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Behind the scenes of Tumblr’s year in review

From bathtubs to K-pop to skeleton armies, it’s been quite a year for Tumblr.


Aja Romano


This year for the second year in a row, Tumblr issued its Year in Review, with a look back at at some of the biggest Tumblr blogs, fandoms, memes, and posts of the year. But this year’s list is nearly double the size of last year’s, with a host of expanded and new categories, as well as plenty of head-turning insights into various aspects of Tumblr culture.

There’s the news that the long reigning One Direction is no longer the most-reblogged band on the website; that honor goes to Five Seconds of Summer. Then there’s the much-celebrated revelation that Destiel, the (so far entirely wishful-thinking) romantic relationship of Dean and Castiel on the show Supernatural, is the most popular fandom ship on the website.

And there are also the many memes that reigned on Tumblr this year, most notably the hilarious Skeleton War meme. Some things, like this list of the year’s top posts featuring bathtubs, may have weirdly convoluted origins, or may just be down to the community’s ongoing obsession with eye-catching interiors.

We sat down with Danielle Strle, Tumblr’s Director of Content and Community,  to learn more about the ins and outs of this year’s list.

“The reason the Year in Review is so big this year,” Strle told us, “is because Tumblr is so, so dynamic. We have about 230 million blogs right now, and it’s so hard to keep track of that number. I think there’s been something like 30 billion posts since we did the Year in Review last year. For any interest area I think Tumblr is where you’re going to find the best stuff, so we tried to show people really a wide range of content.“

So what factors played into deciding what went on the year-end list? What does this year’s list tell us about what to look forward to from Tumblr in 2015? We discussed everything from K-Pop to Benedict Cumberbatch—that is, everything most important to Tumblr in 2014.

Did you know from the outset which categories you wanted to include, or did they evolve over the year?

We knew some of the categories from the outset. Some of it is stuff that was undeniably there. TV and movies and entertainment, obviously huge; but there were so many of the most viral blogs of the year that were about dating, and so many of the new blogs of the year were about maths. Pizza was still undeniably present when you look at the top lists about food, so we were like, well, pizza should probably have its own category. It’s a little bit of massaging to take a look at all the content, gather it all together, kind of swim around in it and see what’s there.

GIF via foxadhd/Tumblr

How many posts do you have to go?

Overall there are 105 total posts. I think we did 66 or 67 last year. I told my team last year we should do a hundred this year, and they looked at me like I was crazy. But when we got to the end there probably were at least a dozen more that were really strong, and we got down to 105 and just couldn’t cut any more. There were too many great blogs we wanted to feature and too many interesting and weird blogs we wanted to feature.

Last year you had the most reblogged unicorns of 2013. I’m really curious about whether the unicorns will be back.

No, no unicorns this year. Things that have taken place of the unicorns, we’ve got the Skeleton Wars coming. I think that’s my personal favorite thing on Tumblr of the last year, it’s such lovely and hilarious creativity. In addition to the food category, which is a holdover from last year, pizza and kale are getting their own separate categories. We also have a category for puns this year. And my favorite category of every year is Tumblr Gets Deep, which is where you get all the threaded chains where the contest just gets more funny and more rich with every reblog. We did poll the top Ice Bucket Challenges of the year on Tumblr as well.

What about the blue meme—the transparent posts? Was that something you had planned in advance?

No, that definitely came with all the creativity that came about with the launch of the new dashboard look. I don’t think anybody was thinking about what kind of art people would create now that posts on the dashboard have no border. And it was just really magical to see the surprises that always continue to come up whenever we launch a new feature like that. Animated GIF-sets are another Tumblr-invention and medium. 3-D GIFs is actually another perfect example of that that’s on Year In Review—the GIFs people make appear three-dimensional by faking the lines that appear in a conventional Tumblr photoset. Most of those were things we hadn’t planned on that we included as a response to all the great stuff the community was making.

Were there any changes between this year and last year that surprised you?

I actually got the most surprises out of some of the bottoms of the lists. Top Animated TV Shows, for example, included Rugrats, which hasn’t been on TV in forever. Little Mermaid is #25 in movies. That stuff is always really surprising to me. The top 100 movies is a really interesting list also—it gets into even more vintage territory. Benedict Cumberbatch—not really a surprise, he’s the king. And Jennifer Lawrence, the same thing. I feel like on older, more established platforms, Jennifer Lawrence is just now hitting their top lists, but she was also our #1 last year. Web celebs are absolutely huge on Tumblr—the YouTubers and the folks who got their start on the Internet. They’re so huge and their fandoms on Tumblr are absolutely massive. I think that’s something that’s really well-captured on Tumblr.

The Top Ships was a huge thing for us, everyone was really excited to include that this year. And K-pop is really huge on Tumblr. We actually had a lot of people tweeting at us because the K-pop list wasn’t in the first 30 categories we launched with. That’s always fun to see. We worked with Vevo to make playlists of some of the top songs and solo artists for the Year In Review. The top fashion brands and auto brands were also really interesting to people. But my favorite part, where I always spend a lot of time, is in the top posts by category. There’s stuff that’s truly heartfelt, stuff that’s truly funny, stuff that’s truly amazing.

Would you guys ever slip the K-pop bands into the regular list or do they need their own?

If you don’t separate them out they’re definitely very, very present, but there are so many K-pop bands that have such a big fandom that if we only included the five or so that would make it onto the bands list there would be a lot of other K-pop fandoms that would be under-represented, and that would be totally wrong. I think in the same way that Tumblr’s been really big for the spread of British TV shows, it’s been really big for helping the spread of K-pop bands worldwide.

Right, and if you look at anime fandoms, some of the major ones like Attack on Titan and Free are such huge Tumblr fandoms. And I was thinking about Legend of Korra being the most-reblogged animated show of the year, and wondering if it would have impacted the decision when Nickelodeon had been trying to figure out what to do with the final season of Korra—if those statistics had been known, if they’d been able to understand that it was one of the biggest shows of the year on Tumblr, it might have helped them visualize their fanbase a bit more.

Yes, absolutely. It’s a fascinating list certainly for marketers, but also for anyone who’s interested in pop culture right now. We do some of those informational things on our Marketr blog for businesses, and of course we have trending tags and Explore which are always really interesting. But I think the top charts are definitely a major opportunity for us to work with.

Were there any lists that were controversial? I feel like Ships and Feminism would qualify.

Ships was already one we talked about doing last year, but it was just so undeniably huge this year we knew we had to do it. There were some other things, like the Skeleton War is a little bit inside baseball. And feminism was just a trend we noticed in all the categories. Feminism had a huge year in the news and definitely a huge year on Tumblr. We did a call with the person at Yahoo who does their year in review, and they also saw a huge year for feminism and female empowerment in general.

And we’ve seen people being labeled “social justice warriors” and “Tumblr feminists” as an insult in the past, so it’s great that you guys decided to use that as a badge.

I think that young people now feel really empowered to be really expressive about what they want. And what they want is not seeing their fellow humans trod upon. Doing the right thing and seeing governments and powerful institutions doing the right thing also. I’m really happy that we have a place where young people can kind of be heard and have a voice more than ever before.

Were you surprised that Frozen was as big as it was on Tumblr this year?

You know, I’m gonna be honest with you, Aja, I did not see Frozen in the theatre. And I enjoyed it, but it’s amazing to me how many Frozen covers, how much Frozen cosplay, how dominant Frozen was in the movie category. I guess it’s not really unique for us because it was everywhere else, too. In the month before Halloween, especially. I’m guessing it will still be in the Top 25 next year.


How did you decide what was “Big in 2014”? What was the metric and did any of the entrants surprise you?

So there are three blog lists: Most Viral, New and Notable (1, 2, 3, 4), and Big in 2014 (1, 2, 3, 4). Most viral are the blogs that got the most followers, traffic, and external attention over a short amount of time. New and Notable had to start in 2014, and get the most followers, mentions, and traffic over a longer period of time. And then Big in 2014 was for blogs that didn’t necessarily start this year but still had a big year in the same areas: traffic, followers, and press attention. We looked at all of the vectors and cobbled the list together from that.

None of them really surprised me because one of the perks of my job is that I get to look at these stats all day, every day. I think probably nobody expected Business Week to do well on Tumblr in general, but they’ve just been so smart about the kind of content they’ve been making for Tumblr that they totally crushed it. Every time someone on staff sees Fashion Infographics for the first time, they’re like, Oh my god, this blog is incredible. I don’t think anyone expects those two words to go together but they clearly do. Girl with Curves was actually in our first round of Tumblr fashion bloggers and this year she came out with her own clothing line, so a huge year for her. Modern FarmerawesomeMTV has really invested a lot in their Tumblr platform; same for NPR.  Most of the publishers have really worked to do Tumblr to its maximum and engage with the community in a way that I think is really powerful. I think Sims in general had a great year—Sims Gone Wrong was one of many great Tumblr Sims blogs. And then there were classics like Vintage Black Glamour and Rejected Jokes.

In the New and Notable category there were a lot of things that people who made them probably didn’t even think would become major projects, but then Tumblr picked it up and they became huge. Bendy Mommy was just doing yoga with her toddler at home. Boyfriend Twins is one of my favorite blogs of all time. Museum of Selfies is another great one. Cosplay Kids is just what it sounds like. Oh my gosh—Grandpa and Grandmaster Flash, that’s just a blog of screen captures when Grandma accidentally tags Grandmaster Flash in her Facebook post when she’s trying to say “Love, Grandma and Grandpa.”

All of this is why we had to go big this year—it would have been impossible to go any smaller. And not nearly so much fun.

Do you have any predictions for what will be big next year?

We already touched on Frozen. I think politics is going to continue to be a huge thing. I think we’re going to see the continued ascension of Shailene Woodley. She’s at No. 3 now for actresses. I think it’s going to be interesting to see what happens to the top of these lists next year. Jennifer Lawrence might be able to maintain since she has the last Hunger Games coming out next year. It’s impossible to predict what kind of spontaneous creative things like the Bluespace or 3-D GIFS will arise. I think there will be a larger trend towards food blogs and healthy living in general. K-pop is No. 3 in the musical genres. It’ll be interesting to see where that ends up. John Green—

Of course. He should probably have his own category next year.

We actually thought about doing something on that next year. I think the fashion trends next year—there’s a lot of ‘90s nostalgia right now. It’ll be interesting to see how that evolves. I think it’s going to get softer. All the prettiest colors this year were these very soft shades. There were so many floral trends. I think we’ll continue to go, maybe as a backlash to the darkness of world events in 2014, towards trends that are lighter and softer in counterpoint to all this really hard stuff in the news.

Will anyone de-throne Benedict Cumberbatch?

Oh, that’s hard to say. I was actually surprised that Ansel Elgort was as far down the list as he was.

Well, it was a Marvel year.

I’m surprised there’s not more Hiddleston on this list.

I was surprised Chris Evans and Sebastian Stan weren’t higher up considering it was such a big year for Winter Soldier.

No Hemsworth, either. I think David Tennant could definitely have a big year next year with the new Broadchurch.

No Peter Capaldi on the list, though, even though he’s the new Doctor this year. But then, let’s face it, he’s too old for Tumblr.

You said it, not me!

Illustration by Jason Reed

The Daily Dot