Yahoo announced Monday that it has purchased the popular blogging site Tumblr for $1.1 billion. Yahoo President and CEO Marissa Mayer says there’s nothing to worry about, but we’re a little conflicted about the change here at the Pivot office. So we thought, “What’s better than a round-up to discuss our feelings?”
Christopher Newgent: A Tech Merger Veteran
CN: I always tend to be hopeful. And, I’m encouraged further by Marco Arment’s take on the acquisition. Arment has been the lead developer at Tumblr since the beginning, and knows Tumblr CEO David Karp better than most. I don’t take it lightly when he says, “I’ve only seen one other ‘product person’ as good as David, and that was Steve Jobs.”
But when I read, “In many ways, this feels more like a merger than an acquisition,” I can’t help but cringe a little. I heard the same thing when my previous employer went through an acquisition. To be fair, the changes affected our internal processes more than they did the software we were developing. I just worry because Yahoo doesn’t exactly have the best track record (NB: Geocities and Flickr).
I’ll stay positive for now. Even if Arment is wrong, Karp has four years at the helm before his contract runs dry. If he’s really the product guy Arment says he is, he’ll keep Tumblr at least mostly on track. And if Arment is right, then Tumblr will only get better by leaps and bounds now that Karp is freed from operations and investor wrangling. The founder can focus completely on product development and what’s best for Tumblr’s 100 million users.
Ashley Ford: Avid Tumblr-ite
AF: Being a frequent Tumblr user, I probably should have more of a dog in this fight, but I just don’t. There are a lot of things I’m willing to get up in arms about, but this just isn’t one of them. There isn’t enough information. We don’t know yet what Tumblr being owned by Yahoo looks like. I’m not altogether sure this is going to be as bad as some people would have you think.
I’ve found that more often than not these acquisitions don’t mean things are going to get bad; they mean things are going to get different. I’ve never been a person who was too concerned about things changing. Yes, sometimes social sites make stupid layout or branding decisions, but we usually adapt. Unless they go too far off the mark. If I open up Tumblr and see nothing but ads and bad design, I’ll probably just go ahead and take the time to finally figure out Pinterest. But until then, I’ll adapt.
I like the Tumblr community and I have a lot of fun there, but change is inevitable in life. Not sure why we’d ever think that didn’t apply to the ways we use the Internet.
Jenn Hoffman: Marissa Mayer Fan
JH: Okay, so I don’t use Tumblr. And, until recently I thought Yahoo was a remnant of Internet-days-gone-by—a place to check Senior Tour golf scores and weather forecasts. But, I really like this Marissa Mayer lady.
In her first ten months at the Yahoo helm, Mayer is making waves. Shebrought the Yahoo workforce back to the office to jumpstart collaboration and culture (for which she received significant flack). And she’s on a mission to make Yahoo relevant again. People are paying attention.
Viewed through a Tumblr lens, the acquisition also makes sense. Tech startups, particularly content-sharing and social-connection platforms like Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. are on a mission to build an attractive user base. Attractive to whom? Investors and advertisers, of course. Popularity alone doesn’t pay the bills.
These companies have a few options for revenue generation—subscriptions, donations (e.g. Wikipedia), paid advertising, or subsidized funding from a nonprofit or government agency. At some point, every web company, like every traditional company has to turn a profit (or at least break-even) to continue its operations. In Tumblr’s case, it seems as though the founder / leadership team would like to focus on product development and new ventures. The folks at Yahoo can figure out how effectively monetize Tumblr, and hopefully do so without alienating its core audience.
Time will tell whether Tumblr was worth $1.1 billion, whether Tumblr-ites will keep using the service, whether Mayer will go down in tech annals as a visionary hero or a renegade whose changes were reckless, and whether Yahoo emerges stronger for the effort. But, one thing’s for sure — we’re all talking about it.
Ryan Abegglen: Brand Authenticity Advocate
RA: This is essentially the business equivalent of telling people you’re cool, which is decidedly uncool. The fact is, most of the people that comprise Tumblr’s most important user base weren’t even born when Yahoo was founded in 1994, and were mere babes when Yahoo was in its heyday. To them, Yahoo represents a greedy, old, fun-hating man interested only in selling ads—something Tumblr CEO David Karp has avoided like the plague.
However, according to Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, Tumblr will remain a separate entity with Karp still at the helm. She compared the acquisition to eBay’s purchase of PayPal or Google’s purchase of YouTube–a couple of the more positive tech mergers in the past few years. She even went so far as to post on her own Tumblr that she promises “not to screw it up.”
I guess time will tell, but it sure feels a lot like recent attempts of other dying brands to cling to life. I’m looking at you JC Penney. However, if they pull it off it could put them back in the hunt. In the meantime, at least people are talking about them again.