Here we go again: Yahoo buys Tumblr for $1.1 billion

May 20, 2013

It looks like Yahoo is in for yet another tumble! After a long series of damp squib purchases (Flickr, Geocities perhaps most prominent) it has agreed terms with a fast-growing social networking site for the young.

Six years old, 175 employees and 108 million users, Tumblr is a blog site which majors on digital images more than it does words. Users build up a sort of visual identity for themselves by uploading or just re-adopting images already chosen by other users. There are words in there too, but not many,

The result CAN be quite impressive. Very dark image collections which express the settled personality or transitory angst of their collectors are a commonplace. It's become very popular with teens who think that Facebook is so last year.

There are a couple of problems.

First, the site doesn't make any money (yet), secondly it loves big screens to display all the colourful imagery. So Tumblr works well on tablets, less well on modestly proportioned smartphones.

Marissa Mayer, Chief Executive Officer of Yahoo!, though, is clearly hell-bent on making Yahoo! cool again. Despite the fact that she already has 700 million users she wants Yahoo to have a 'proper' social network with lots of cool users and engagement.This is a shame. To me Yahoo! is a nostalgic reminder of the old Web where, instead of being bombarded with shallow images of pasty teenagers with eating disorders, one signed up to mailing lists on obtuse, slightly nerdy subjects involving caravans or some of the more interesting habits of migratory birds.

In short, and in the interests of diversity, I would like to see Yahoo building out the attention it has already won, rather than dissing it by going after attention it's probably never going to get.

Still perhaps Marissa knows best. With Tumblr at its core, she hopes to make Yahoo! a prime destination and make up some lost market share. As recently as 2009 the company had 15 per cent of the digital ad market. Now, thanks to the predations of Google mostly, it has retained just 8.4 per cent and falling.

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