Armed with infographics and and boundless enthusiasm, tech prodigy David Karp wowed the audience at the fashion-tech conference Decoded Fashion on Monday with Tumblr’s astonishing growth and success.
Betabeat was sipping coffee in the lobby of Alice Tully Hall when we saw a young-ish man walk in. He looked like a well-dressed college coed, in a dark suit, black tie and gray sneakers. It wasn’t until we got a good look at his face (and shaggy bowlcut) that we realized we were looking at Mr. Karp, the founder and CEO of Tumblr, and one of the closest things the tech world has to a rock star. A very nice, sort of nerdy rock star.
Mr. Karp settled into his seat onstage with an enthusiastic wave, plying the audience with slides detailing Tumblr’s insane growth. For example, Tumblr has 16 billion pageviews a month, soon to reach 17 billion, with 600 posts per second.
Karp’s slides had the classic “Tumblr blue” background as he explained Tumblr’s ecosystem of creators, curators and audience, as well as fashion’s role in the Tumblrverse. Though the website has received scrutiny and crticism recently for its problematic relationship with fashion, Mr. Karp demonstrated Tumblr’s growing ties with the fashion community, including some of the best examples of fashion tumblrs (Vogue, Dolce & Gabbana, the New York Times magazine).
“Anyone inspired by world fashion… can participate with fashion in meaningful ways,” said Mr. Karp. “At its core, it’s a creative community… a creative platform with the creative ability to tell stories.”
Mr. Karp was engaging and answered questions quickly and without hesitation in a clipped accent. He spoke vaguely of “leveraging unique resources to add value to Tumblr,” though it was unclear if he was talking about existing Tumblr features or ones to be rolled out.
Mashable’s Lauren Indvik brought up Tumblr’s recent gaffes with the fashion industry, but Mr. Karp was dismissive in the most friendly of ways. “It was heavily publicized,” he said of Tong’s departure, and insisted that the difference incidents be “decoupled.” He stated that a maligned effort by Tumblr’s former fashion director Rich Tong was just a proposal sent out for feedback, and that someone merely decided to make “a big fuss” about its contents prematurely. He then spoke glowingly of Valentine Uhovski, the new director for Tumblr’s fashion (with a promise of pulling together Fashion Week programming).
Mr. Karp also spoke of the multitude of bloggers who use the site, assuring that Tumblr gives them more “touch points” into the industry.
“I don’t think anyone else… gives opportunities in this platform,” he said confidently.
But what seemed to be the centerpiece of the keynote was Tumblr’s new plan for advertisers (i.e., Tumblr’s monetization strategy). Tumblr will be rolling out a new, two-pronged advertising schema. Advertisers will be allowed access to the Tumblr Spotlight, a portion of the site that new users can browse, which Mr. Karp called a “major point of discussion.” Mr. Karp is also letting advertisers into the Tumblr Radar section of the site, which heretofore only featured sites chosen by Tumblr. Mr. Karp did not elaborate as to who the advertisers will be or the nature of the ads.
He credited Tumblr’s previous lack of advertisements to his own reservations. He did not hide his (friendly!) contempt for advertising, emphasizing that Tumblr is a creative community which values expression, which advertising, in his opinion, is not.
So change is coming to Tumblr. Even if it’s just a stray advertisement in a small areas of the site later this week, Mr. Karp’s keynote highlighted how change is inevitable for something so dynamic and immense.