Do you hear it? Do you hear that sound? Those are the deafening screams of rebloggers mourning the loss of their beloved Tumblr. Yes, the reactions might be premature, but you can’t blame Tumblrers for their grief: The platform has been something of an island for misfit toys in contrast to the massive, all-purpose networks of Facebook and Twitter.
Tumblr is the back alley to Facebook’s popular kids’ cafeteria table.
It is the Ally Sheedy to Twitter’s Molly Ringwald.
At least it was. Now Tumblr is owned by Yahoo, a company with a reputation thick with missteps and a lack of interest in the deepest, darkest pockets of the Web. So is play time over? Did the adults realize we were having a raging house party and come to stop all our fun? Not necessarily. As with every deal like this, there are pros and there are cons; Yahoo’s resources mean that the dreaded Tumblr downtime and glitches (something that plagues us users) could be a thing of the past. And the team will have far more dollars and devs at its disposal.
But you know all that by now – you’re not new here! You, dear netizen, have been on the M&A merry-go-round before! So instead of your run-of-the-mill pros and cons list, why don’t we just dive in and answer the most pressing questions about how Yahoo is going to ruin or not ruin Tumblr?
Is Yahoo going to ruin Tumblr’s underbelly (the Tumblrbelly, if you will)?
It’s no secret that Tumblr isn’t your average social network. It’s a blogging platform that found its footing in encouraging creation over comments. It’s home to much of the Internet’s weirdest places; places that are essentially inside jokes between the writers and readers – it’s a community made of communities made of communities. There are infinite ring-arounds here and it’s pointless to try and explain or categorize the many things Tumblr is and is home to. So I won’t.
But there exists a darker side to Tumblr, admist the reaction GIF and Brony blogs – and that’s straight up porn. Turns out there’s a lot of it: According to a TechCrunch article, 16.6 percent of Tumbl’s traffic leads back to NSFW blogs and 8.02 percent of outbound traffic is from adult websites. You can bring up the “what is porn and what is art?” argument if you want, but I think a company that until very recently had an exclamation point and smiley face associated with its logo is going to think something like (warning: very NSFW) this is porn.
Still, Yahoo says it won’t be restricting this content. “We don’t intend to [censor]. Almost all user-generated content services have issues with adult content,” Mayer said at today’s press event. “Tumblr has less of that than any of its peers. We will continue to use the NSFW tool Tumblr already has so users who aren’t looking for it won’t stumble onto it.”
Of course if there’s a site with users that love to post pictures that ride the very thin line between art and porn, it’s Tumblr. What makes it past the NSFW feature is surprising (warning: this apparently is SFW but … it’s not, OK?).
The hypothetical problem surfaces with ads – Yahoo will need to make sure it isn’t placing brands ads next to porn, a technical issues that a company like Yahoo is more than capable of handling. And on the subject of ads, Mayer explained that through the partnership, the two companies want to increase ad engagement without “disrupting” the user experience.
If you want to cut through the pacifying speech a little, that means that – yes, there are absolutely going to be more ads. But consider the fact that Tumblr was doing this anyway, putting lots of time and energy into its ad monetization platform, so the inevitable is happening. It’s happening sooner and with input from an outside source, but given that Mayer comes from an ad-targeting background with a little company called Google, you might feel more confident in how this will all play out. Or maybe you feel worse … I don’t know your life.
The dashboard, which already has ads, will probably have more – but they probably won’t look all that different. Blogs that are seeing a lot of traffic might be approached to run ads, although this won’t happen without the creator’s permission.
What about fandom, free speech, and copyright?
If for some crazy reason you thought that the Yahoo buyout meant that all the quirky-to-mind-baffling fandom pockets of Tumblr we’re going to be wiped away … then you are an adorable, adorable simpleton. Did you know that gullible is written on the ceiling?
Did you look?! Oh man, you so did!
Now that I’m done being a huge jerk, here’s the deal: Yahoo isn’t going to play fun police and go digging into Tumblr to find all the weird Tumblelogs that wouldn’t fit in anywhere else on the Internet. Your Garfield Minus Garfields, your Supernatural erotica, your Law & Order & Food … they are safe from the judgy eyes of old guys at Yahoo. I know what you’re picturing. It’s this:
That is who you think is going to go clean out all the weird, wonderful parts of Tumblr. And don’t worry: He’s not. That’s like when you’re in middle school and you’re playing Magic: The Gathering behind the gym and you’re worried the high schoolers are going to send someone to spy on you and tell everyone. They do not care, promise. They cannot be bothered. We’re totally going to get away with it, guys.
Of course it’s not all fun and fandom blogs. Tumblr is also home to some pretty controversial and outspoken opinions. Those concerns can be filed along with what Mayer/Yahoo had to say about Tumblr porn: Content won’t be regulated, the team just has to do a good job of matching ads appropriately. If you’re still worried about your pro-gun rights blog, you’ll probably just have to stay tuned – as it always go, this isn’t a problem until it’s a problem. The first time a Tumblrlog that can be tied to a horrible event surfaces, Yahoo will have to respond to it. God forbid that happen, but it’s generally how these things go.
Next: Copyright. Tumblr is the network of creative types of every variety – really, it’s one of the first Web products that started helping and hurting artists at the same time. Yes, it gave us a platform, but it also gave us the reblog and reshare buttons. And with that, it became easier than ever to kill Internet attribution!
So wouldn’t introducing another publishing entity – Yahoo – into this already confusing arena make it worse? Will Yahoo just grab popular content going viral and throw it up on its own homepage? Mayer answers, saying, “We respect copyright, so we have systems for identifying copyrighted content where needed. We care a lot about attribution, so we’re trying to make sure that all their work is always attributed – on Flickr and Tumblr.”
Right now, Tumblr has a sort of unspoken (but much blogged … and reblogged … and GIF’ed) rule:
Yahoo isn’t going to mess with that internal policy, but if anything is going to be fed into the giant purple monster’s property, trust it will link back. Always link back. Or face the wrath of the Internet. Amirite, everyone reposting this article?
What about Yahoo’s horrible track record? GeoCities? Flickr?!
That is more than fair … and what scares me most is that many concerned Tumblr users don’t even know what GeoCities is (which makes me feel like this). Back in 1999 (WHEN I WAS 12) Yahoo bought GeoCities for $3.87 billion in stock options. This is what the press release said:
Internet search engine Yahoo! Inc. confirmed Thursday it will buy GeoCities, a fast-growing Web site community, in a $3.6 billion deal that will further solidify Yahoo!’s position as a frontrunner in the online popularity contest.
So some of you might be all …
It’s eerie, I know! But hold up: Just because Yahoo has long been trying to corner some cool doesn’t mean that Tumblr faces the same fate as GeoCities. GeoCities was of the old guard media, and Yahoo was a different company comprised of a very different executive branch. Tumblr and platforms like it eroded what GeoCities was – the invasion of social media changed everything. The fact the Yahoo failed with GeoCities didn’t have as much to do with Yahoo’s mishandling of the platform, it had to do with the platform: That type of publishing tool wasn’t long for this world, regardless of whatever mistakes Yahoo made with it.
The saga of Flickr should scare you more! Here we had a healthy, thriving, devoted, active community … and Yahoo absolutely fumbled it. So if you want to be nervous about that whole mess, by all means, be nervous. If it serves as any consolation, though, Yahoo is trying to do right by that community with multiple new iterations and updates to the product. And of course, today there were multiple announcements about upgrades to the photo-hosting and sharing client. On a separate but somewhat-related tangent, elements of Flickr might end up making their way over to Tumblr. While the platform is already a go-to when it comes to photo-sharing, I for one wouldn’t hate to see some of the magic of Flickr built-in.
So you’re saying I have nothing to worry about?
Slow down there, pard’ner. I said no such thing. There’s tons to worry about! But it’s all the intangibilities: Tumblr is this weird little hole of the Internet; everyone keeps talking about how Yahoo bought Tumblr because it wants to be cooler – and while, sure, Tumblr is cool, that’s just a by-product of its core. Really, Tumblr is home to all sorts of traditionally “not cool” things. It’s the fact that the community is so accepting and its users can post and share and reblog with such bravado, free of any shame whatsoever, that made Tumblr cool. It’s a really difficult thing to capture, and a difficult thing to maintain, thus Yahoo has a difficult job ahead of it.
All of the “we won’t screw this up” mantras in the world aren’t enough to reassure us that this place we’re so entrenched in and devoted to will remain the place it is … but luckily, there seem to be a fair amount of indications we’re all going to be OK.
Keep calm (for now) and reblog on.
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