Can Yahoo Keep Its Promise Of Not ‘Screwing Up’ Tumblr?

On Monday, Yahoo announced that it has signed an agreement to acquire the massively popular social blogging platform Tumblr for $1.1 billion. Like most major Internet acquisitions, the move has proven...
Can Yahoo Keep Its Promise Of Not ‘Screwing Up’ Tumblr?
Written by Chris Crum
  • On Monday, Yahoo announced that it has signed an agreement to acquire the massively popular social blogging platform Tumblr for $1.1 billion. Like most major Internet acquisitions, the move has proven controversial.

    Is this acquisition going to be good or bad for Tumblr users? Good or bad for Yahoo? Let us know what you think in the comments.

    Even before the acquisition was announced formally, a lot of users who got wind of the deal started jumping ship to alternative platforms. WordPress Founder Matt Mullenweg wrote a blog post on Sunday night about a huge spike in imports from Tumblr.

    “Imports have actually spiked on the rumors even though it’s Sunday: normally we import 400-600 posts an hour from Tumblr, last hour it was over 72,000,” he wrote.

    He later updated the post to say that some people are reading too much into those numbers, adding, “I don’t think there will be an exodus from Tumblr.”

    In the comments section, he said, “I don’t think there will be any sort of exodus from Tumblr. For most folks habits overcome internet-outrage. Even if a million people left, that’s just about a week’s worth of signups.”

    We haven’t seen an update on the number of imports now that the deal has been officially public for a day, but my guess is that it has increased significantly.

    A petition to “Stop Yahoo! from Buying Tumblr” quickly racked up nearly 169,000 signatures. Of course there is no way that this will actually keep the deal from happening, but it does show that there is a great deal of discontent among users (and you have to think there are many more with a similar attitude who did not bother to sign, or even see the petition).

    User concerns have ranged from “Yahoo is going to make Tumblr uncool” to “Yahoo is going to clutter up Tumblr with ads” to “Yahoo is going to eliminate porn on Tumblr” among other things.

    Yahoo and Tumblr have both indicated from the start that they “promise not to screw it up”. Here’s a line straight out of the press release:

    Per the agreement and our promise not to screw it up, Tumblr will be independently operated as a separate business. David Karp will remain CEO. The product, service and brand will continue to be defined and developed separately with the same Tumblr irreverence, wit, and commitment to empower creators.

    Yahoo says Tumblr will deploy Yahoo’s personalization technology and search infrastructure to “help its users discover creators, bloggers, and content they’ll love”. This could actually be a good thing for Tumblr, as its current content discovery features could use a great deal of improvement.

    “Tumblr is redefining creative expression online,” said Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer. “On many levels, Tumblr and Yahoo! couldn’t be more different, but, at the same time, they couldn’t be more complementary. Yahoo is the Internet’s original media network. Tumblr is the Internet’s fastest-growing media frenzy. Both companies are homes for brands – established and emerging. And, fundamentally, Tumblr and Yahoo! are both all about users, design, and finding surprise and inspiration amidst the everyday.”

    “Our team isn’t changing,” said Tumblr CEO David Karp. “Our roadmap isn’t changing. And our mission — to empower creators to make their best work and get it in front of the audience they deserve — certainly isn’t changing. But we’re elated to have the support of Yahoo! and their team who share our dream to make the Internet the ultimate creative canvas. Tumblr gets better faster with more resources to draw from.”

    His statements in a blog post were a little more colorful.

    So, let’s address some of those concerns users have.

    1. Will Yahoo make Tumblr uncool?

    Well, this is obviously subjective. To some, simply being part of a major corporation makes you uncool. It certainly didn’t help Myspace. Yahoo itself hasn’t exactly been considered “cool” by portions of the Internet in recent years either, however, the company is making a lot of moves (particularly since Mayer took over as CEO) to change things. That includes some big acquisitions and some new apps.

    In fact, even since the Tumblr announcement, Yahoo announced a major revamp of its popular photography service, Flickr. This is a property that has historically had a massive following, and has remained one of Yahoo’s bright spots throughout the dark times, but through the revolving door of CEOs in recent years, many think Flickr has been neglected. Well, no more. You can read about the new experience here.

    Other recent Yahoo acquisitions include: Loki Studios (mobile gaming), MileWise (travel search), GoPollGo (real-time surveys), Astrid (productivity), Summly (news aggregation/summarization), Jybe (social recommendation), Alike (social recommendation), (social), OnTheAir (video chat) and Stamped (recommendation). These are all under Mayer. Tumblr makes 11 acquisitions (or at least announcements) since October. The company made only that many from February 2008 all the way up to this past October, with the last one before October coming in November, 2011.

    So while it remains to be seen if Yahoo can truly become cool again, it is at least trying its damnedest, and spending a lot of money to do so. Whether that translates into making Tumblr uncool, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

    Hunter Walk, the director of Product Management at Google, who focuses on YouTube, wrote an interesting blog post called, “Don’t Mess Up Tumblr: Five Lessons Learned From YouTube”. In a nutshell, his lessons are: protect Tumblr from “helpful” Yahoos, avoid locality bias in product development, stop short term monetization that won’t scale, infrastructure (tech, process) on Tumblr terms, and separate identity/separate space.

    “When Google purchased YouTube there was lots of skepticism and outright derision,” Walk recalls. “Today analysts estimate its enterprise value is approaching $20 billion. So I guess it all worked out, eh? Being one of the first Googlers to join YouTube after the acquisition taught me a lot about what works, and doesn’t work, when you bring a fast growing community property into a larger entity. There are clearly parallels between our situation in 2007 and what Tumblr will experience with Yahoo. Marissa is a friend from our time together at Google and I’m impressed, but not surprised, by her decisiveness and vision. I don’t know David Karp but we share a number of mutual friends and at a 2012 group dinner he passed me the salt, so we’ve got that.”

    He goes on to elaborate on each of the lessons.

    2. Is Yahoo going to clutter up Tumblr with ads?

    I guess it depends on your definition of clutter, but it does look like Tumblr will be getting some new ads. At least one report indicates that they could come as soon as today.

    Mayer said flat out in the announcement that the two companies will be working together to create advertising opportunities that are “seamless and enhance user experience”.

    Business Insider has some more from the conference call about deal:

    Mayer says that Yahoo released “Yahoo Stream Ads” in May, which take text ads and put them in the news stream on She says you can expect more of that on Tumblr. On Tumblr, there is the dashboard, which is like Facebook’s News Feed or inbox. Today, Tumblr does some advertising there. Yahoo would like to “introduce a very light ad load” there. Yahoo also might work with some bloggers who want ads on their blogs. That would only be done with permission. Mayer says the ad units will be native and follow the form and function of Tumblr. She says that you can tell interests of users.

    In fact, Business Insider also managed to obtain Tumblr’s ad sales pitch deck describing the ad experience to potential clients.

    “With Tumblr’s newest ad product, brands finally are front and center, with the world’s greatest creators,” one of the slides says. “Welcome to the richest content stream in the world.”

    According to the pitch deck, the ads will be delivered directly in the native dashboard streams of millions of users. The “Web In-Stream” product is in beta, and Tumblr is offering an exclusive launch partnership opportunity to a handful of select brands for the ad unit’s debut, according to the slides, which say that all Tumblr post types are supported. Partners are apparently being offered category-exclusivity.

    For $200K, according to the slides, partners can get ten desktop Radar posts within a 30-day span (between May 21 and July 21), 24 hours each for 5% of all Dashboard page views, support from the Tumblr team, U.S. guaranteed impression serving only, over 25 million dashboard impressions ($8.00CPM on Radar impressions), and multi-week exposure as premier sponsor in Spotlight. They also get ninety-day access to Tumblr Analytics and three weeks as an exclusive beta in-stream launch sponsor partner with ten in-stream posts within a 21 day span (June 1 and June 21).

    Regardless of what users think of the ads, businesses will certainly have new opportunities with Tumblr’s massive audience.

    3. Is Yahoo going to eliminate porn on Tumblr?

    Regardless of whether or not you consider porn to be a taboo subject, it makes a big difference in Tumblr’s stats. Tumblr is full of it. If Tumblr gets rid of it, it’s going to drive away some percentage of users, not to mention become less cool to some percentage of users.

    Mayer was asked about it at the Flickr event on Monday evening. She said they will not censor content. “No, we won’t,” she is quoted as saying. “It’s the nature of user-generated content.”

    It doesn’t stop YouTube, but, Mayer probably earned some “cool” points with that one.

    Tumblr currently has over 300 million monthly unique visitors, and gets 120,000 signups every day. It sees 900 posts per second and 24 billion minutes are spent on the site each month. Over half of its users are using the mobile app, and on average, participate in seven sessions per day. Yahoo expects the acquisition to grow its audience by fifty percent to over a billion monthly visitors, and to grow traffic by about twenty percent.

    The acquisition is subject to customary closing conditions, and is expected to close in the second half of the year.

    Was this a good acquisition for Yahoo? Will this hurt or benefit Tumblr users? Can Yahoo become cool again? Is Yahoo already cool again? Let us know what you think in the comments.

    Image: NMA (YouTube)

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