July 19, 2013

Yahoo's Sneaky Strike to Tumble Tumblr's Adult Artifacts

Addendum (8:24 PM): After a flurry of articles today (including the posting below) critical of Yahoo/Tumblr handling of adult material, Yahoo/Tumblr are now saying that this was all caused by a complicated series of bugs and misunderstandings. Maybe you can figure it out.

Exactly two months ago, when we heard that Yahoo was buying Tumblr for over a billion dollars in cash, I posed a somewhat provocative question.

To wit: What was Yahoo gonna do with all that porn on Tumblr?

Despite the continuing insistence of senior Yahoos and Tumblr's now very wealthy and apparently very pliable young creator that "nothing would change" -- that never seemed like a probability worth really considering.

After all, the adult-themed sites on Tumblr range from soft-core to stunningly serious sleaze, and one would assume that Yahoo wouldn't want to upset their advertisers (whom young Mr. Tumblr has recently been praising profusely) with such riffraff.

I'm not an aficionado of this stuff myself, but back in May I made a prediction and offered a suggestion.

The prediction: "My guess is that Yahoo will be subtly working to drive out those 'troublesome' aspects of the Tumblr user base over time -- one way or another -- ideally before the first big public blowup in the 'Yahoo era' over Tumblr content."

The suggestion: "But if I were a Tumblr user with content that was, shall we say, considerably divergent from the mainstream, I'd be starting to look around right now for a different place to host my stuff, and some new URLs to forward over to good ol' Uncle Ernie."

It now appears that Yahoo and Mr. Tumblr have validated both of these statements.

Rather than explicitly banning adult materials per se, Yahoo is in the midst of a full court press to bury them all in a "red light district" in the deepest, darkest corner of their data centers, ideally in locations where cooling unit condensation will drip directly onto the servers and render associated data unreadable as soon as possible.

OK, they haven't gone the condensation route yet, but Yahoo wants Tumblr adult content out of sight, out of mind, and out of search engines.

They're taking a number of approaches, none of which have an obvious equivalence with the promised "nothing will change."

Perhaps of most concern, Yahoo is using the robots.txt convention to tell external search engines like Google not to index any sites that Yahoo/Tumblr now considers to be "adult content." This is despite the fact that a check box still apparently exists through which adult Tumblr sites can indicate that they do want to be indexed by search engines. Apparently, this is now a no-op -- a lie.

And now Yahoo has dropped the hammer on tags and internal Yahoo/Tumblr search, reportedly cutting these sites off from these as well.

The upshot of all this is that for most practical purposes, if you don't already know the URL of an associated site in the Yahoo/Tumblr dripping water red light district, you're unlikely to find the site at all.

Yeah, "nothing will change ..."

Now, none of this is to suggest that Yahoo doesn't have the right to determine what sorts of material it wants to host, even though their ongoing actions appear to fly in the face of their previous public assurances.

But playing fast and loose by blocking access by outside search engines seems particularly insidious and hypocritical.

If you don't want to host the sites at all, fine. Tell them to leave and send your advertisers some "mission accomplished" cupcakes.

But it's basically evil to say that you'll host the sites and then refuse to let those sites be indexed by outside search systems. They should be permitted to be indexed as normal, and users of those search engines who do not wish to see adult results can avail themselves of the adult content controls offered by those search engines themselves.

Yahoo and Mr. Tumblr appear to want it both ways. That's pretty sleazy in a way that makes even most hardcore porn sites look pretty tame by comparison.

So, yep, like I said before, I'm not a fan, but if you have an adult site on Tumblr, you need to be looking for a new home as soon as possible -- if not yesterday.

In the meantime, it might be interesting to see what Yahoo/Tumblr would do if you started posting summary information and links to your Tumblr sites at other locations that are not blocked from search engine indexing. Perhaps a bunch of Tumblr site owners affected by Yahoo's cleansing could get together and create a meta-site specifically for this purpose -- just a place for search engines to find you and pick up the URLs users need to reach your Tumblr sites directly.

Appropriately label your content of course -- the idea is to be indexed, not to force anyone uninterested in your materials to view them.

Naturally, if something like this started happening on a large scale, Yahoo and Mr. Tumblr probably wouldn't take it sitting down.

I wonder what "nothing will change" they'd try next?


Addendum (8:24 PM): After a flurry of articles today (including the posting above) critical of Yahoo/Tumblr handling of adult material, Yahoo/Tumblr are now saying that this was all caused by a complicated series of bugs and misunderstandings. Maybe you can figure it out.

Posted by Lauren at July 19, 2013 07:44 PM | Permalink
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