Today, Tumblr–home of gifs, memes, and NSFW photos–joins the ranks of corporate America: The company has just been bought by Yahoo for $1.1 billion.
Besides goofy cat videos and loads (seriously, loads) of porn, Tumblr also hosts one of the most passionate, creative, and irreverent fashion communities out there on the internets. So now the question is: How will that community, which so far has thrived on the free-for-all vibe that prevails at Tumblr, be affected by the new acquisition?
According to a statement released by Yahoo CEO Marissa Meyer, Tumblr will continue to operate independently, and Tumblr founder David Karp will stay on as CEO. She also promised “not to screw it up.”
“The product roadmap, their team, their wit and irreverence will all remain the same as will their mission to empower creators to make their best work and get it in front of the audience they deserve.”
To that end, the acquisition was announced with a gif. (According to Mayer’s Twitter, this is the first acquisition to be announced with one.)
But not all Tumblr users are convinced. Doing a quick scan on the platform, reactions range from skepticism (“so does this mean there’ll be annoying banner ads?”) to downright outrage (“We should fight Yahoo! Let’s open another site and quit Tumblr.”)
“A lot of people seem to think it will ‘ruin’ Tumblr or ‘destroy’ their lives,” said John Jannuzzi, editor at Lucky Magazine and founder of popular Tumblr Textbook. “My dashboard seems to be pretty angry about it now, as if they should’ve been consulted to whether or not it was a good idea.”
As for his own personal feelings, Jannuzzi said he thought the deal was “great news.”
“Tumblr has been a really interesting company to watch grow and whether or not you agree with their approach, a lot of hard work has gone into it. To see that rewarded is never a bad thing.”
Other Tumblr users are a bit more ambivalent.
“Yahoo is still around?” said Lawrence Schlossman, founder of How to Talk to Girls at Parties and Editor-in-Chief at Four-Pins, when I asked what his first reaction to the news was. (He also wondered: “Who do I know at Tumblr with equity that I can mooch off of?”)
“I haven’t yet figured out whether my feelings are positive or negative–I’d rather take a ‘wait and see’ mentality to see how the acquisition will affect me as a user despite Yahoo’s promises ‘not to screw it up.’” said Sara Zucker of Farpitz.
One way Zucker and other Tumblr users are worried Yahoo will screw up the platform is with ads.
“Tumblr users love the platform because it is all about individuality, which big business tends to stifle, so my main concern is that my dashboard will be flooded with ads; within the day, it has already been confirmed that Yahoo plans to ramp up advertising in the next year,” Zucker said. “My advice to Yahoo? The more subtle the positioning of those ads (via the sidebar or banner space), the better they will likely be received. Less is more.”
Schlossman put it more bluntly: “Yahoo fucking sucks and looks like shit. Hopefully Tumblr won’t end up fucking sucking and looking like shit now.”
Besides user experience, Yahoo’s acquisition might affect the community’s strong sense of creative freedom. Yahoo is a massive corporation susceptible to lawsuits; they’ll probably crack down on Tumblr’s community guidelines. This could mean good or bad things, depending on the user. There’ll be less pro-ana and self-harm posts–but there might also be less visible nipples.
Tumblr currently hosts 105 million blogs–many of which produce original content. Most Tumblr users were okay with creating free content for a business that was largely acknowledged as unprofitable–but now that it’s worth $1.1 billion and owned by Yahoo, that attitude of sharing content for free, might change.
Ultimately though, every Tumblr-er we spoke to said they’ll remain loyal–if things stay the same, that is.
“As long as my Tumblr user experience stays consistent, I could care less who owns it,” Schlossman said.
And Zucker points out that there could be an upside to Yahoo’s involvement. “If Yahoo fulfills its goal to implement a more solid search infrastructure and add increased personalization, it should only help the fashion community,” she said. “Right now, Tumblr’s search desperately needs an overhaul, both within the dashboard and for outside visitors clicking on individual Tumblr blogs; doing so will promote content discovery and, in the process, highlight talented users on the platform.”
“When changes like this happen, a lot of people threaten abandonment,” Jannuzzi noted. “We saw the same thing with Instagram and Facebook but ultimately people hang around. As long as there are no abrupt or sweeping changes, I think the community will carry on as normal.”