Random Musings: Microlabels as a derivative of the Tumblr tagging system

I’ve put absolutely no structured thought into this yet, but there’s a thought that sort of bubbled up to me as I was reading through some of the recent “then and now” posts like this one, which mention the great proliferation of hyper-specific identity labels that has occurred in the more recent years of the ace community. And I started wondering if that proliferation was encouraged at all by the nature of tumblr’s tagging infrastructure, in which having a single unique identifier is often the easiest way to build conversational communities.

To start off with a definition – when I say “microlabels”, I’m thinking of labels that are meant to convey very specific flavors of ace-spectrum community experiences, rather than just degrees of asexuality/aromanticism (as “grey-A” or “A-spec” do) – things like “autochorissexual” and  “aceflux” and “cupiosexual”, etc. One could argue that this is a trend that started with the much earlier creation of “demisexual”, as a label that was created to carve a very specific space out of the asexual-to-grey-A spectrum. There’s a lot of them now, although many are so specific they may be used only by a handful of individuals or even a single coiner.

In my head, I tend to think of microlabels as different than modifiers like “aromantic” or “sex-averse”, in that they tend to replace rather than supplement ace identity (“Hi, I’m Andy, and I’m autochorissexual”, as opposed to “Hi, I’m Beth, and I’m an aromantic asexual”, but modifiers and microlabels are likely affected by the same factors and may function in similar ways.

(It’s also important to keep in mind though that the distinction between labels, modifiers, and microlabels in this post is completely subjective and arbitrary, and some of this may just be me being a curmudgeonly old fart shaking my head at the kids these days and their new-fangled slang)

In general, I get the impression (although I haven’t looked at it empirically) that the creation of new microlabels for specific ace experiences is much higher on Tumblr than it is on forums like AVEN or blog platforms like WordPress. Some of this may simply be a factor of ace community growth and tumblr’s overall popularity (more users = more labels), but I wonder if the specific infrastructure of tumblr way have contributed to the growth and popularity of microlabels. Specifically, the following factors:

  • On forums like AVEN, or even on blog posts, commentary on shared experiences was often organized and developed around threads, where many users could chime in and go back and forth – but tumblr’s reblog tree structure makes ongoing conversations unintelligible, so another method is needed to aggregate commentary on shared experiences
  • Tumblr doesn’t really have threads, per se, but it does have “tags” – the ability to assign a few key words to each post for searching and sorting purposes.
  • On Tumblr, therefore, the alternate solution is often to have a specific “tag” for each chared experience – and tags both reflect and are reflected by new identity labels.
  • Tumblr’s search function is also abysmal, which further encourages the use of tags to access new content
  • Posts only index the first five tags, which further encourages users to condense as much information as possible in a single tag rather than multiple tags.
  • Because most users only see content from users they follow, there is increased fragmentation of the community which means that many disconnected splinter groups may develop unique terminology for similar or overlapping experiences, thus increasing the total number of terms.

In general, my hypothesis is that the importance of “tags” to tumblr’s infrastructure may encourage the use of “tag-like” hyper-specific microlabels among communities who use it – because they spend so much time thinking about keywords while blogging, the “tag” approach carries over into their thought processes for identity description as well.

At this point, I have no real backing for this hypothesis either way, but I’d be curious to hear others’ opinions on the subject.


For anyone curious, the post that prompted this line of thought was this one from Rotten Zuchinnis, although it touches on the subject only briefly. They also have an older more in-depth post that analyzes the proliferation of hyper-specific identity labels through the lens of neoliberalism, which is  good reading and food for thought on other possible contributing factors.

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About Sennkestra

I'm an aro ace and a bit of an [a]sexuality nerd; an officer worker by day and an ace community organizer and activist by night. When I'm not reading stuff on the internet I like to cook fancy food, watch anime, and make arts and crafts projects.
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15 Responses to Random Musings: Microlabels as a derivative of the Tumblr tagging system

  1. demiandproud says:

    Thinking about language and its change as a type of innovation, maybe we need to invent the wheel twenty times before we get to the round one with spokes. Like, if 1000 tumble bloggers with short-lived microlabels ensure that the major romantic orientations end up in the dictionary, I’m all for it.

  2. luvtheheaven says:

    I would love to read the rotten-zucchinis post you were going to link to but I think you just linked title the entire tumblr blog?

    This is, though, a really interesting thought process!

  3. Sasha says:

    I could see this happening (I haven’t been on Tumblr in a while but I used to be fairly active). Though at least all tags are indexed now, not just the first 5.

    • Are all of them indexed now? Because that would be pretty terrible, as it would make spam infestation worse in popular tags.

      • Sasha says:

        At least two years ago they were, and I doubt it got changed back. People got into the habit of tagging e.g. triggers like “thing/////” to make sure it didn’t get into the “thing” tag. (…tumblr is such a mess)

  4. Pingback: Linkspam: August 10th, 2018 | The Asexual Agenda

  5. Katherine says:

    Pretty interesting read, but I’m really uncomfortable with calling aromantic a modifier. I’ve seen both asexual and aromantic described as ‘modifiers’ as a way to invalidate them as orientations lately and, well… I don’t think of my aromanticism as an adjective that describes my asexuality because that makes it sound like aromanticism is somehow lesser than asexuality or even a subset of asexuality, neither of which are true. (So I guess, really, I’m losing grammar points every time I say ‘aromantic asexual’ instead of ‘aromantic and asexual’ but… at that point it starts turning into a tongue twister.)

  6. I feel like there should be a link at the “like this one” in the first paragraph…

    There’s been conversations in Pillowfort lately about how in Tumblr, tags are the closest thing we have to community spaces —along with advice blogs— and they are very much treated like so. There are written and unwritten rules about how to use them (not tagging hate, for example), continuous attempts to moderates them, callout posts to those who don’t follow “the rules”, the idea that people can “invade” them, and many other practices and discourses you don’t see in other platforms that do allow the creation of actual communities (like LiveJournal, Facebook and Pillowfort itself).

  7. Interesting. I don’t use Tumblr, so I can’t say much about that, but I did just write a post about the way I conceptualize labels, different from your labels/microlabels/modifiers.
    https://controlledabandon.wordpress.com/2018/08/14/musings-on-labels/

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