Tumblr, the renowned microblogging platform, has intrigued many but remains a mystery to some. With a history spanning over 16 years, it boasts an impressive 135 million active users and a daily influx of 12.8 million blog posts.
Beginning its journey as the simple blogging concept known as “Tumblelogs,” Tumblr swiftly ascended to the ranks of the most sought-after social media platforms. Its masterful management has fueled this success.
But a question lingers: what Tumblr is? and what is behind its rise and fall?
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What is Tumblr?
A unique blend of microblogging website and social networking platform, Tumblr serves as a vibrant hub for creativity. Users can post a rich variety of content, including multimedia, art, videos, GIFs, and more. It’s a place where you can explore artistic avenues and engage in conversations with like-minded individuals worldwide.
One standout feature of Tumblr is its customization options. Whether you’re seeking to share short stories or connect your brand with a larger audience, Tumblr’s interface can be tailored to suit your personal or business needs. From selecting custom themes to setting up marketing profiles, the platform offers a rich user experience.
However, Tumblr is distinct in its approach to privacy. Unlike other platforms, Tumblr’s posts are always public. There’s no need to request permission to follow someone, allowing for an open and free-flowing exchange of ideas and inspirations. For those looking to immerse themselves in a global community without barriers, Tumblr might just be the perfect place.
The Brief History of Tumblr
- The Birth of Tumblr. Tumblr’s story began in 2007 when a young entrepreneur named David Karp sought to create a platform that merged blogging and social networking. He envisioned a space where microblogging could flourish, allowing users to share short, concise posts. Thus, Tumblr was born, and the website was launched in February 2007.
- Rapid Growth and Development. Within just two weeks of its launch, Tumblr had garnered 75,000 users. Its unique format of allowing various types of content such as texts, images, videos, and GIFs led to an unprecedented surge in popularity. The platform evolved quickly, introducing innovative features that catered to its growing community.
- A Creative Hub. By 2009, Tumblr had established itself as a hub for creative individuals. Artists, writers, and content creators flocked to the platform, embracing its freedom and flexibility. Tumblr’s reblogging feature enabled users to share others’ work easily, fostering a sense of collaboration and community.
- Entering the Mainstream. The year 2011 marked Tumblr’s entrance into the mainstream. Major brands and celebrities began to recognize the platform’s potential, and Tumblr’s user base expanded dramatically. From musicians to fashion labels, various industries found a home on Tumblr, further cementing its status as a versatile platform.
- Acquisition by Yahoo. In 2013, tech giant Yahoo acquired Tumblr for a staggering $1.1 billion. This acquisition aimed to rejuvenate Yahoo’s image and align it with the younger, more dynamic audience of Tumblr. However, the partnership between the two companies proved to be a challenging one.
- Cultural Clashes and Challenges. Post-acquisition, Tumblr faced a myriad of challenges. Differences in corporate culture between Yahoo and Tumblr led to friction. Ambitious revenue targets and strategic disagreements began to surface, leading to a decline in morale within the company.
- A Decline in Fortunes. Tumblr’s struggles continued, and in 2016, Yahoo wrote down the value of Tumblr by $230 million. The platform’s inability to meet revenue expectations and the decision to ban NSFW content led to a decline in user engagement and overall popularity.
- Acquisition by Verizon. In 2017, Verizon acquired Yahoo and, by extension, Tumblr. However, the platform’s challenges persisted, and Verizon’s ownership did little to revive Tumblr’s fortunes. The mismatch between corporate expectations and Tumblr’s creative community continued to widen the rift.
- A New Beginning with Automattic. Hope glimmered in 2019, when WordPress’s parent company, Automattic, acquired Tumblr. The acquisition signaled a potential return to Tumblr’s creative roots, aligning it with a company that understood the needs and aspirations of bloggers.
- The Legacy and Future of Tumblr. Today, Tumblr stands as a testament to the power of creativity and community. While it has faced hurdles and undergone numerous transformations, its legacy as a unique and influential platform endures. The future of Tumblr, under Automattic’s guidance, holds promise, as it continues to adapt and evolve in the ever-changing landscape of social media.
4 Main Reasons Why Tumblr Failed?
Despite attracting hundreds of millions of page views, Tumblr failed to meet its high expectations. The upcoming section will unravel the reasons behind this unexpected DOWNFALL.
Resistance to Sell Advertising
In the rapidly changing landscape of social media, selling ads is the lifeline. Tumblr, however, stumbled here, and one prime reason was Katz’s aversion to the very concept of advertising. For the first six years, he ensured that ads found no space on the platform. It was more than a business decision; it was a philosophy that shaped Tumblr’s core.
Katz’s lack of enthusiasm spilled over into the technological realm. Brands found themselves restricted, lamenting the dearth of options to target customers, unlike other platforms like Facebook. Tumblr’s tools were inflexible, mirroring the rigid ideology of its co-founder.
To add to the woes, until March 2016, only brands with active blog accounts could advertise. This constraint decreased the number of advertisers, limiting Tumblr’s revenue streams. While other platforms were broadening their horizons, Tumblr seemed stuck in its unique but limiting approach.
Technology wasn’t the sole problem. The integration of Yahoo’s experienced sales team into Tumblr, decided by Mayer and the executive team, sounded good in theory but clashed in practice. Tumblr’s vibrant ad space required skilled hands, but Yahoo’s methodologies were a mismatch.
The disconnect became apparent when Yahoo moved salespeople from Tumblr’s headquarters, a decision met with resistance. Mayer’s public demand for $100 million in revenue for 2015 was another mismatch, setting unrealistic expectations that led to high turnover. Multiple people ended up pitching the same brands, a situation far from professional.
Understanding the Tumblr brand was a struggle for many, hampering communication with potential advertisers. The distinct culture of Tumblr became a barrier rather than a bridge. Further complicating matters was the sexual nature of much content on Tumblr, deterring bigger brands from associating with the platform.
Ban on NSFW Content
The decision by Tumblr to ban NSFW content in December 2018 is widely viewed as the commencement of its downfall. This bold move was followed by a staggering 30% reduction in page views, underscoring the critical role such content played on the platform.
Caught in a situation reminiscent of the Kobayashi Maru, Tumblr grappled with a complex problem. Retaining pornographic content would preserve user interest, but it would simultaneously complicate efforts to sell ads, regulate content, and maintain a presence in the iOS Store. This content had almost become synonymous with Tumblr’s identity, a connection even Yahoo encountered post-acquisition.
Consequently, when Tumblr elected to strip away this massive portion of its content, it triggered a swift backlash. Users who frequented the platform specifically for this type of material felt alienated and abandoned.
The choice to ban NSFW content not only reshaped Tumblr’s identity but also opened a broader discussion about content moderation’s role in social media. This decision, whether seen as right or wrong, has become an emblematic moment in the ongoing debate about the balance between freedom of expression and community standards.
Yahoo’s attempt to integrate its sales unit into Tumblr’s team structure revealed a significant chasm. However, these struggles were merely the tip of the iceberg, pointing to something more profound than mere sales strategy differences.
Various Tumblr’s former employees pinpointed the cultural divide. One aptly described the collaboration with Yahoo as akin to “a bunch of cool teenagers hanging out with your grandpa.” This wasn’t merely a humorous remark but a poignant commentary on the relationship.
Yahoo’s former CEO, Marissa Mayer, exacerbated the issue. Her rare interactions with Tumblr employees accelerated the differences, creating an environment of misunderstanding and detachment.
Both Yahoo and later Verizon, being large corporations, had to comply with specific regulations and processes. The NSFW ban was the most conspicuous consequence, yet subtle hints were evident, such as increased meetings or stricter public communication monitoring.
Tumblr’s employees, including Katz, were once known for their social activism, like fighting for net neutrality. Post-Verizon’s acquisition, this advocacy was stifled, presumably due to Verizon’s directives. The silence marked a significant cultural shift.
These differences led to the exit of dozens of employees, creating a void that Tumblr struggled to fill. The increased workload resulted in further departures, a self-perpetuating cycle that weakened the platform.
Product Engagement Issues
When it comes to understanding why Tumblr failed in comparison to other social platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, or TikTok, one can’t overlook the lack of product engagement issues.
If a new user-posted content on Tumblr, it wouldn’t appear on others’ feeds. Consequently, there was no immediate engagement, such as likes and comments. In stark contrast, TikTok often rewards new users with significant exposure, sometimes resulting in hundreds of thousands of views.
Unlike Reddit’s swift and engaging AMA’s, Tumblr’s Answer Time feature failed to keep fans hooked. Users could pose questions to content creators, but it often took days to receive a response, diminishing the feature’s appeal.
Starting on Tumblr could be quite tricky, and in some cases, required coding knowledge. While platforms like Facebook have simple sign-up processes, asking only for an email and personal details, Tumblr’s complexity could lead to frustration and abandonment.
Unlike its competitors, Tumblr didn’t inspire users to post and respond to content as freely. After its acquisition by Yahoo, the pace of releasing new features slowed down, causing it to lag behind more innovative social platforms.
Overall, Tumblr’s issues with engagement played a vital role in its failure. Whether it was the lack of immediate recognition for new users or the sluggishness of certain features, the platform couldn’t sustain the level of interaction that today’s social media users expect and enjoy. This inability to keep up with the demands of a fast-paced, interactive online community was one of the final nails in Tumblr’s coffin.
In a significant turn of events, WordPress.com owner Automattic acquired Tumblr for $3 million on Aug. 12, 2019. It was a move seen by many as a homecoming, as the new owners were hailed for their understanding of the blogging market. Although Automattic’s CEO Matt Mullenweg plans to uphold the ban on adult content, there is renewed hope for Tumblr under this new leadership.
WordPress.com, stemming from the blogging sphere, brings an empathetic understanding of what Tumblr represents. Its acquisition by Automattic has infused fresh optimism, as the company seems to recognize that Tumblr cannot be handled like a standard social media site. This perception aligns with what Tumblr’s users desire and what has previously driven them away.
Amidst all the existential dread and skepticism that pervades Tumblr’s user base, this transition offers a glimmer of hope. It seems that the platform has finally found a leadership that values it beyond mere ad space, and for many loyal users, that is a promising sign for Tumblr’s future.