I joined Tumblr in March of 2008, about a year after it launched. A year is an eternity in Internet time, but for a platform that explodes, those early users are still ahead of the curve.
Tumblr has never publicized its registered/active user numbers, but there are a few educated guesses floating around. Bijan estimates that Tumblr had 450k registered users at the end of 2008, and Peter Kafka cited 110M at the time of Tumblr’s acquisition last Spring. That places anyone who registered before the end of ‘08 in the first 0.5%. Solid “innovator” territory.
The early community on Tumblr was an incredible cross section of people who were in the know — engineers, designers, music/art/photo nuts, students, entrepreneurs, investors, etc. Early users formed tight knit communities that often made the leap from online to IRL friends. My real life connections that formed on Tumblr include Mark, Whit, Andy, Fred, Kirk, and Dan, to name just a few.
That community helped grow a little Tumblog that I wrote for my friends & family into a “kickass music blog” indexed by the Hype Machine. At some point, Chewy Vitamins hit the Tumblr Music Spotlight, I was asked to be a Music tag editor, and from there, growth drove more growth. Today, everyone understands the comparison to the iTunes Store’s Top Charts. Once you make the chart, you’ve got it made. In terms of the Diffusion of Innovations, you’ve crossed the chasm and solidly hit the mainstream.
There are a million routes to growth, but being an early adopter on a service that explodes is a common one. I experienced it on Tumblr, and there’s an endless list of users/creators/publishers who built enormous audiences on Twitter/Vine/YouTube/Instagram/Tumblr by being first and riding the wave as the tide swelled.
The specific factors include:
- Becoming a big fish in a small pond
- Exploiting (or stumbling on) optimization techniques that are minimized as a service matures
- Relatively high signal-to-noise ratio in the early days
- The support of quality communities of like-minded folks
I’m sure the list goes on. But the point is: if you want to be seen, getting onboard early can give you a great head start.