MediaFile

How Tumblr might ‘screw up’ Yahoo

There’s a lot to unpack in Yahoo’s reported $1.1 billion deal for Tumblr, but much of the reporting today is focused on the rather bland challenge of turning Tumblr into a profitable company. Forcing Tumblr to make money will eventually become an important mission for Yahoo, but for now it’s far from the point.

This deal’s most pressing issue isn’t what will come of balance sheets, it’s what will come of each organization’s corporate culture. Marissa Mayer has promised, in her post on the deal, “not to screw it up.” She’s talking about Tumblr. But that’s just Mayer’s very smart way of inverting what she must be hoping Tumblr becomes for Yahoo: a threat to its older, established, some might say calcified culture that has been short on innovation, creativity and user-focused design for many years now. Tumblr, indeed, will be far from “screwed up” as it gets used to its new home under Yahoo. Tumblr seems to have a bright future as something like a design lab and an already-functioning charter city under the aegis of the Yahoo brand. It will be, and already is, something Mayer will point at to tell her team, “why don’t you do it that way?”

When Mayer was at Google and led all product management and design efforts, she famously relied on data about user behavior to inform her “design” choices for Google’s products. At the time, some argued that her method of, for example, choosing one shade of blue over another because it made users fractionally more likely to click wasn’t really design at all.

Tumblr has, in some important ways, already been living by this design by data principle long espoused by Mayer. Most importantly, Tumblr is not trying to offer products to its community by throwing nonsensical new portals and features and widgets at them, the way Yahoo has for years. Rather, it’s given its community a platform, staying out of the way when it comes to all but the most fundamental underpinnings of the site. Sure, it’s got lots of handy defaults for new users, but ultimately Tumblr is whatever its users want it to be, and it’s different for every user. That’s precisely why so many different types of communities, from design bloggers to GIF makers to bored high schoolers, live on Tumblr, and why Tumblr doesn’t have to overtly try to attract new users–its platform is already doing the job.

The Tumblr-Yahoo deal isn’t about two tech companies linking up to share strengths. It’s about two entirely different ways of doing business being pitted against each other to do battle in the meeting and boardrooms now controlled by Mayer and her trusted deputies. It’s pretty clear what camp Mayer will likely favor, given that she came from the company that helped kill an earlier iteration of Yahoo. The problem is that Yahoo’s portal/agency/sales-culture DNA is still in many pockets and products across the company, however dormant. So, possibly, is Yahoo’s propensity for killing or starving to death its acquisitions, as it did with an earlier generation of once-promising startups. (Hello Delicious! Hello Flickr!) By making such a strong oath to Tumblr, Mayer is basically throwing down a challenge to her team to move forward or get left behind.

from Paul Smalera:

All your Tumblr are belong to Them

Forget Instagram’s billion-dollar payday. Forget IPOs, past and future, from Facebook, Groupon, LinkedIn and the like. And ignore, please, the online ramblings of attention-hungry venture capitalists and narcissistic Silicon Valley journalists with the off-putting habit of making their inside-baseball sound like the World Series. Their stories, to paraphrase Shakespeare, are tales told by idiots, full of sound and fury, but signifying very little about the impact of technology on most of our lives. (Sure, some of their tales are about great fortunes, but those are only for a select few; to summon the Oracle of Omaha rather than the Bard of Avon, only a fool ever equated price with value.) Their one-in-a-million windfalls are just flashes in the pan. Or, actually, they are solitary data points, meaningless when devoid of context.

That context is here. It’s come, in part, because of the cunningly simple social and curatorial tools that media companies like Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook and Pinterest give away to their users. But making sense of our social world is only possible with the the tools and technology behind what we call Big Data. The massive information collections spawned by our digital world are too big to address directly, so smart scientists have used fast computers to carve the data into real knowledge. This is how Big Data is already changing the way the world works.

But Big Data is young; though there are hundreds of accessible data sets already, there are still many more chaotic stores of information its tools can tame. Take, for example, social media: Yesterday, social media API company Gnip announced that it is providing customers with all of Tumblr’s data, what in techspeak is called the firehose. What Gnip and competitors like DataSift are providing to customers are Social Big Data firehoses that can be perfectly filtered into gently babbling brooks lined with digital gold nuggets. When the tech media wonder out loud how social companies will ever make a buck – sifting the gold out of their user-generated content is a huge piece of the puzzle.

Looks like Yahoo’s not buying Tumblr

Gawker/Valleywag created a bit of stir on the blogosphere Monday with its report that Yahoo was in talks to buy blogging startup Tumblr for “low to mid-eight figures,” or as much as $50 million.

From the post:

We hear the talks are serious, led by Tapan Bhat, a fast-rising executive in charge of Yahoo’s homepage and other key properties — but as with any acquisition talks, they could fall apart.

We figured Yahoo’s new CEO Carol Bartz was too busy figuring out where Yahoo should seek growth and how to stem the leaky ship to pursue an acquisition. Sure enough, Silicon Alley Insider knocked down the Valleywag story by getting Tumblr founder David Karp on the record: