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Rise and fall of Tumblr, the social network that invented the Retuit

2019-08-14T00:07:04.688Z

The final sale price of the social network Tumblr is almost insulting. 3 million dollars have been paid by it Automattic, the creative company of Wordpress. Three million dollars


The final sale price of the social network Tumblr is almost insulting. 3 million dollars have been paid by it Automattic, the creative company of Wordpress. Three million dollars, these days, are barely enough to buy a rather modest house in a Silicon Valley. In San Francisco it does not give even for a three-room apartment

The truth doesn't matter much either. Neither Automattic nor Tumblr itself are "daughters" of Silicon Valley . Moreover, they are exceptions that show that, hopefully, it is still possible to undertake and succeed - at least for a while - away from the orbit of Sand Hill Road, the road that connects Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Woodside And that brings together leading venture capital firms focused on technology.

Tumblr was born 13 years ago right in the other side of the US in New York City. It was the personal project of David Karp, a young man of just 21 years old who was doing software consulting work . Between work and work he found two free weeks and decided to explore the idea of ​​a service to host what was then known as "tumblelogs", blogs with articles of very short extensions.

Karp's programming knowledge was limited, so he placed an ad on Craigslist looking for someone to help him develop the idea. The developer Marco Arment (creator of Instapaper and the current podcast client for iOS Overcast) responded to the announcement and moved to New York to work on a platform that at that time only existed as a network domain : tumblr.com

The first public version was launched in February 2007 and in March an article on the Lifehacker website and several mentions in the Digg news aggregator catapulted the service to fame. Compared to other platforms for blogs, such as Wordpress, Tumblr offered simplicity. It was not necessary to be a user with technical knowledge or an own server. "Facebook was where you defined yourself by your university and check boxes. Tumblr where you were going to create your own identity and express your creativity," says Arment.

The true success of Tumblr, however, came within a few months of launch, when the option of automatically publishing something discovered on another user's Tumblr page was added automatically. It is an option that we now associate with the "retuit" of Twitter but for Tumblr users it was a revolution in the way of becoming known and expanding the audience.

The explosive growth of the app brought, of course, problems. During the first years of life the web was falling frequently and was less stable than many alternatives but Despite the failures it ended up consolidating itself as the most creative, dynamic and young social network.

This last feature was what caught Marissa Mayer's attention in 2013. Mayer had just moved from Google to Yahoo! with the purpose of revitalizing the veteran brand of the network, which in a decade, and due precisely to the rise of Google, had lost much relevance. Tumblr seemed an ideal candidate to send the signal that in Yahoo! They were open to new blood. The platform was used by almost 5% of those under 24 years of age present on the network and had more than 100 million frequently updated blogs. More than 300 million visitors a month made it the seventh largest social network by audience volume, ahead of Twitter and Instagram, which barely had 150 million active users at the time.

The price that Mayer ended up paying for her, 1,100 million dollars, surprised many (Silicon Valley had not yet reached the boom of the "unicorns" and any acquisition of more than 1,000 million dollars was still considered a disproportionate figure ) but it could be justified, to a certain extent, given the growth trajectory of the social network.

Karp continued to lead the project and during the first years the numbers seemed to prove Mayer right. Tumblr has exceeded 200 and 300 million blogs hosted on the platform. But it was evident that the purchase had transformed the company and the users' own perception. Blogs were updated less frequently and the audience lost relevance .

Part of the problem was in the disinterest of Yahoo! for its star acquisition. There were no significant changes in the platform nor a clear vision of the future. Nor is an attempt to make the audience profitable with advertising. But part, too, was due to the rise of other social networks such as Instagram or Twitter , which eventually stole part of the audience. Tumblr increasingly interested less.

Mayer was unable to revitalize Yahoo! and in 2017, the board of directors accepted the sale of the company's main assets to the operator Verizon for $ 4.4 billion.

Among the properties sold was Tumblr but Verizon showed no special interest in the platform and David Karp himself left the company in December of that year. By then the number of blogs hosted on Tumblr had already exceeded 400 million, but the audience and the frequency of publication were much lower than the company had in 2013 .

Verizon was unable to revive the service. Moreover, he managed to sink it even more thanks to the decision, at the end of 2018, to ban any pornographic and erotic content after having found child pornography on servers. Traffic plummeted by 20% and many users left the service arguing that the new measures affected freedom of expression.

To understand this position, it must be understood that the prohibition of publishing pornographic content did not only affect pages clearly focused on that purpose. Many users published on Tumblr images that could be considered erotic , not pornographic, and that were also censored by the pornography filter. The new policy established for example the prohibition of publishing images or videos in which genitals or even nipples were seen .

For the LGBTQ collective, the coup was especially hard because they had found in the network a safe space to explore sexuality and where to express their preferences without fear of being insulted. Many of the publications contained images that did not pass the new filter imposed by the operator despite not necessarily being pornographic content. Consequently, many left Tumblr and moved to other platforms and forums, subtracting even more relevance to the platform.

The purchase of Yahoo! It was a disaster for the operator, to the point that she had to declare all the money invested in the operation as lost. But Tumblr had also become a particularly uncomfortable property. Users had rebelled against the platform , the audience now perceived the network as too "corporate" and the content had to be continually reviewed for fear of legal repercussions. For a company as conservative as Verizon, it was a bad product to have.

At the beginning of the year the rumors about the search for a possible buyer intensified. The vice president of Pornhub, Corey Price, publicly stated that he was interested in the acquisition and that, if he succeeded, he would return the pornographic content to the platform "in all its glory." Verizon did not seem interested in this option and has ended up selling the company to Automattic, the creators of WordPress , for a minute.

It is not a bad purchase. Tumblr pages have still receive more than 300 million visitors per month and Automattic is a company with extensive experience in online publications with obvious synergies. Part of the low price is explained by the team of more than 200 people who will join the WordPress company . The labor costs of keeping Tumblr afloat had become too high for Verizon.

The decision to ban pornographic and erotic content, however, will remain active. "I think the adult content community will find new avenues. Life is making its way. If someone wants big changes in these policies, they should go to Apple and Google, nobody else has power," said Matt Mullenweg, president of Automattic to justify his decision. Without this prohibition it is unlikely that Tumblr apps could be distributed in mobile app stores , keys to maintaining audience levels. Apple, in fact, banned the app in November 2018, a fact that precipitated Verizon's decision to ban adult content.

Mullenweg, however, believes that the future of Tumblr is guaranteed. "I feel that it is an opportunity of those that only arise once a generation to have two very popular publishing platforms working side by side to make a better, more open, inclusive and, frankly, more fun website ."

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