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David Karp is the Barely Legal Blogfather

DavidKarp_article.jpgDavid Karp knows it’s not easy being the Web’s next big thing. As the creator of Tumblr, the hottest blogging platform on the Internet, Karp has board meetings to attend, software bugs to fix, millions of dollars to manage. But for this Web wunderkind who launched his career at 12 and recently turned 22, the hardest part was hiding—or lying about—his age.

“I didn’t want people knowing I was a teenager, because I didn’t want to be sending the wrong impression,” he recalls one morning over an iced coffee at the Starbucks near his Man­hattan office. Lanky and rail thin, the motor-mouthed Karp has a shock of shaggy dark hair and disconcertingly bright blue eyes. “Not being able to drink was the most depressing thing ever. Everyone in the office went to a bar one day and I was, like, ‘Oh, shit, I’m totally fucked.’ I had to duck out and pretend that it was an emergency.”

Today, orange-and-blue striped hoodie notwithstanding, Karp is all grown up, and represents the next generation online—the geek-chic star of New York City’s glitzy new-media scene. In January, The New York Post dubbed Karp “the Internet’s boy wonder.”

In digerati-speak, Karp is the peach-fuzzed face of Web 2.0, a generation of precocious entrepreneurs who have grown up with the Internet and are forging a new paradigm based on community and social networking. From Facebook to Flickr, the newest crop of online sensations isn’t about commerce, like Amazon and eBay, or content, like Yahoo and Google, but about interconnectivity and creativity, and no site better combines these functions than Tumblr. And unlike the old generation’s get-rich-quick-and-cash-out mentality, Karp has long-term ambitions: “I want to make something that resonates with regular people.”

What Karp has done with Tumblr is build a better mousetrap, improving upon traditional blogging platforms like WordPress and Blogger in much the same way Facebook improved on MySpace and Friendster. Founded in 2007, Tumblr is still small potatoes in the grand scheme of things. Its 400,000-user base pales in comparison to the 80 million members of Facebook, but Tumbler’s numbers are growing by 15 percent a month, and users praise the site’s elegant interface and ease of use with evangelical fervor. “Most people don’t have the wherewithal to hammer out a 30-minute blog post every night,” says Karp. “They just want to brag about what they’re doing and who they’re hanging out with and have an identity online.”

Karp’s own online identity was formed in the early days of the Web. Growing up a child prodigy in New York City, Karp was coding programs on his musician dad’s Apple by the time he hit double digits. When AOL gained steam, 11-year-old Karp was killing time after school in the early chat rooms. “There was a lot of private gossip going on in instant messages,” Karp recalls. “Those were the best times I ever had on the Web. I felt so connected.” That sense of community would come to define Karp’s sense of the Internet and its potential.

At age 11, Karp read HTML for Dummies, and before long he was building sites for local businesses the way other kids might mow neighbors’ lawns. “I would run around the neighborhood building little storefront Web sites,” he recalls. But as more clients and real money came his way, Karp—fearing that no one would employ a prepubescent designer—began his decade-long scheme of covering his tracks.

“I tried to deepen my voice on the phone, but I’d still get mistaken for a girl,” he says. Still, he did well enough to impress his parents, convincing them that maybe their son’s tech savvy was more than just a hobby. In what’s become the dot-com default Cinderella story, Karp was a boy genius too restless for school. With the blessing of his parents, he dropped out of the elite Bronx Science High School at 15 to pursue his career full-time at Davidville, his company. The more business came his way, the more elaborate his cover-up. “People would ask, ‘What’s your story?’” he recalls. “But I bumped up my age by three years and built enough of a reputation to pass it off.”