Tumblr's New Owner could Help the Open Web

created May 3, 2019

May 2, 2019 - techcrunch.com - Verizon reportedly seeking to sell Tumblr

Related Hacker News thread

Nobody is surprised that Verizon wants to sell Tumblr, which came with the deal of Verizon buying Yahoo. Verizon probably never wanted Tumblr.

From the TechCrunch story:

Last year’s decision to ban porn from its platform has had a marked adverse effect on Tumblr’s traffic. No surprise, really, especially given how wide the net was cast for “adult content” when it announced back in December. Now the blogging platform’s media parent is looking to sell, according to a new story from The Wall Street Journal.

HN comment:

I was pretty active on Tumblr in 2010 had thousands of followers when that was "big" back then and its sad they never asked for paid subscriptions with minor aesthetic features. I would of happily paid $5 a month to use my domain with my Tumblr blog instead they gave that away too. Charge for GIF avatar features. Charge to be able to have access to / or to post NSFW content.

The way I used Tumblr I may of paid $10 a month for a premium account if they just made it all the worthwhile. This ads first mentality for profitability is stupid.

HN reply comment:

Unfortunately targeted advertising appears to be the best way to maximize returns for massive, VC-backed social media platforms. Charging for stuff simply isn't as profitable. The numbers have been run before multiple times.

Another HN reply comment:

A lot of people in tech don't seem to realize how big the advertising business is. It was gigantic even before we came along. The behemoth has turned its attention from TV and print to online, but it's still a behemoth. The amount spent on advertising just in the US is more than Facebook's entire market cap, each year. It should hardly be a surprise that an industry that big can have a significant effect on web-based companies' profit models.

Another HN reply comment:

I was talking with Twitch's Director of Engineering about a year ago and he was saying that their ad revenue dwarfs their revenue earned directly from users (subscriptions and bits) by at least 10 to 1. I was amazed as I've seen how much people are willing to give away on that site.

Maybe Tumblr's new owner can look to WordPress/Automattic for ideas about how to be profitable without relying on ads and scale.

It would be great for the open web if Tumblr's new owner eschewed the idea of making the authors the product to sell to advertisers. Tumblr should charge for services, desired by the authors, similar to how WordPress.com's CMS-hosted offering provides a menu of features that cost money.

If this new approach by Tumblr is viewed as being too big of a barrier, causing users to leave the service, then that's okay. New Tumblr could be viewed as a simpler and/or different WordPress.com.

Here's a minor discussion that occurred within the HN thread:

A lot of people will blame Yahoo for Tumblr's demise, but Tumblr's product just did not do enough to keep up in the mobile era. They were soundly out-competed for attention by Instagram, Pinterest, Reddit, and Facebook.

Tumblr started in 2007, which was a transition period.

Much of the above activity experienced tremendous growth in the late aughts and early this decade. Smartphones, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, etc. But blogging declined at least for many bloggers who migrated to social media.

Tumblr created a different blogging experience that was well-received in its early years. But I think that Tumblr was slow to adapt to the smartphone because of its content creation interface.

Tumblr was either too late to the original blogosphere era, or it was too soon for the mobile-first era.

If Tumblr had launched in 2002 or 2003, it probably would have been purchased by MySpace or AOL in 2007.

If Tumblr had launched in 2011 or 2012, it probably would have been a mobile-first experience, maybe starting as a native-app only service for iOS and Android, similar to how Instagram and Snapchat began. Tumblr would have added a web-based posting interface second or later for desktop/laptop users. This would have made Tumblr better situated for the forthcoming mobile world.

But since Tumblr supports domain name mapping, it's possible for personal website publishers to use Tumblr as a CMS-hosted service, which would support the open web/IndieWeb.

I don't remember if Tumblr produced RSS/Atom feeds. If any backlash toward Facebook, Twitter, Medium, and other silos exists, then Tumblr could be an easier alternative to WordPress.com, and a more enjoyable experience than Blogger.com.

WordPress.com and Blogger.com are also CMS-hosted solutions that offer domain name mapping. If Tumblr makes leasing a domain name drop-dead simple, then it could still help users adopt the open web. Whoever buys Tumblr should promote the open web/internet, including feeds, feed readers, domain names, and email.

It would not mean that Tumblr users would stop using the social media silos. Maybe Tumblr would offer users who host their domain names at Tumblr the ability to disable some of Tumblr's basic features, such as re-blogging and whatever else it offers that makes the blogs appear to live within Tumblr's closed, silo-like, centralized system. It would optional.

Maybe the new Tumblr owners could enable support open, IndieWeb concepts, such as Webmention and Micropub.

I think that a big opportunity still exists for someone to help the open web by buying Tumblr. Tumblr made it easier to support a personal website. Since the social media silos are easier to use than open web technologies, then Tumblr might be something that falls in the middle.

Tumblr is somewhat of a social media silo because of its centralized features, such as re-blogging, but it supports the open web idea of hosting a personal website at a unique domain name. Tumblr supports the open web better than Medium. Tumblr's UI/UX for posting content on all devices may not be as simple as Facebook and Instagram, but it's probably easier than most open web tech options.

It's a CMS-hosted solution only, like Blogger and Svbtle. We cannot download the Tumblr, Blogger, and Svbtle CMS apps and host them on our own leased server spaces, like we can with WordPress and Ghost.

WordPress and Ghost also offer CMS-hosted solutions for people who do not want to incur the admin tax of downloading, installing, configuring, customizing, securing, and updating the CMS, the web server, the server operating system, the database if one is used, etc. The admin tax also includes backing up the content.

Most personal website authors prefer to use CMS-hosted solutions. If their options were only incurring the admin tax of managing a server or using the social media silos, such as Facebook and Twitter, then I'm guessing that the majority of users would choose the social media silos.

The CMS-hosted solutions are good, middle-ground options, especially if the users buy their own domain names. The open web is supported better if the domain name is siteowner.com, instead of siteowner.cmsprovider.com.

Obviously, journalists have nearly no interest in supporting the open web. They prefer to use social media silos while bitching about those same services.

Tumblr's new owner, assuming that someone buys it, could help the open web by making some changes to Tumblr.

New Tumblr does not need to be as "big" as it was back around 2013. New Tumblr does not need as many users nor as much activity that existed several years ago on the service. Even with all of that activity on Tumblr before the Yahoo deal in 2013, Tumblr never made a profit. But Tumblr being smaller and charging for features could be profitable.

Scale does not equal profit. Small and lean can be profitable.

I don't think that Vox Media is profitable yet, but it's heavily funded by venture capital. But the small, focused TheInformation.com tech news org has been profitable for years.

The new Flickr owners returned Flickr back to charging a fee to use its service. I pay for two Flickr accounts now. The new Tumblr owners should do something similar.

Some media reports claim that PornHub is interested in buying Tumblr, but is that true or wild speculation?

PornHub could make new Tumblr support the open web, similar to WordPress.com, but I doubt that the open web ideals are on the minds of PornHub owners.


Why you don’t want Tumblr sold to exploitative Pornhub

Uh, if PornHub can afford to buy Tumblr, and if Verizon agrees to the deal, then what can be done about the purchase?

Tumblr has been squandered ever since it was bought for $1.1 billion in 2013 by Yahoo, now part of Verizon Media Group. Without proper strategy or talent, the blogging tool and early meme-sharing network fell into decline while Medium and Instagram soared. Yahoo wrote down Tumblr’s value by $230 million in 2016. Then last year, Verizon evicted Tumblr’s huge and loyal base of porn bloggers, leaving no viable platform for independent adult content creators and curators.

Now The Wall Street Journal reports that TechCrunch parent company Verizon is considering selling Tumblr.

Many immediately hoped it’d change hands to an owner who’d embrace pornography, such as social media darling Pornhub. BuzzFeed quickly reported that Pornhub VP Corey Price told it, “We’re extremely interested in acquiring the platform and are very much looking forward to one day restoring it to its former glory with NSFW content.”

But given Pornhub parent company MindGeek’s record of exploitation of adult performers, that could be a disastrous proceeding for the world of kink. If Pornhub and MindGeek succeed in acquiring Tumblr to strengthen their near monopoly, they could end up exploiting porn bloggers and the performers they post about.

Tumblr could also be repurposed into a “your internet homepage” platform. Most social networks are so desperate to keep users on their apps that they restrict or de-emphasize the ability to promote your other web presences. They also often focus on a narrow set of content types like photos and videos on Instagram. This leaves users who don’t have their own dedicated websites without a central hub where they can freely express their identity and link to profiles elsewhere. This is a huge opportunity for Tumblr, which has already established itself an open-ended self-expression platform open to a variety of content formats.

Here's an outside the box idea.


Tumblr users should collectively buy the site and run it as a co-op


Buy it back, @davidkarp!

Karp left Tumblr/Yahoo in December 2017. He last posted to his Twitter account and to his Tumblr blog in December 2017. Where is he? Does he use the web at all?

According to Wikipedia, Karp's net worth is $200 million. How much will Verizon sell Tumblr? Karp spent 10-plus years building and managing Tumblr. It's possible that his interests are elsewhere.

I'm guessing that the https://stratechery.com owner will create a post in the coming days about Tumblr.

Update May 8, 2019: It has been several days later, and Ben Thompson has made no comment about Tumblr. He has commented on more recent news. TheInformation.com never published a Tumblr story. It could be that Tumblr is too insignificant for most tech journalists and pundits to consider. Or maybe anything associated with "blogging" is insignificant. This is the most recent story that I found about Tumblr, published on May 8, 2019.