Watters: Yahoo, Tumblr not likely to mesh


Arabella Watters, Columnist

We all went through our Tumblr phase. Some of us, including me, are still in it. I don’t know exactly how legitimate I can claim my Tumblr to be when I mostly reblog pictures of cats doing weird things like sitting on top of mountains, food that I have absolutely zero access to since I’m still suffering through the block meal plan, and epic and expansive photos of mountains with words like “freedom” and “infinity” annoyingly superimposed on them.

I take no shame because that obnoxious, self-righteous artistic attitude is exactly the beauty of Tumblr. Tumblr has 109.4 million blogs (and rising) and more than 51 billion posts, and it’s arguable that a lot of those posts are sort of frivolous. There’s a distinctive vintage, grungy, flower-child hipster aesthetic in which a lot of users take pride.

Sometimes when I’m feeling contemplative, I’ll post text or a quote. However, I digress because this column isn’t a place for me to try and promote my own Tumblr. If I was really annoying, I’d post the URL right here with a nice friendly hint to “please follow me,” but I’m not, so I won’t. The point of my sentimental rambling about my own blog is to demonstrate just how much the once cult, now extremely mainstream blogging platform can mean to people.

Tumblr’s bargaining chip was the cool cache that it somehow held onto, despite its massive amount of users. On Tuesday alone, Tumblr reported more than 76 million individual posts. 

Somehow, Tumblr figured out a way to latch onto a segment of the population that relishes in the eclectic nature of its style, obscure music taste and highbrow penchant for photography. Tumblr figured out how to make a blogging platform tailored specifically for self-proclaimed hipsters. It’s no coincidence that as Tumblr walked onto the scene, the photo-sharing site Flickr, also ironically owned by Yahoo, began to struggle to even keep its head above water.

I was surprised at the paltry sum of $1.1 billion that Yahoo agreed to pay to acquire Tumblr, until I realized that Tumblr, for all intents and purposes, is a company that doesn’t yet have any revenue. That being said, Marissa Mayer and Yahoo are purchasing Tumblr purely on the hopes that it will revive the sinking giant by rubbing off some of its “coolness.” It’s no secret that Yahoo isn’t exactly that hot of a commodity on the web, and it’s easy to see why. Despite the fact that I shamefully still use Yahoo’s email system, the site lacks any sort of social media or connectivity aspect that has become all but expected in my generation of digital natives.

I believe in the power of Marissa Mayer and her business prowess, but I don’t think the aging giant with the hot new kid on the block is going to be a great pair. People like Tumblr because it’s cool, and with that reputation degenerated by the influx of advertisements that I’m sure Yahoo will post, the site could easily become another MySpace-era train wreck.

WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg reported that the usual amount of defections from Tumblr to WordPress run from 400 to 600 per hour, but when news of the acquisition hit, more than 72,000 blogs moved from Tumblr to WordPress in that same period. The truth is that young people liked Tumblr because it wasn’t underneath the vast corporate umbrella that seems so far-reaching these days.

But that’s not to say advertising can’t be integrated with some finesse. Somehow YouTube escaped unscathed. If anything, the video outlet site is more put together than it was before its 2006 acquisition by Google. The differences are subtle — the slightly darker and more sophisticated color gradient in its logo, the streamlined search — but then again, the differences between Google and Yahoo are vast.

Where Yahoo seems almost obsolete, Google is just as simple and sophisticated as it was the day it was launched. The company is continuing to innovate at a rate just as impressive as it always has. We await Google Glass with palpable excitement and for good reason: Google doesn’t tend to disappoint.

Yahoo, however, is a different story. There is nothing to back up the fact that Yahoo could do a cumbersome and heavy-handed job in monetizing Tumblr.

We won’t know for sure until Yahoo starts to implement its grand ol’ plans on poor little Tumblr, probably sometime in the third quarter, but all the hipsters with dirty hair might have to find a new place to blog.

Arabella Watters is a Medill sophomore. She can be reached at [email protected]. If you want to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].