If Yahoo Bought Tumblr, What, If Anything, Would Be Achieved?

So, what if Yahoo did buy Tumblr?

If you’re asking why I’m asking, it’s because the rumor mill over at AllThingsD claims that the two have talked, so buzz about the potential of this old guard/new guard marriage has certain members of the social-media-erati buzzing, along with columnists who need something to write about.

Of course, the early obsessing is all about surface. In a post on Facebook today, Deep Focus CEO Ian Schafer asked the assembled multitudes: “Would a Tumblr acquisition make Yahoo cool? Or would Yahoo make Tumblr uncool? Vote with #cool or #uncool.” The votes so far? They are split, but most people in this admittedly small thread went off-script and made their own commentary.

As for me, I went with “Most people won’t even notice,” because the truth is that unless Yahoo became completely Tumblr-ized – or vice versa -- most people wouldn’t notice, trust me. Whenever you make it clear that you actually know who-owns-who in the digital universe, you’re mainly telegraphing that you are way deep, perhaps too deep, in the business. And most people, no matter how much time they spend on social platforms, are not. 



On the other hand, in Silicon Valley – and Alley – this surface question of #cool or #uncool counts. If it didn’t, you wouldn’t see so much emphasis, when Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer was hired, on how she could bring cool to the company, and make it a place where people – people who crave cubicles, that is – would actually want to work. The way the whole hire was chattered about, you would have thought that hiring the janitorial staff from Google would impart the same amount of cool, as if Mayer’s outlandishly stellar credentials were secondary.

But let’s dig a little deeper. What would it mean if Yahoo bought Tumblr? Yeah, there would be some scale. According to recent numbers from Quantcast, the Tumblr network drew almost 80 million U.S. uniques between mid-April and mid-May, with usage surging in the prized 18 - 24 demographic, people so young they would probably be shocked to learn that Yahoo was ever #cool. (On second thought, it’s more likely they’ve never thought about it enough to care.) Even if that number seems way high (it does to me), Tumblr is the 17th biggest site on the Internet; Yahoo is number nine.

But you have to ask, if this deal brings scale, scale to what end? The problem with wedding the cool to the uncool is that they might be mutually incompatible when it comes to forming a long-term relationship, and you probably don’t want them to go out together in public. To Yahoo-ize Tumblr would be a massive mistake; let’s just say it would diminish the scale that Yahoo bought. And then there’s the more practical problem: uniting a portal with a traditional online advertising model to a site from a completely different online era is also highly problematic. Can you really imagine home-page takeovers on Tumblr? Or Tumblr’s “story-telling” ad model working at scale on Yahoo? Of the two, the latter is more likely the case, but it’s a slow build. From what I can tell, the advertising world hasn’t been turned on its head by Tumblr the way it has with some other, newer platforms, like Vine.

Which brings us full circle, in a way. Yahoo buying Tumblr would make certain people – and maybe the right people – believe that Yahoo was committed to cool; they might actually want to work there. Most Tumblr users wouldn’t know and wouldn’t care, unless the visible ties between the two became too outré. And the scale thing: how much scale can be achieved when the two have almost diametrically opposed ad models?

So, tell me, what was the point of all this again? Oh, right, to make Yahoo seem #cool.

3 comments about "If Yahoo Bought Tumblr, What, If Anything, Would Be Achieved?".
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  1. Eric Wittlake from Babcock & Jenkins, May 17, 2013 at 3:38 p.m.

    It just might be the end of Tumblr. Yes, the Marissa era might be different, but Yahoo doesn't have a great track record. They don't really get social from anything most of us can see (this week's Twitter integration is proof, not counterpoint).

    Remember Delicious? Any reason to think it would have met a different fate within Yahoo today than it did when they dumped it?

    I'm not a huge Tumblr fan (I must be getting too old), but I just don't see Yahoo being able to incorporate it into the Yahoo fold, and as just a portfolio company, I'm not seeing meaningful benefits for either company.

  2. Jeff Domansky from Peak Communications Inc, May 17, 2013 at 5:07 p.m.

    Image is one thing but what are the business metrics that make sense? There's no content team left at Tumblr. I'm not certain Tumblr users ie age 18-24 are particularly loyal to the channel. It's convenient, easy to use but as soon as the next shiny new thing appears they're gone.

    I'd love to have somebody explain the business case.

  3. Pete Austin from Fresh Relevance, May 19, 2013 at 6:11 a.m.

    Yahoo! doesn't have a great record - e.g and flickr.

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