It’s not easy being a global mega media business, as demonstrated by the reaction from some about Yahoo! buying Tumblr. Sadly, it’s all too easy to point out beloved services that Yahoo! has indeed screwed up and closed down – Upcoming, for instance, or GeoCities. Some of you may even be old enough to remember that, in 1999, it paid almost $6 billion for Broadcast.com – that was when $6 billion was a lot of money. Now the URL just redirects to Yahoo!.
'Sadly, it’s all too easy to point out beloved services that Yahoo! has indeed screwed up and closed down'
Strangely, though, it’s not like any of Yahoo!’s competitors could buy Tumblr and all of its users would be happy and relaxed. They all have long pedigrees in the screwing-things-up-and-shutting-them-down department. Google? Too nerdy. Microsoft? So last century. Apple? Too controlling. Facebook? Mum’s place. Any Old Big Media Business? They just don’t get it. Where would Tumblr be "safe"? Nowhere comes to mind.
So there’s a worry that Yahoo! will ham-fistedly degrade the experience so that Tumblr becomes another MySpace – a weird vestige of a cultural moment, nothing that anyone "needs" but a happy digital memory for many; a place where people experimented with identities and connections. And everyone will just move on to the next thing.
Or maybe it will do something smart – it is a bold, audacious buy. Maybe it will display a deft and tender touch on the creative side of the business while reducing its dependence on old-fashioned display and placing a big bet on "native" ads. It’s possible.
But, either way, history suggests that something else will come along soon. These social tools seem to exhibit the opposite of lock-in – maybe we should call it "dribble-out". The web makes it so easy to build and promote a new place that the old ones can never hang on to their users for very long. So, today, just be grateful you’re not a global mega media business. It must be horribly confusing.
Russell Davies is a creative director at Government Digital Service