If Facebook isn’t thinking about buying Tumblr, it should be

81 Comments

It might seem a little early to start talking about potential Facebook acquisitions considering the social network just completed its $736-million purchase of Instagram, and its share price is still 40 percent lower than it was when the company went public. But I think Facebook should start thinking hard (assuming it isn’t already) about trying to acquire Tumblr. Why? For some or all of the same reasons that it felt compelled to buy Instagram — including the fact that the massive growth and engagement Tumblr is seeing is a direct threat to Facebook’s future success. It seems obvious someone is going to take advantage of that, and if it isn’t Facebook then it will be a competitor.

This idea struck me again as I was preparing for my talk with Tumblr founder David Karp at GigaOM’s RoadMap conference on Monday, which you can read about (and see a video clip of) here. I pulled together a lot of statistics about the size of the service, but it quickly became obvious that there wasn’t much point, since they would almost certainly be out of date by the time I hit the stage. Sure enough, Karp mentioned that Tumblr recently crossed the 20 billion pageview-per-month mark, up from the 16 billion that is mentioned on its website.

When you look at Tumblr’s size and growth, it’s easy to assume that you have somehow made a mistake and added too many zeroes: at the beginning of this year the network was at 15 billion pageviews, and a little more than a year ago it was at 10 billion. According to estimates from Quantcast, in the past year the site has almost doubled the number of monthly visitors it gets, from about 80 million to almost 140 million. There are more than 35 billion posts on the almost 80 million blogs that are hosted on the service, and it gets tens of millions of new posts every day from what Karp told me were its 160 million or so members.

When comScore looked at the amount of time that users spend on different sites earlier this year, Facebook was still far and away the leader, with about 400 minutes per month, but Tumblr and Pinterest were tied for second place, with about 90 minutes per month. Time spent may not be a great measure of actual engagement — since many users leave sites like Facebook or Tumblr open in a window for hours at a time — but those are still pretty compelling numbers. And there have been some indications that Facebook’s engagement levels are falling, or at least levelling off.

It’s not just the growth, it’s the level of engagement

Those are some of the number-based reasons for why Facebook should be interested in Tumblr. The other part of the argument is more anecdotal: It comes from watching how both of my teenaged daughters use the service, and the powerful hold it has over the way that they consume and share all kinds of content, especially visual content (including animated GIFs, etc.) — and the corresponding decline in the amount of time they spend on Facebook. For them, Facebook seems to have become something they feel they have to use rather than something they want to spend a lot of time on, much like email is for older users. When it comes to sharing info about their favorite TV shows or movies or likes and dislikes, they use Tumblr almost exclusively.

If I were Mark Zuckerberg, I would be more than a little worried about that phenomenon, just as the Facebook co-founder and CEO was apparently worried about the growth of Instagram, and the threat that it posed to Facebook’s dominance of the photo-sharing market and the mobile market — and the possibility that a competitor such as Twitter or Google or Apple might acquire it. As Om described it after Facebook announced the $1-billion purchase (which lost some of its value after Facebook went public and its share price fell):

“Facebook was scared shitless and knew that for first time in its life it arguably had a competitor that could not only eat its lunch, but also destroy its future prospects. Why? Because Facebook is essentially about photos, and Instagram had found and attacked Facebook’s achilles heel — mobile photo sharing.”

It’s true that Tumblr is not nearly as large a player in mobile as Instagram was, but it is clearly a huge and growing force when it comes to sharing and engaging with visual content of all kinds — in other words, it’s the kind of curatorial and creative market that lots of advertisers and brands are interested in appealing to. The sharing of that content is exactly what Facebook has tried to encourage with its “frictionless sharing” apps and features, but much of that has been awkwardly handled from a user point of view and it’s not clear what effect it has had on engagement.

The bottom line is that any service that is growing as rapidly as Tumblr, and sucking up a massive amount of the attention of younger users, is a potential threat to Facebook’s future growth. Theoretically, it could acquire Tumblr for something close to what it was willing to spend for Instagram — since Tumblr’s last financing round allegedly valued it at about $800 million — and then keep the network as a standalone entity, as it has with the photo-sharing service (which has continued to grow by orders of magnitude).

The only stumbling block is that David Karp and his backers may see the value of remaining independent and the potential for building something even larger than they have now.

Post and thumbnail images courtesy of Flickr user Gabriele Coletti

81 Comments

Deanna

THIS IS THE MOST DISTURBING ARTICLE I’VE EVER READ WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU

Rita

BLOODY HELL NO. There would be no end to how pissed I would be if this happened. Besides packing up and moving out, I’d make sure to spam as many emails as I can to FB making it clear just how much they’ve pissed me off. And I’m sure a large majority of Tumblr would agree with me and help.

Mikan

HELL NO I CAN’T STAND FACEBOOK. I’m happy with my little tumblr and my fandom feels and sometimes I can’t.

KEEP FACEBOOK OUT OF IT. DO YOU PEOPLE THINK OF NOTHING BUT DOLLARS? Does it even matter what we think, are we just walking wallets to you?

Sam Doe

lol all the people on Tumblr I know hate Facebook.
Including me. Only reason I have a facebook is so that I can log into sites that i’m too lazy to make an account for.

Richard Altman

terrible idea, judging, and i really don’t mean to, this guy is a little out of it, i saw the interview, the game is still about making money, it’s just not understood very much by those writing about it, it’s always horseless carriage. i’m not articulating beyond this how, essentially it’s literal.

NO

NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO

I Cry Every Time

That would be horrible!! WHY WOULD YOU EVEN SUGGEST THAT?!?

I mean, you only have to read the comments below. This article has already been recognised by tumblr (the reason as to why I’m here) and you just have to look at the responces to this article to see that it’s a really, really, really bad idea.

Most of the comments before me have said it really well: if facebook buys tumblr the current audience will go. We use it to get away from facebook!

Tumblr is a special and b-e-a-utiful place and we like it that way, thanks. I would write a lot more but lucky for you lot I have homework to do. Grrrrr
*said with attitude and finished with the flick of my hair and a snap of my fingers*

BOO TO YOU, BRO. BOO TO YOU. Kthxbai.

theNewDanger

Two COMPLETELY different organizational cultures. Who the HELL ok’d this article?

NO

NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO

Tiffany

It wouldn’t help engage younger users either. Have you read these comments? All those younger users on Tumblr would leave if Facebook bought it. The move is more counterproductive than it seems.

YOU'RE OVERLORD

NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE.
You keep your facebook out of my Tumblr.
We must keep the peasants at bay :|

Danny K Antwi

Excellent point Billy Jack. And to think their mantra is connecting people to the rest of the world.

Tiffany

Yeah, Tumblr would lose all possible value if Facebook bought it because everyone would leave the site if this happened.

Marie

Oh Hell no! This would be a terrible idea. Majority of people on Tumblr (at least in my experience) are there because they fled Facebook. One of the main things that makes Tumblr so great is they way they treat their users, unlike facebook who swamp their users with advertising, exploit private information through complicated and difficult to find and constantly changing privacy settings. Facebook has become the place where you go once in a while to keep up with that Aunt you never see or that one guy whose parents are friends with your parents while Tumblr is the place you go to feel free to express your love of all things geeky and weird, engage with pop culture, and connect with people who share your interests.

beverly

DO NOT TELL FACEBOOK TO DO THIS!! WE MADE TUMBLRS SO WE COULD GET AWAY FROM FACEBOOK IDIOTS!! This is simply not allowed!

WATCHA GONNA DO FAGGOT

no, いいえ, jo, ոչ, heç bir, ez, няма, না, не, 没有, ne, nej
(This is just no in a bunch of languages btw)
If FB bought tumblr, a place filled with nerds, weirdos the good kind), trolls, fandoms (fans of something coming together making a group), and porn, food porn, gay porn. You see we people of tumblr just don’t want to be bought by FB, because we HATE FB, literally, we post the stupid Facebookers posts on here and laugh at them. You see we tumblrs are nerds, yes it’s true we are nerds, but this is why it’s fun. It’s some other loser probably ALLLL THE WAY ACROSS THE WORLD with you on a website where you two can talk. Also here on tumblr we are WEIRD and yes the word weird deserves to be in all caps. I doubt Facebookers could be able to handle things like this on tumblr:
“AHHH THE SCALENE TRIANGLE!!! FUCK ME SCALENE!!”
“NICE LEGS DAISY DUKES MAKES A MAN GO (insert sound here)”
“SUMMON THE DARK LORD SATAN.”
“I CAN’T EVEN”
“THIS”
“I SHIP THEM SO HARD”
“THIS IS MY OTP”
Also in completely random pictures where let’s say a bunch of dead people on a train and there’s a woman just sitting there smiling”
Now normal people would pay attention to the dead people but on tumblr that’s basically overrated so e just pay attention to the other thing, like the woman. Most people would be confused on why would we pay attention tot eh woman and not the dead people, well hahahahaha that’s because-
So basically if the people of FB came on tumblr they would find us all weird, BUT yes we have a small portion of normal people on tumblr but they don’t really make up anything lol.

tl;dr FB is for peasants we are fine without them.

Andrew Werling

I use both. I don’t want them to be partnered in any way, but please, is it really necessary to insult those of us who find value in both platforms?

rhysblargh

Backing up my point from before, this right here is why Tumblr would lose droves of users with FB acquiring it. There are many on Tumblr who downright look down on people that use Facebook because most would not understand some of the things posted there (basically an extension of Special Snowflake Syndrome).

Case in point here.

Maya

NEVER.
Aha.
Well buying Tumblr would probably not fare well for Facebook since there is definitely anti-Facebook sentiment on Tumblr and Facebook owning Tumblr could actually cause some users to leave and find a different place, because in actuality, Tumblr is the website we use to get away from Facebook.

Tumblr should stay independent. :)

YAAA....NOT!

NO!!! FACEBOOK IS WHERE THE NORMAL PEOPLE ARE!!! WE ARE NERDS HERE!! THIS IS WHERE WE HAVE FUN!!! TUMBLR IS OUR SANCTUARY!!
MOST TUMBLRS LITERALLY HATE FACEBOOK!!

rhysblargh

Whilst that would make sense for Facebook to extend their reach, there are still problems with this idea.

As mentioned several times, most avid Tumblr users dislike Facebook with a passion; the site being associated with it would likewise cause a good portion of the audience to drop of immediately.

Also, given Facebook’s advertising history, I feel like the acquisition of it would probably lead to Tumblr being injected with ~500% more ads (I’m just throwing numbers around), which isn’t massive, but massive compared to what there is now. That would also cause another small portion to drop off purely because of the change.

Finally, I think the “stumbling block” is more of a solid 50-foot brick wall at this stage. Karp’s primary reason for starting the site and, more importantly, his desire to perfect the structure and feedback process within it, and his repetition in places about it not being so, tells me that he does not plan on selling any time soon, if at all. His focus has almost entirely been around the content creator’s, curator’s and audience’s experience with the feedback, making it engaging and worthwhile, and that would likely mean that before he even fathoms selling it, he would want the structure under his supervision until it is fully realised.

Not that Zuckerberg couldn’t do this (his focus, in the same vain as Karp’s, has been primarily around the user’s experience and not monetization as such), but I feel that his vision would be slightly different to Karp’s. And that in and of it’s self would cause a lot of unrest in Tumblr’s audience were it to change hands.

Blah

WE WON’T LET YOU
No please
Keep the whores of Facebook off Tumblr
Its the only safe place left!

krisweinrich

In terms of the market, I can see why Facebook would want to buy Tumblr. However, Facebook needs to keep internet culture in mind, because that purchase would not necessarily be good for them. Whatever financial gains they stand to make would fizzle and die quickly

The main reason: many Tumblr users specifically shun Facebook.

Tumblr users want to commiserate with other users with similar interests in a semi-anonymous bubble, far, far away from classmates, coworkers, family members etc. Unlike Facebook which wants you to input where you live, Tumblr leaves sharing that info entirely up to you. If Facebook bought it, there would be an enormous backlash. Tumblr users would be devastated that their favorite playground has been devoured by a social media entity they were trying to escape.

Another thing: because of it’s design, Tumblr functions as a huge haven for geeky introverts. Being a geeky introvert myself, it’s easy for me to see that appeal. It allows you to express yourself and communicate with others more or less at your own pace. If Tumblr is the quiet, soft spoken nerd with strange and wonderful ideas who should probably get out the house just a little bit more, then Facebook is the obnoxious, loud mouthed extrovert who means well, but often takes offense at anyone who insists on having their own “alone time” rather than go out shopping, clubbing, etc.

Now, Tumblr isn’t without it’s own faults. It has its fair share of trolls and spammers. Also, the glut of Tumblr pages mostly made out of reblogs, for me, get boring very quickly. The Tumblrs that interest me the most are the ones with the most original content. There are a lot of Tumblr users hellbent on crafting abstract, mosaic self-portraits of their own personalities using entirely reblogged content. There is a hollowness to that which nauseates me almost as much as the narcissistic status updates that sometimes haunt my Facebook feed. I’m not saying I never reblog, but one day I noticed I was doing it far too much for my liking, and the artist in me recoiled in disgust.

Karp said it himself, if Tumblr were to neglect their core audience of creators and curators, they would leave in droves. Most users would agree that being bought out by Facebook would be not just neglect but outright betrayal.

As a result, the magic would be gone, and Facebook would, in the long run, only end up buying a hollowed out husk of something that was once teeming with life.

Em B

Hell to the no! Facebook needs to keep its overly dramatic, attention-seeking nose OUT of our haven. Keep your integrity and don’t sell out, dearest Karp! We need you to stay strong and don’t let the foul demon that is Zuckerberg take over our beautiful Tumblr!

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