Chart showing Tumblr’s sales price in 2013 ($1.1B) and now (<$3M)

Automattic, the corporate behind the longstanding weblog platform WordPress, simply purchased Tumblr from Verizon for a pittance — leaving lots of the quirky, beloved social community’s customers questioning what comes subsequent.

Axios reported that Automattic bought Tumblr, which launched in 2007, for “properly under” $20 million; Axios enterprise editor Dan Primack added in a tweet that the sale value was in actual fact below $3 million, and Recode’s Peter Kafka tells Vox that sources say the precise determine is nearer to $2 million. That’s a really good distance down from Yahoo’s notorious $1.1 billion buy of the web site in 2013. (Verizon subsumed Tumblr when it acquired Yahoo in 2017.)


Rani Molla/Recode

For tech gawkers who’ve spent months monitoring Verizon’s “messy” dealing with of the “beleaguered” Tumblr and its “squandered potential,” none of this can be a shock. However whereas many members of the enterprise world appear to have already written off Tumblr as a platform fated to perish within the age of advertising-driven social media, the Tumblr neighborhood continues to be a vibrant nook of the web — even after final yr’s infamous grownup content material ban. The larger query in regards to the web site’s new possession is how this new sale will have an effect on Tumblr’s distinctive neighborhood.

WordPress’s creator and Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg advised the Wall Road Journal that whereas his firm meant to maintain Tumblr’s grownup content material ban in place, Automattic had no intention of working roughshod over Tumblr’s current environment. “It’s simply enjoyable,” he advised the WSJ of his impression of the web site. “We’re not going to alter any of that.”

However Tumblr customers have heard that tune earlier than. In 2013, in response to the Tumblr neighborhood’s fears in regards to the Yahoo acquisition, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer promised “to not screw it up.”

Screwing it up, nonetheless, is arguably simply what occurred subsequent.

Tumblr isn’t a mainstream social media platform. Yahoo and Verizon tried desperately to make it one.

On the time that the Yahoo buy of Tumblr from its CEO and founder David Karp was accomplished, it was clear that the traditional web firm was in search of one thing to revitalize it. Cue a neighborhood awash in GIFs, memes, fandom, and all different manners of latest on-line tradition — a seemingly good reply to Yahoo’s query of easy methods to fight its near-irrelevance. However studies quickly started to emerge that Tumblr was floundering financially, as Yahoo tried and didn’t wrangle the freewheeling running a blog platform right into a worthwhile, advertising-friendly model.

But Yahoo failed to grasp Tumblr and, extra importantly, Tumblr’s neighborhood. Yahoo’s makes an attempt at bringing advertisers into the neighborhood area continuously generated ridicule from Tumblr customers. Advertisers and types stored attempting — and failing — to assimilate themselves into the Tumblr panorama, producing “how do you do fellow children” outcomes.

In 2016, Yahoo wrote off its Tumblr funding as a $230 million loss and hinted that the precise loss might be practically the whole $1 billion. In 2017, Verizon acquired the platform as a part of its general acquisition of Yahoo, and the fissures between Tumblr’s unbiased, grassroots neighborhood and the targets of the telecom web site deepened.

The dying knell for the Verizon-Tumblr union got here in fall 2018, when Tumblr, following the dictates of Apple’s content material pointers for the Apple Retailer, banned all grownup content material from the positioning. Tumblr made an effort to make sure that the creative content material that was Tumblr’s lifeblood didn’t turn out to be a part of the ban, which was enforced by algorithm. However its workers largely failed at maintaining the algorithm from concentrating on fully benign posts, artists obtained censored, and pornbots continued to plague the positioning; the prohibition was an ineffectual catastrophe, and Tumblr misplaced 30 % of its person base within the six months after the ban took impact.

However the remaining 70 % of Tumblr arguably might have benefited from this slowdown and crowd-thinning. The character of the neighborhood hasn’t actually modified; the positioning nonetheless generates memes, popular culture meta-commentary, and fandom and life-style content material galore. Now, with Verizon reducing the strings, maybe there’s an opportunity for Tumblr to only be Tumblr with none strain to provide income for its dad or mum firm. Within the meantime, the sale has generated memes and typical Tumblr humor from the neighborhood:

Regardless of the positioning’s present “occasion ’til the grave” environment, nonetheless, there’s loads of cause to view the WordPress acquisition as a constructive — and lengthy overdue — transfer for Tumblr.

Tumblr neighborhood members are skeptical in regards to the subsequent sale, however their unbiased spirit aligns with WordPress in some ways

Tumblr customers typically reacted to information of the sale with cynicism, with many reblogging the workers’s submit in regards to the sale to beg the brand new house owners to unban grownup content material, or to precise cautious optimism whereas complaining in regards to the web site’s continued issues — primarily the presence of pornbots and, more and more, ideological extremism.

However whereas WordPress isn’t lifting the grownup content material ban, there’s loads of cause to imagine that, on the very least, the sale can’t make issues worse. Like Tumblr, WordPress is a distinct segment however thriving web sub-community, albeit one based in 2003, simply earlier than the daybreak of social media. WordPress started as a running a blog neighborhood, and that’s nonetheless what it’s finest recognized for right this moment.

Although its heyday was undoubtedly the height of “Web 2.zero” within the mid-aughts, when weblog platforms had been at their hottest, WordPress has continued to keep up a loyal person base whereas increasing into the world of simple web site constructing and design; today, even with a plethora of rivals on the market, many of the web’s private web sites are “proudly powered by WordPress.”

Anil Sprint, CEO of Glitch and one of many first staff of WordPress’s old-school running a blog competitor LiveJournal, advised Vox that whereas a return to a dialogue of “blogs” feels quaint, WordPress and Tumblr even have lots in frequent.

“Social media strikes so quick that speaking about ‘blogs’ looks like 100 years in the past, regardless that their heyday was barely greater than a decade in the past,” Sprint stated. “And although the neighborhood signifiers are very totally different, each WordPress and Tumblr come from an period the place folks may need a web site on their very own area, and share their very own ideas, and will probably even develop their very own viewers with out even having a presence on Instagram, which didn’t even exist after they began.”

In 2014, a yr after Tumblr’s $1.1 billion sale, WordPress’s dad or mum firm Automattic obtained a valuation of $1.2 billion, and whereas it’s resisted acquisition, the tech world has lengthy been filled with hypothesis that the corporate is near both being purchased or going public.

WordPress has succeeded so far by not rocking the boat, catering to its neighborhood, and primarily doing one factor — running a blog — extraordinarily properly. This would appear to make it a perfect dad or mum for Tumblr’s extra unruly, unwieldy weblog format, which gave the world the “reblog” and made use of universalized tagging techniques to attach its noisy person base. WordPress, with no reblogs, has a a lot much less streamlined tagging system, and its “blogroll” strategy to connecting customers feels hopelessly outdated. In essence, every firm has issues to show the opposite about running a blog.

“I don’t assume there’s any natural connection between the 2 platforms,” Sprint advised me, “although I do hope Automattic updates WordPress’s characteristic for studying blogs to be nearly as good as Tumblr’s timeline.”

The place WordPress excels over Tumblr, nonetheless, is in respecting and following its neighborhood’s lead on issues like web site design. One of many foundations of its success is its dedication to open supply internet design, that means anybody could make and customise their very own WordPress web site theme. We would say Tumblr is one thing of an open supply neighborhood too, with the ecosystem flourishing and rising most when it’s in a position to be artistically ingenious and primarily bend Tumblr’s format in new and attention-grabbing instructions. (For example, the positioning was initially meant to be a “microblog,” nearer in spirit to Twitter’s authentic 180-character restrict; as a substitute, Tumblr customers made the platform well-known for lengthy, image-heavy posts, subcultural creative actions, and animated GIF storytelling.) Tumblr’s company overlords have had important bother with this notion prior to now, however supporting a extra hands-off neighborhood is just not one thing that ought to give Automattic a lot bother.

Sprint advised Vox that this sale is basically about what he sees as an emergent motion from each older and newer web customers to revive the unbiased, grassroots really feel of the web earlier than social media — when most neighborhood platforms had been area of interest and non-corporatized.

“There’s a really robust motion towards creating an unbiased, artistic web, whether or not it’s old-timers who idealize the previous internet or youthful people who find themselves creeped out by the dominance of the key social networks,” he stated. “That makes me optimistic mixed Tumblr and WordPress may make unbiased social media voices related once more forward of a presumable IPO for Automattic.”

He agrees, nonetheless, that Tumblr’s grownup content material ban, whereas it severely hampered the neighborhood’s vitality, isn’t the make-or-break situation it’s been framed as by customers and enterprise pundits alike.

“It’s not a deal breaker that they’re not going to permit porn,” he stated. “I do assume the porn side has all the time been overstated.” He advised Vox he hopes WordPress will convey some much-needed stasis to a web site that’s been in flux since 2013.

“Ideally it’ll simply be revitalized, and really feel extra steady that it’s going to be round a very long time.”