What’s Next for Tumblr?

Tumblr is a strange beast.

It’s one of the fastest-growing and increasingly popular social media services but arguably it hasn’t been seen as terribly sexy.

Look at the fawning coverage of Pinterest or Path, and then compare it to Tumblr, which had an astounding 14 billion pageviews in December versus three billion in December 2011.

It is difficult to get a handle on the measured embrace of Tumblr but it have to do with how many people are waiting for Tumblr’s next move. Despite Tumblr’s strong growth, it is struggling to find a business model. But with a ton of venture capital, Tumblr has the luxury of time to figure it out.

In the meantime, it seems people have given Tumblr the benefit of the doubt without getting overly excited about its prospects.

Another thesis may be that people don’t see Tumblr as a business with strong revenue potential because it’s a free service used by many people for personal reasons to publish short posts, particularly photos. This contrasts with how many blogs are used to do personal branding or support a business.

It could mean there is a wait-and-see approach to Tumblr. While it’s popular with users, there may be some pragmatism from a financial standpoint. Having raised $85-million venture capital in a deal that valued it at $800-million last September, 2012 is the year in which Tumblr will demonstrate it’s a business with lots of potential or a really interesting project.

There are some indications of what may lie head.

Last week, Tumblr CEO David Karp told Business Insider that the company has been playing around with the idea of non-intrusive ads, which sounds a lot like Twitter’s embrace of advertising.

Meanwhile, Gawker reported last week Tumblr is building an editorial team, which could be used to curate Tumblr’s best content.

As Twitter followers have discovered, it is difficult to predict how Tumblr could turn the corner business-wise even as it becomes more popular. Until then, Tumblr will remain interesting but maybe not the belle of the ball.