May 20, 2013

Yahoo's Big Tumble Into Big Porn, Big Sleaze, and Perhaps, Big Trouble

By now you've likely heard that Tumblr is selling itself to Yahoo for just over a billion bucks in cash. Oh wait, excuse me, that's Tumblr. -- officially, there's a period after Tumblr, a flourish added to the current vogue of purpsly drpping leters frm yor nme.

Yahoo wants to be "cool" again -- young, hip, bad, fresh, sick, tight -- or whatever your favorite current euphemism for youth monetization might be.

In furtherance of this worthy end, Yahoo will be providing Tumblr's (insert the periods yourself if you must) 26-year-old, high school dropout founder with a payday of something on the order of a quarter of a billion dollars -- and each Tumblr employee something like a paltry six meg each.

To which I say -- more power to them! Man, if you can get it, take it! While it appears that P.T. Barnum never actually uttered the phrase usually attributed to him -- concerning the birth rate of suckers -- it's true nonetheless.

In the last couple of days, I've realized that a surprising number of folks have either never heard of Tumblr, or purport to know virtually nothing about its content and user policies. The old echo chamber strikes again -- it's easy for us to forget that not everyone spends their days thinking about the Net.

The fact is that Tumblr brings to Yahoo a rather fascinating dilemma. It would be unfair to call Tumblr a sleaze site per se -- because they do host a wide variety of utterly un-sleazy materials posted by their freewheeling users on a virtually endless series of "microblogs."

But, truth be told, Tumblr is also an almost bottomless pit of seamy, gross, and in some cases borderline illicit postings of all sorts.

The topic range in these particular categories is both broad and deep, and of the sort to make your creepy Uncle Ernie both pant and vomit with joy.

We're not talking here simply about happy adult pornography, but bestiality, self-mutilation, racism, anorexia fan sites, near c-porn, and so, so much more.

Certainly it's true that other major sites are not necessarily entirely devoid of such goodies. But the Tumblr terms of use have tended to either implicitly or explicitly condone -- and so attract -- this sort of content.

Which brings us back to Yahoo.

I'm a first amendment, free speech guy, and so my concern in this context is not with that Tumblr content itself -- however disgusting I personally find much of it to be. Like I say all the time, censorship on the Internet doesn't work and just makes things worse -- don't even try it.

But seeming corporate hypocrisy related to a billion dollar acquisition really bugs me.

Yahoo is claiming that it's going to be "hands off" Tumblr -- that (at least for now) Tumblr will operate separately with no changes to their usage terms.

"Tumblr and Yahoo will be independent," said Yahoo today -- on the same day they moved (with considerable fanfare) the Yahoo official blog to a address. Hmm.

But sooner or later, Yahoo is going to want to monetize the Tumbler throngs, and therein awaits the advertising trap.

Pretty much the worst thing that could happen to most major advertisers is to have their products pitched in conjunction with serious sleaze, especially in this age of flash boycotts.

What to do? Well, obviously Yahoo will be pushing for Tumbler users to be rigorous about accurately labeling their sites -- e.g. as "Not Safe For Pretty Much Anyone" -- but just like right now, many users will ignore this, and likely others will begin purposely mislabeling as a form of protest against Yahoo's takeover.

Algorithms can try to ferret out some of this automatically -- "Running Procedure sicko_seek-pns49300A.3" -- but a lot will still slip through, so to speak.

All told, it's almost impossible to visualize anything beyond a relatively near-term future where the existing full content range on Tumblr will be tolerable to Yahoo.

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.

This won't happen overnight. It's in Yahoo's interests right now to try make Tumblr users of all stripes feel that they're wanted, valued, and cherished. Welcome to the joyful embrace of Yahoo!

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.


Posted by Lauren at May 20, 2013 05:09 PM | Permalink
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