Geekend 2012 - Jumping Into Tumblr Theme Development

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An overview of Tumblr and Tumblr theme development by Business Bullpen.

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Jumping Into Tumblr Theme Development - November 9, 2012 Geekend Savannah, GA

Welcome to Jumping Into Tumblr Theme Development by Graham Blevins and Todd Wickersty.

We are the co-owners of Business Bullpen out of Charlottesville, Virginia. Business Bullpen has been around since 2005 and we create well-crafted digital experiences.

In recent years, we have been developing more and more on the Tumblr platform using their API and Theme Operators.

We have created several premium themes for Tumblr that are available for sale in the Tumblr theme garden and are now working with brands to develop custom Tumblr themes.


Tumblr was launched on February 19th, 2007 by David Karp in New York. The initial lead developer for Tumblr was Marco Arment, who some of you might be familiar with his current work Instapaper.

Tumblr was designed to make blogging easier because so many blogs are abandoned after a few days, weeks, or months. In quick time, Tumblr introduced reblogs and likes, which enabled the service to build a community-driven blogging platform.


The reblog is the act of taking someone elses post and re-publishing it to your own blog. It is one of the most significant features of Tumblr

Reblogging:1. Makes it easier to produce content2. Enables bloggers to converse with one another because you can add your own commentary when you reblog a post3. Lets other bloggers know about your own blog because the original poster will be notified when their post is reblogged

all while crediting the original source of the content

In addition to the reblog, Tumblr introduced likes in 2008, two years before Facebook, as a another way to build community and connect with other bloggers on Tumblr.


In 2009, Tumblr reached a couple significant milestones. 1 million blogs, 100 million posts.

Compare those numbers with the numbers in the screenshot above, which was taken on November 9th, 2012.


But that rapid growth did cause some problems. Like almost every other platform that experiences rapid growth like Tumblr, the platform had its fair amount of technical issues.

Late in 2010, Tumblr experienced one of, if not, its most extreme unplanned outage. The service and all of the blogs that were powered by Tumblr went down for approximately 24 hours.

But in the end, Tumblr came out stronger than ever before. They improved their systems and infrastructure over the course of 2011 and continue to do so to make the platform extremely stable and reliable.

And the growth continued in 2011.

Tumblr passed in number of blogs hosted. From a financial perspective, Tumblrs valuation was upped to $800 million in 2011.


2012 has been another banner year for Tumblr.

Tumblr as a search term overtakes Blog in Google searches

In a continuing effort to realize revenue, Tumblr introduced advertising in a few different ways.

Tumblrs focus on mobile has increased as Tumblr released a brand new iPhone and Android app.

In the meantime, Tumblrs popularity continues to grow.Mashable reported that Tumblr experienced over 6 million mobile visitors in the month of July.

Back in 2009 and 2010, Posterous had been neck and neck with Tumblr as a competitive service in the microblogging space, but early this year Twitter bought Posterous. Since it was reported that the Posterous team would be deployed on other projects, the acquisition signaled the end of the competition between the two services.

Now Pinterest is often compared to Tumblr as a competitive service. Whether you agree with that or not, its worth noting that Tumblr passed Pinterest in unique visitors during the period of July 2011 June 2012.


That big, empty text box

Why use Tumblr?

So why do so many people use Tumblr? And if you arent using Tumblr now, why should you start?

There are many reasons.

As I mentioned earlier, David Karp wanted to create a blogging service that made it easier for people to publish. He has been quoted in many articles that older blogging platforms, like WordPress or Blogger, would give him pause because of that big, empty text box.

So instead Tumblr gives you a nudge by presenting seven different options for posting content.

While these options make it easier to blog, this isnt the primary reason why so many people love Tumblr. Its the social component, the community behind Tumblr.


[Tumblr is] the mullet theory of social software design.

Its all business in the front: you have your blog that looks like any other blog, although usually prettier. And then the real party is in the back, through the social interaction on the dashboard.

Why use Tumblr?

- Chris Muscarella, New York Times, 7/15/12


Why use Tumblr?

Tumblr Dashboard

Here is a screenshot of the Tumblr dashboard.

Below your posting options is a stream of all the posts from the blogs you follow. You can reblog, like, and reply to posts all within the dashboard. So not only does the dashboard enable you to consume all of the blogs you like, it also enables you to interact with your favorite blogs.

I dont know how many people view my blog posts from within the Tumblr dashboard. I know how many followers I have, but that doesnt tell me how many of those followers are consuming content. Even so, Im willing to bet that more people consume my content from within the dashboard than through my blogs web address. This might not be the case for blogs with greater traffic, but Im betting it is true for most blogs on Tumblr.

While the dashboard provides the mechanism to consume all of your favorite Tumblr blogs in one place, if it wasnt for the content created by the Tumblr community, Tumblr would not be successful.


Why use Tumblr?

I consume a wide variety of content on Tumblr from business blogs to design to sports to humor to politics to personal blogs to food blogs to a blog just about huskies.

Here is a screenshot of the Tumblr spotlight section that helps you find other blogs by category. This is a shot of the business category, which is spotlighting blogs from a couple venture capitalists, the Stanford Graduate School of Business, and Nasdaq among others. I choose this category because a lot of people associate Tumblr with animated gifs of cats, but there are plenty of blogs that focus on serious topics.

Another example is news organizations.

Many news organizations adopted Tumblr in 2009-2010 with Newsweek leading the pack. Newsweek showed other news organizations how to use Tumblr effectively by publishing a fresh mix of content instead of just regurgitating the latest edition of their magazine. Other news organizations that do a great job on Tumblr are NPR, The Atlantic, and the Washington Post.


Why use Tumblr?

So maybe serious topics like news and business arent what you want to use Tumblr for. I dont think you are alone.

Many entertainers have turned to Tumblr over the past couple of years with Beyonce being one of them. She confirmed her Super Bowl appearance by posting this photo on her Tumblr blog earlier this year.


Why use Tumblr?

If celebrities arent your thing, then Im sure the humor that is generated from Tumblr blogs is a good enough reason to use it.

Texts from Hillary Clinton was launched earlier this year, which started as a joke at a bar between two friends. Within one week of launching the blog, the 32 posts generated 83,000 shares on Facebook, 8400 Twitter followers, and over 45,000 Tumblr followers. The meme ended with Secretary Clinton submitting her own text to the site.

Ok, so what if news blogs, blogs about your career or profession, celebrity blogs, or even political humor blogs arent your interest?


Why use Tumblr?

Then there are always the blogs with the animated gifs of cats!


[Tumblr is] the mullet theory of social software design.

Its all business in the front: you have your blog that looks like any other blog, although usually prettier. And then the real party is in the back, through the social interaction on the dashboard.

Tumblr Themes

- Chris Muscarella, New York Times, 7/15/12

So let me bring this quote back and focus on the text in white.

This prettier blog is the Tumblr theme. Like WordPress, Tumblr has encouraged designers and developers to create themes.


In 2009, Tumblr introduced the Theme Garden. This gave users the ability to install a theme with one click. At first, all Tumblr themes were free.

A year later, Tumblr introduced one of its first initiatives to generate revenue premium themes.

Tumblr has always placed the highest emphasis on design. Therefore, they hand-picked a short list of designers and developers across the world to produce premium themes that sell for $9, $19, and $49.

Today the theme garden is a curated list of themes that have been submitted to Tumblr.


While our presentation is focused on development, the design of a Tumblr theme is just as important as the development.

If you are designing a Tumblr theme or want to partner with a designer, the designer should really become familiar with the Tumblr theme operators, which is one of the cornerstones of Tumblr development.


Tumblr Theme Ingredients

HTML / CSS / JavaScript+Tumblr Theme