Why Yahoo’s abandonment of core Tumblr users is actually almost commendable

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tumblr-becoming-youtubeWhen Yahoo bought Tumblr in May 2013 for $ 1.1 billion, Marissa Mayer made a big of how she wasn’t going to “screw it up.”

“Tumblr will be independently operated as a separate business,” a Yahoo memo stated. “David Karp will remain CEO. The product, service and brand will continue to be defined and developed separately with the same Tumblr irreverence, wit, and commitment to empower creators.”

But while Mayer vowed not to “screw it up,” it’s become increasingly clear that the people she’s not screwing it up for are shareholders, not longtime Tumblr users.

Witness the report last month that Mayer wants to turn Tumblr into a YouTube competitor, poaching top talent from the Google-owned video network. It makes sense for Yahoo’s bottom line: Video advertising is far more lucrative than advertising against celebrity bread puns and academic critiques of dick pics. As I wrote at the time of the announcement, there are many reasons it won’t work — but at least it’s a legitimately smart and bold move, and there haven’t been too many of those during Mayer’s tenure.

Nevertheless, a platform for existing video superstars is not exactly in the spirit of Tumblr’s gonzo community of lost toys. But couldn’t Yahoo conceivably chase its YouTubian ambitions without ruining Tumblr for its original users?

Apparently not. Over 50,000 Tumblr users have signed a Change.org petition asking the company to reverse course on a change it made to image size requirements. Tumblr likely made the size changes, which involve wider images, because they would make video content (and video ad content) more attractive. But as a result, many older images are now stretched or otherwise distorted. Commenters say the impact has been especially great on animated GIFs, one of the most popular formats on Tumblr.

Of course, Yahoo is unlikely to heed these requests — The truth is, these angry users are far less easy to monetize than star video-makers or even amateur video-makers. In fact, one Tumblr user says the company wants its core users to abandon the service, in a post that’s garnered 23,816 notes in 2 days:

Hey everyone this is is a PSA that Tumblr staff and Yahoo WANT to discourage your use of Tumblr. They want to discourage those users who want proper photo formatting because they want to promote those who upload videos. They are weeding out users who don’t care for the website’s video function. This is a step in their plan to make Tumblr a video-based website to compete against Youtube.

Boycotting/ceasing use of the website will be doing exactly what they want.

Do not stop using Tumblr. Make photo/image content like crazy. Stop uploading/watching videos. Sign this petition. Keep emailing the staff.

Of course, more photo-sharing likely won’t help either. That’s because, according to Fortune, video posts are already growing twice as fast as photo posts on Tumblr.

To be honest, part of me has to commend Yahoo for working to evolve Tumblr. Just look at another one of Yahoo’s acquisitions of a big, beloved network: Flickr. The company failed to allocate the resources Flickr needed, and the service stagnated, missing out on all the mobile and social innovation apps like Instagram would bring to photo-sharing. At least this time around, Yahoo is shooting for the moon. And unfortunately for Tumblr’s longtime fanbase, it may not make it without jettisoning off some extra weight.

[illustration by Brad Jonas]

PandoDaily

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