Sunday, May 19, 2013

Will Yahoo ruin Tumblr?

Yahoo is poised to acquire Tumblr, the multimedia blogging platform-slash-social network. And there’s a lot of hand-wringing about what Yahoo ownership would do to the popular website.
The big question for me is whether Yahoo under CEO Marissa Mayer is different from the Yahoo of old. Historically, Yahoo has a poor track record of managing acquisitions. It has purchased companies with interesting technologies or businesses and then neglected them.
The last time Yahoo bought a popular blogging service, it spent $3.5 billion for GeoCities in 1999 and shut it down 10 years later. If it had been on the ball and kept innovating, it could have created something like Tumblr itself.
I had three websites on GeoCities to post personal photos, but I stopped using the service when I kept running into the site’s meager data storage and data transfer limits. GeoCities didn’t change with the times and acted like it was still in the dial-up Internet era until the end.
Today I have three websites on Tumblr, which doesn’t have data storage and bandwidth limits.
Mayer has continued to cut Yahoo services since becoming chief executive. Thankfully I didn’t really use any of those.
If news reports are true, Yahoo will pay $1.1 billion for Tumblr. The acquisition would give Yahoo a hip, cool Web service and a younger audience to target with advertising. Tumblr is on the verge of running out of money and needs an exit strategy.
I won’t mind if Yahoo puts more ads on Tumblr. I understand that someone has to pay the bills for such a service. The key will be to run ads that aren’t obtrusive.
At the same time, Yahoo will need to continue improving Tumblr. In particular, Tumblr needs a better search function and better ways to manage posts, such as the ability to add, delete and edit tags from a central interface of posts.
Tumblr also need to fix its heavy-handed response to alleged copyright violations.
Tumblr also needs to address its “porn problem.” (Bloomberg Businessweek and AVN weighed in on this.) I don’t think this will be too difficult if handled in the right way. All Tumblr blogs that feature nudity or sexual content should carry a warning screen before people can enter, much like Google does with Blogger. (See photo below.)
My advice to Yahoo about Tumblr is to keep innovating and try not to piss off the users who made the site successful to begin with.


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