Watching the new @staff and @changes on tumblr who actually listen and respond to their userbase is so bizarre to see, because I feel like I’ve come full circle on the site.

I joined 10ish years ago (shortly post-Reichenbach, if that dates me) and that time was still solidly in the era of David Karp. Staff communicated but were overall seen as lovingly incompetent. Everyone used Missing E to fix all the problems, and then Xkit when Missing E stopped working, but nobody thought twice about it. We mostly just joked about how often they fiddled with the shade of background blue.

I remember the sale to Yahoo, and how it took a while to notice, but the site kind of just got worse. We got ads, which everyone hated. Changes were passed down from above with little to no fanfare. But staff was still there and making some effort to reach out to users; we got some of the best April Fools jokes in that era, like Coppy and Decision 2016 that showed that someone in there knew what users liked. Features like direct messaging and rebloggable asks and stacked posts were still coming through, even if the communication with users was opaque. Bots invaded every inch of the site. And then we got the porn ban, which snapped the site like a twig.

After Verizon bought tumblr, there were a few years where staff almost seemed to vanish, or did their best to hide what they were doing. I can’t even remember the last few years of April Fools jokes, if they happened at all. Ads got bigger. Changes just happened and there was no way to tell if it was intentional or glitches. If they were intentional, they seemed almost malicious. Users started talking about shadowbans and tags getting wiped out and some posts not showing up in tags or searches and user deletions happening behind the scenes. Bots got worse and worse and less was done about them. If anything went wrong, there was no confidence that reaching out to support would do a thing. Staff was spoken about in posts with the same tone as Bezos or Google, just another tech giant slowly making our lives worse for the sake of squeezing another buck out of us and then selling us to the highest bidder. If nothing else, we could be proud of squeezing the resale value out of the site for them.

I don’t know exactly what happened over the last year, if it was because of the sale to Automattic or other internal changes. But all of a sudden, staff started talking to us again. And we didn’t fuckin trust em an inch, and rightly so. Changes got rolled out again, and we started complaining again, because we may have no power to make any web experience better so the least we can do is go down complaining.

But the things they started changing were… stuff we wanted? We got tag viewers, timestamps, dash customization, filtering that actually worked. Most new features get toggles so you can turn it off if you don’t want it. Huh, we thought, that doesn’t seem right. Ideas flopped like Post+, and god did we complain. But after we did… the features… changed? Staff started testing out the ideas that the users endorsed? Like tipping posts on a per-post basis to avoid copyright issues with fanworks and an ad-free subscription model? Huh, we said.

And the final nail in the coffin was that new iOS tag-copying “feature” that we all complained about to no end… that was actually a glitch. Not some coder’s whim that got passed down and we just had to deal with it forever. Sorry, staff said, we’ll get that fixed right away.

Huh, we said. Huh.

Aside from being an unexpected change for tumblr, it’s making me realize how weird it feels in the internet as a whole to have some transparency and communication between site developers and the userbase. When I joined tumblr, forum culture and the heyday of the early creator-run internet were fresh memories. Staff who posted like users were common, and popular demand was the actual goal of web design. But now there is no social media where the developers speak directly to the users and incorporate real feedback into the changes they make. Algorithms drive everything, moderation happens silently, and it’s impossible to tell what a human has laid eyes on. Decisions are made based on what can get the most eyes on sponsored ads and drive clicks. Social media is now Big Tech, driven by Big Money Decisions and ad space.

Having a staff who talks and listens to the userbase is a direct return to tumblr’s roots and also the most jarring and noticeable jump back to Classic Internet that the rest of social media has long since abandoned.

I’ve been here since I was 16, 8 years now.

Never have I seen tumblr staff listen to us the way they have been lately. It is really jarring to watch this site become… more functional? As they roll out changes? Like, i can’t remember the last time the mobile app crashed. (It’s strangely kinda sad to me).

Like, they rolled out the subscription for no ads and from what I’ve heard, it’s actually mostly functional. Remember the infection style direct messages rollout? Cute idea by the way except this user base is not friendly enough lmao

Anyway. I hope staff knows we’re cantankerous little fucks and that we do appreciate what they do.

@staff @wip @changes We appreciate that you’re working hard to actually listen to the users of your site. It’s an amazing breath of fresh air, and it’s something people will absolutely stick around for (and maybe even pay for if they can afford it). Anyway, it’s nice to see the managers of this site putting in effort to do what the users want so thanks