How Tumblr Could Save the Meme-Loving Internet All Over Again

The OG social site is throwing its weight behind the "fediverse"

  • Tumblr will support ActivityPub, becoming compatible with Mastodon etc.
  • Under Elon Musk, Twitter may stop birthing memes.
  • Internet memes reflect the mood of society.
two people laughing on a couch while looking at a laptop

Surface / Unsplash

Twitter is on the way out, and everyone is heading to Mastodon. But won't somebody please think of the memes?

Tumblr used to be the home of internet memes, but over the years, Twitter took over as the premier place to create and swap in-jokes/cultural reflections. But now that Twitter is in turmoil, where will the memes be born? Well, thanks to the open, interactive nature of the software that powers Mastodon,, and many other non-centralized social spaces, that place might be Tumblr all over again.

"Tumblr was once one of the biggest meme factories in the world. It was a platform that was filled with funny and creative content, but it has since declined in popularity. The reason for this is that it has become a platform primarily for social justice and political activism," Isabella Meyer, specialist in art history, language, and psychology, and creator of the Art in Context blog, told Lifewire via email.

Federated Freedom

The news is that Tumblr will add support for ActivityPub, an open and decentralized protocol for social networking. Think of it like email, an open protocol that anyone can use, one that’s interoperable between different services. Right now, the social internet is siloed in proprietary and often private spaces. Facebook might seem like a huge open space, but if you’re not a member, most of it is blocked from view.

If the social internet was built on ActivityPub, you could follow Twitter friends from Facebook and post to Twitter from Tumblr or any other small independent service—just like you can email anyone from any email service.

Mastodon, the current Twitter replacement of choice, is based on ActivityPub, as is and many others. ActivityPub also powers photo-sharing, file sharing, video streaming services, and more. And soon Tumblr. 

According to Matt Mullenweg, CEO of Automattic, which owns Tumblr, WordPress, and other publishing services, Tumblr will "add ActivityPub for interconnect."

Instead of standing alone, Tumblr would be a part of this federated network, aka the "fediverse," separate-but-interconnected sites and services. In the same way, anyone can make a website, from you and me to Amazon, anyone can hook into this network. If bigger players like Tumblr join, the effect could be deep and far-reaching.

"[Tumblr's] heyday as a center of franchise consumption is perhaps in the rearview mirror," writes social media observer Ryan Broderick on his Garbage Day website. "Tumblr is a platform that has an incredibly strong identity and thrives on the continual re-evaluation and analysis of that identity."

Open Social

There are several problems with centralized social and micro-publishing services like Facebook and Twitter. The most obvious is they're owned and controlled by one or a handful of people. Facebook may be publicly traded, but Zuckerberg is 100 percent in charge. And if you want to see how fast things can go awry when one person is making the decisions, look no further than the first few weeks of Elon Musk's ownership of Twitter

Zuckerberg's Facebook is simply a private intelligence-gathering machine, a privacy-smashing database of human lives. And Musk's Twitter seems to be turning into an extreme right-wing clubhouse.

Tumblr is a platform that has an incredibly strong identity and thrives on the continual re-evaluation and analysis of that identity.

The other problem with for-profit social spaces is the engagement algorithm, the only purpose of which is to keep us pecking at the doom dispenser, lest we take our eyeballs elsewhere. The only limited resource on the internet is attention, and yet we give it away without thinking.

Both the algorithm and the caprices of thin-skinned platform owners can derail memes. And at the same time, memes can be driven simply by being shared, built upon, and shared again.

Perhaps Tumblr won't ever regain its meme crown, but the fact that such a culturally-important brand is joining the federated social internet is a big deal. Just like a meme, you never know what will take flight. But it seems like a critical mass is already building, and if the fediverse goes viral, as it were, then that's good news for anyone who uses the internet as a social space. 

Which is to say, everyone.

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