A theory on what Tumblr constitutes, and the semantics of the term “pile-on”
I’ve been thinking about the spatial dynamics of Tumblr, folks, and why it’s more interesting than a blog.
A blog is like a house. When the blogger posts, it’s their house, and visitors play by the rules, because they are viewing the blog on the blog’s terms. You can go to a blog. Yes, you can add it to your RSS feed, but that’s more like a telephoning into the house.
Tumblr, though, you view through your dashboard. You do not go to someone else’s Tumblr except to decide whether you want to follow it. Your dashboard is your space. In a sense, when a Tumblrite posts, they do two things simultaneously: send their post out for their followers to view, whilst keeping it on the dashboard for their own purposes. On your dashboard, it is up to you how you wish to engage. To reblog is to engage with a post, in your own space, because you’re engaging with the post from your own dashboard (assuming you’re not using the comment system the Tumblr has set up).
As such, reblogging is very different from comments. A blogger might want to keep an eye on comment threads. They are fairly linear, and designed to be linear, and thus it’s necessary to moderate to maintain this linearity.
Reblogs, on the other hand, are fractal by nature. Unless you and your followers are only following each other, which I think sort of defeats the purpose of Tumblr?, you literally have no control over how people respond to you through their reblogs, through their pulling your post into their space, so they can engage with your post, in their space, on their own terms.
The thing is, though, you can see what they’re responding to you in reblogs, but just like a lot of us don’t get to see what’s in the mod queue, or emails, most of us don’t know what’s going on in each other’s dashboards or ask boxes or emails or Liked posts. And I think it’s important to keep this in mind how we’re coming from, whether it’s from different subject positions, or from different Tumblr dashboards.
I think there ought to be a different word for negative, critical reblogs. “Pile-on” has a particular spatial dynamic, which to me evokes an overload of comments in a blogpost. Since reblogging is an act of pulling something into one’s own space, piling-on doesn’t quite have the same nuance. And reblogging is a really general term which I don’t think covers the kind of forms reblogging can take. I’ve seen reblogs which are dialogues, and reblogs which definitely reflect the pile-on look and feel, but can also be a continuation of a critique.
This isn’t directed at anybody in particular, just something I’ve been thinking through for the last few months on how to understand (and explain) Tumblr. Any thoughts would be well appreciated.