Last week I posited that Yahoo were engaging in a renewed portal strategy: basically, trying to be in a position to capture readers’ attention for 30 minutes a day and, as a result, have a regular and manageable sales proposition to advertisers. Today, Yahoo announced it was buying Tumblr for $1.1 billion. Tumblr is generally thought of as a blogging platform. It is great on mobile, has a modern sharing interface but has not been successful at monetisation.
The general opinion is that the acquisition is about giving Yahoo users and growth (which Tumblr has in spades) and giving Tumblr a monetisation path in advertising (which Yahoo has experience and success in). At the same time, the commentators have noted that this is at odds with Yahoo’s promise to keep Tumblr independent and “not screw it up.”
I don’t see it that way. I think that what Tumblr gives Yahoo is another referral product — a product that refers users to Yahoo’s monetisation products (such as its email, news and home page that contain advertising) — but is a referral product that delivers a set of tools for social interaction that Yahoo doesn’t currently have. In that respect, it also gives Yahoo data of a social type that it was on the verge on being shut out from. For Tumblr, the acquisition allows them to persist as a non-monetised product and a clear customer; Yahoo itself. For that reason, Yahoo will not want to tinker with Tumblr in a way that stops user activity. To be sure, it may consider ways of advertising (Tumblr already has some of this) but I suspect that will be very cautious. In that respect, it has clear parallels with Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram. The natural home for platforms that are essentially tools for creativity and sharing is as a feature within a platform that includes platforms for economising and attracting attention.