Big Boulder: Transition at a Massive Scale with Ken Little of Tumblr

Ken Little, Director of Engineering from Tumblr, weighs in on what it’s like working inside a product team to release features and align long-term priorities.

Ken Little of Tumblr

Gnip recently announced Tumblr as a partnership. What’s makes Tumblr unique?

Tumblr has two big uses:

  1. Blogging platform – it’s the easiest way to blog, lowering the barrier to creativity online while simultaneously allowing users to have control over content creation.
  2. Content consumption platform – rather than going to all of the blogs you like to see the content for the day, follow a feed of what’s happening in your curated network.

Tumblr’s platform f

osters creativity and the community itself backs up this effort. Gnip had early access to the first firehose and its data science team geeked out. One of the first things they noticed was that certain pieces of content spread rapidly. Chris Moody asks Ken about the recipe for speed and Ken credits the reblog feature. While Tumblr does provide likes, by far and away their success is owed to their reblogs. Rob Johnson notes that visual content plays a big part too. In terms of data on that side, all visual content has some kind of textual component whether it’s a caption or a structured tag. Tumblr users, for the most part, are tumbling for an audience. Content is meant for the general public and bloggers want to be found. One of the most successful methods of discovery online right now is through the tag system. Ken uses the popular example of Tumblr users making an animated .gif of a scene in a TV or a movie to relate a moment they perso

nally felt in their own life. “All roads on Tumblr lead to animated .gifs,” he says with smile.

Tumblr also has native integration for SoundCloud and Spotify. Ken likes to watch a specific track move its way around communities along with all of the commentary. Describing brands that are using Tumblr successfully, Ken talks about the Adidas football blog as appealing to all soccer fans. Coca-Cola’s content is reblogged constantly because it is themed on happiness, paging through an endless utopian summer. Users get to partake in the content as they would in any other place. The Hunger Games movie team put up a blog called Capitol Couture and rather than just posting standard movie trailers, they created a fashion blog set in the Capitol’s fictional dystopia. It’s an extension of their larger narrative and therefore exciting to its fans. New York Fashion Week is also covered live on Tumblr as it occurs annually. One of the things that makes Tumblr a success is how visual it is, lending itself as a snug fit for industries like fashion and entertainment.

Once a blogging platform gets an international foothold as Tumblr has, the ratio continues to climb. Tumblr says it is number seventeen in terms of national reach. 2011 was a crazy growth year for the company. With a fairly small and growing engineering team, this can be challenging. The focus was keeping the product stable while still building momentum and forward motion. As they reached a point of stabilization, they recognized the value in all of the data and they wanted to open their doors to the social data market using Gnip. It was a natural next step.

Big Boulder is the world’s first social data conference. Follow along at #BigBoulder, on the blog under Big BoulderBig Boulder on Storify and on Gnip’s Facebook page.