Crushable 25: David Karp’s Tumblr Has Graduated

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The first time I saw David Karp he was pretending to be Mick Jagger.

It was a few years ago at a random Tribeca bar where Tumblr was throwing a party. The room was filled with “internet celebrities,” a phrase used with only modest derision at the time, and Karp was on stage playing Rock Band. In the front row, cute tumblettes and crushable boys were conveniently spilling free vodka drinks on each other while shrieking the refrain to “Gimme Shelter.” The words moved across a large screen projected behind the performers:

“War, children, it's just a shot away.”

The 21-year-old internet mogul flopped his adorable hair around, wiggled suggestively, and muttered the lines like it was the first time he had ever heard them. The crowd, seemingly louder than the singer, was equally in love with itself and its party-creator-king.

To overanalyze the significance of this moment is probably throwing rocks at the internet hall of mirrors, but as Mick himself once observed, “All dance is replacement for sex,” and this moment – a real live reblog of a reblog – was pure danceable-meta-fun.

In this age of the social network, with its algorithmic knowledge and its crowd-sourced wisdom, we forget how creativity is still ultimately the execution of an individual’s vision.

You have likely heard the tale of Karp’s precocity: reading HTML for Dummies at 11; internet consulting by 14; launching the famed blogging platform before he could drink. Only a pastiche persona like Karp – fresh-faced poster boy, programmer nerd, and japanophile – could create the quintessential pastiche platform. Tumblr reminds us how, even on the cut-and-paste internet, people create in their likeness.

Since those days of Rock Band parties, Tumblr has doubled its audience many times over. And Karp’s personal growth has mirrored the maturation of Tumblr itself, leaping from an ephemeral meme machine to a necessary social media platform. Companies from Vogue to The Paris Review now feel compelled to participate.

Like a Disney teen phenom who needs to define herself post-puberty, Tumblr has graduated. There is an excitement, a perverse thrill, at guessing what the next phase may look like. No one knows for sure, but it will be fun to watch.

War, children, it's just a shot away.

Rex Sorgatz kinda sorta runs a media consulting agency.

(Photo: BusinessWeek)