For the first time in Tumblr’s history, users will experience the emotional highs and lows of a group chat. The new feature will rollout today.
The microblogging platform designed its group chat to “make it easier to find communities you’ve yet to discover,” per an official statement. Previously, the feature was available in beta for select mobile users.
In 2018, Tumblr made waves after implementing a new content policy that banned all NSFW posts. Though the platform saw a decline in users, with some comparing the shift to other fandom exoduses on platforms like LiveJournal and Fanfiction.net, but loyal users staunchly refused to jump ship. WordPress owner Automattic acquired Tumblr earlier this year, but the adult content ban remained in place.
Through the platform’s changing policies and management, Tumblr’s public messaging emphasized a desire to foster eclectic communities. Tumblr product manager Scott Oltrogge tells Polygon that group chat is part of that mission.
“Our community’s formed today around shared interests in posts and notes and reblogs. What we really wanted to do was allow users to connect in real time and find the next step in fostering those connections,” Oltrogge says. “We created group chats as a way to just kinda deepen those relationships on Tumblr and provide a new way for people to kind of meet and explore their interests.”
The Group Chat icon appears on the top right of the Tumblr mobile dashboard. Clicking on it displays group chats you’ve created or joined. To find a group chat, users utilize the Tumblr search function — for instance, looking up “writers on Tumblr” also displays possible group chats to join. Requests to join chats must be approved by the chat owner.
There are quirks to the system. Messages in Tumblr group chats can’t be edited (“Just like talking in person. Embrace it.” reads the staff blog post) and also disappear in 24 hours, much like Snapchat.
“We really believe in the ephemeral nature of the product will help reinforce the behavior we’re trying to capture,” Oltrogge told us. “This allows people to connect meaningfully with others about things they love without having to think about the life cycle of that content.”
In the past, Tumblr has had problems with managing hate speech, revenge porn, and content that glorifies violence. Additionally, Tumblr’s anonymous ask system has led to incidents of cyberbullying and death threats.
On the topic of moderation, Oltrogge stressed that when it comes to the group chats, all users have the ability to take action against content that violates Tumblr’s guidelines. Owners of chats can freely remove people, but participants can also report messages and users. Alternatively, if a user comes across a chat that they are not a part of, but is clearly violating guidelines, they can report the chat.
“We’ve tried to make that as easy as possible for users to report those things,” said Oltrogge.
A brief dive into the “group chat” tag on Tumblr reveals a wide array of reactions from beta users who’ve gotten the feature. From users who are eagerly making chats for their communities and interests to those calling it “officially the WORST thing ever.” Most of the reactions are interested, yet cautious. After all, it is just a natural extension of Tumblr communities coming together on other platforms like Discord and Snapchat, though some of the specific features of the Tumblr system are raising concern among some users.
But would it really be a Tumblr change without a divided community?