Why Tumblr Should Sell to Twitter Instead

Awesome photo borrowed from The Verge
If the rumors or to believe, the ink is drying as we speak on a deal for Yahoo! to acquire Tumblr.  This is Marisa Mayer's biggest move yet in her effort to make Yahoo! relevant again.  I'm a big fan of Marisa and rooting for her to bring magic to properties that Flickr that I still rely on.  But as a Tumblr user, I can't help but wonder if this is a terrible fit.  In short, here's why: Yahoo! has a horrible legacy with forced integration, has never been innovative when it comes to monetization models, and is lacking any real creative credibility at the moment.  Tumblr users, myself included, have to be worried about all of these things.

As a regular user it may seem funny to think so intensely about the business functions of free consumer platforms  like Tumblr, but the truth is we have to.  Tumblr founder David Karp fought the good fight by keeping regular banner advertising off Tumblr's enjoyable platform for so long.  But free platforms have to make money somehow, and as we're learning time after time, the harsh reality of business is often bad news for us.  The question is whether Yahoo! is capable of recouping a $1.1 billion investment in Tumblr in a way that makes sense for itself and the Tumblr community.

Advocates of this deal will point to Google's successful acquisition of YouTube as an example of how the relationship between Yahoo! and Tumblr should be structured.  But YouTube actually benefited immensely from Google's ownership and was more synergistic than it may be looked on the surface.  Google's infrastructure innovations have helped reduce the operating expense and increased the compatibility of the platform.  Google's ad targeting and performance pricing were both exactly right for YouTube.  And search is incredibly important for YouTube.  Does Yahoo! have that type of synergy with Tumblr?  I'm not so sure.

If Tumblr really had to sell, I would have much rather seen Twitter as the acquirer.  In many ways, Tumblr and Twitter are incredibly compatible.  David Karp and Jack Dorsey are both creative leaders who have proven they care about user experience.  Tumblr's diverse content posting platform would be a perfect way for Twitter to fill in support for all media types in its growing Twitter cards platform.  Tumblr has recently started making money through native advertising techniques that replicate Twitter's monetization-- promoted posts and promoted accounts--  and both platforms approach the advertising with careful restraint, which is greatly appreciated by users as compared to Facebook.  Twitter and Tumblr also both have the respect of a younger audience, which means their loyal fans would probably not be appalled and run for greener pastures if the acquisition took place (which is a major fear should the Yahoo! acquisition go through).  Both companies use tagging and topic pages to tell cover events and tell stories through the power of their users.  The examples of synergy go on and on.

Yet again we users are in a scary situation as a company we considers its on future.  It's time for users to take some responsibility for these fates.  We have to signal the ways in which we'd be comfortable with the services we use making money.  We can be willing to pay, we can appreciate and support good ad experiences, we can willingly give up our data.  Hopefully users and companies can work together to ensure the product we both love can thrive and secure their own fates.  And if that's not possible, hopefully companies can make smart acquisition decisions that lead to outcomes like YouTube, not Flickr.  I hope I'm wrong and Marisa Mayer is the right parent for the job.


The subtlety of (don’t be) evil

The subtlety of (don’t be) evil: considering Google's ambitions
[A blog post I wrote for Medium, but never published, after Google IO]

In the aftermath of Google’s annual IO conference that ended with an impassioned speech by Larry Page pleading with the tech industry to stop fighting and start focusing on making the world better, it’s worth revisiting Google historic Don’t Be Evil mantra. The irony was not lost on anyone when, at the same time Larry Page was preaching unity, Google lawyers were requesting that Microsoft pull their recently launched YouTube app from the Windows Phone Store.

Here is why I believe in Google, why I buy into their mission: more often than not, Google’s work helps make the world better. Whether its breaking new ground with products no one ever thought of, or entering competitive industries that already have clear leaders, its typically doing so to significantly benefit us all by starting massive leaps forward.

Oftentimes critics label Google’s ambitions in productivity (i.e., Google Docs), web utility (i.e., Chrome), Geography (i.e., Maps), and mobile (i.e., Android) as evil because they were competitive efforts in someone else’s industry. But in each case, Google helped drastically change the market for the better. Microsoft wasn’t innovating with its Office product and clearly had no vision for the era of web connectivity. Firefox had done the hard work of unseating Microsoft’s hold on the browser market, but it took Google’s entry into the industry to ignite the incredible acceleration in web browser speed, standards compatibility and cross-platform sync. Google Maps proved MapQuest was actually a laughable product that was doing a fraction of what mapping was capable of. And while Apple made the biggest contribution to the mobile industry ever by breaking the carrier stranglehold, it needed a foil in Google to expose the value of open platforms. In each instance, Google entering the market has ignited competition that has lead to greater and greater products and services for users.

For me, whether Google is acting evil or not is determined by whether it can really effectively make a difference in a market it enters, not just steal someone’s revenue.