestures (‘like’ and ‘reblog’) and in the case of Typepad, even developing an inside view modeled directly after Tumblr’s.

I recently moved this blog to Tumblr (see Moving To Tumblr Manually: I Must Be Nuts), and I have used the platform for several years on my underpaidgenius.com blog. I have some complaints, but they are actually minor relative to the upside offered by this rich social interaction. I just wish I could convince more of the community that follows my writing here to sign up for a Tumblr account, and experience the rich world behind the outside view that you are probably experiencing now.

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