David Karp

David is the founder of Tumblr in New York city. The Tumblr service is one of the hottest blogging platforms on the internet today. This service, which has a simple user interface, has over 790,000 users and is growing rapidly.

Tumblr cares most about online identity - about building something that accurately represents the persona that you want to portray online.The five big issues that Karp addressed in his presentation were;

  • Engagement
  • Use
  • Negativity
  • Change
  • Feedback


Create a promise - let people believe that they have the chance to be a success like their role models, knowing that as soon as they do they become evangelists for whatever service gives them that exposure. Many sites now gives this tantalising hope of glory - it's a way to build community engagement.


If you build a new tool but it looks like something that already exists, or if your users have the perception that your offering is trying to recreate an existing offering you run into problems. Karp suggests seeding the desired use case - he gave as an example the case of Tumblr where they're attempting to reinvent the traditional blogging paradigm. To seed their desired use case they ensured that prior to sign up new users would see content that correctly represented the content format that they desired. It’s worked for them and created the split of content type that they initially envisaged.

It’s also necessary to prune content that doesn’t comply with the community ethos in terms of quality and tone. Karp contrasted low quality YouTube content from higher quality Vimeo content and the need in the early days for Vimeo to prune some content.


Web users can be complete arseholes! Karp mentioned the huge amounts of negativity that occurs on YouTube – much of this occurs because of a lack of quality and moderation standards. The entire format of comments (down a page, buried amongst dozens of others) makes it unsurprising that people try and get vicious in order to seize a voice. Find ways to let the quality of the comments bubble up – add it to the original content, serve it in a side by side column with the original content or in some way give the commentators a voice of their own. Users will behave if they know that they’ll be heard when they whisper and thus don’t have to shout to be heard.


When a community cares about their content they have an irrational antipathy towards change. A site change feels to them like a change to the place they “live”. If users are given the old and the new interface they’ll always choose the old – comfort always wins – Karp advises not user testing interface changes but rather building an excitement about changes that virally will build acceptance. Karp went so far as to suggest slowing down or degrading an interface before updating – users will get all excited about the new snappy, sharp experience. Similarly he advised rolling out changes along with new exciting functionality – overshadow the scary stuff with the exciting stuff.


It’s a great position to be in when your community is big enough to give feedback – but it’s also a scary thing. Scary because the volume can be daunting and community requests are sometimes misguided. In relation to customer suggestions/comments - “read them and throw them away, the important ones will keep bubbling up”. Karp suggests a more structured approach where comments can be categorised into different types to make the decisions about how to react to them easier.

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