Yahoo grabs Tumblr: Will the blog site be corporatized?

Popular news site Yahoo purchased social network/microblogging site Tumblr for $1.1 billion on May 20. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, who had been itching to obtain properties that would attract a younger online user base, was a longtime executive for Google until summer of last year. And anyone could tell you what a profiteering, privacy-meddling corporation Google is.

Yahoo is cut from the same cloth, its influence albeit less widespread. Yahoo’s acquisition of Tumblr, a favorite go-to site for teens and young adults, has got bloggers worried. Many now ask the question, “Will Tumblr be ruined by capitalism?”

Tumblr, as of late, has been exploding with popularity, but older Internet users may not be familiar with it. Created in 2007 by founder and CEO David Karp, the service had 75,000 users within two weeks of its launch. Despite its semi-corporate origins, Tumblr was surprisingly un-Big Business-like; Karp downright refused to have ads on the site, and bloggers appreciated the simple, minimalist look and feel of it. As of May 2013, Tumblr hosts over 108.2 million blogs, with 75.8 million new posts made each day.

Many celebrities and artists have Tumblr pages, including Lady Gaga; actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt; actor Norman Reedus (“Daryl” on The Walking Dead); Paramore singer Hayley Williams; and director Eli Roth. Clearly, Yahoo wanted to sink their teeth into this valuable network.

The prime concern amongst Tumblr users is that the site will now be commodified; that it will be inundated with bothersome ads and cleverly-placed “messages” and “posts” from “sponsors.”

Another concern is that the site, known for allowing a wide range of controversial content, might be censored under the ownership of Yahoo. Tumblr has always allowed adult content, including content of a sexual nature, so long as posters tagged the entries “NSFW” (Not Safe for Work), so other users could avoid or omit those kinds of posts if they so chose. Yahoo may disallow those kinds of posts, though Mayer has yet to comment on the matter.

The bottom line is that now Tumblr-lovers are holdiong their breath in regard to what changes Mayer will make to the site, if any.

Marissa Mayer’s past is steeped in corporatism, beginning with her work with Google. She also currently sits on the board of directors for Walmart, the big-box corporation with a messy legacy of union-busting, wage theft, small business extermination, and pure capitalism. Mayer has praised Walmart as “an amazing story of entrepreneurship and the world’s most powerful brand, which touches millions of lives every day.” She made no mention of how Walmart touches the lives of the underaged slave laborers who toiloverseas to make most of the products.

Mayer said that Tumblr users ought not to worry – that Tumblr will not be turning “purple,” nor will there be any Yahoo branding on Tumblr, and that Tumblr will be independently operated as a separate business with Karp staying on as CEO. But in the same breath, she said that the new deal will give Yahoo the chance to “monetize” Tumblr, though she was not very clear on what that will entail.

Mayer also compared the success of the purchase of Tumblr to that of Google’s purchase of YouTube. But YouTubers would be quick to note that the video site has become overwhelmed with ads and, more recently, pay-to-watch videos since Google’s acquisition. That fact does nothing to alleviate concerns over this deal.

This is also seen as an effort by Yahoo to get its name out there among the younger generation, who are not as familiar with the site. Fearing the news site will fade into obscurity, the company is trying desperately to appeal to that crowd who would ask, “What’s AOL?,” “What’s MSN?,” and “What’s dial-up Internet?” As Time Magazine put it, “Ultimately, Yahoo did the deal to get into social networking, create more advertising inventory, and because upon hearing the news, 40 million 20 year-olds asked, ‘Ya-who?'”

Yahoo’s next venture? It was just reported that Mayer has joined the bidding war for popular video streaming site Hulu. Other bidders include DirecTV and Time Warner Cable, and it’s unlikely they’ll outbid Yahoo. It seems that Yahoo will, like Google, begin to gobble up all the smaller websites out there, assimilating them into itself. In other words, welcome to 2013, where no small businesses can survive – not even on the Internet.

Photo: Marissa Mayer speaks at a Google event.   Giorgio Montersino/Flickr (CC)



Blake Skylar
Blake Skylar

Blake is a writer and production manager, responsible for the daily assembly of the People's World home page. He has earned awards from the IWPA and ILCA, and his articles have appeared in publications such as Workday Minnesota, EcoWatch, and Earth First News. He has covered issues including the BP oil spill in New Orleans and the 2015 U.N. Climate Conference in Paris.

He lives in Pennsylvania with his girlfriend and their cats. He enjoys wine, books, music, and nature. In his spare time, he reviews music, creates artwork, and is working on several books and digital comics.