Three Ways Yahoo Can Avoid Screwing Up Tumblr

How Marissa Mayer Can Deliver on Press-Release Promise Not to Wreck Yahoo's New Purchase

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News item:

Yahoo! to Acquire Tumblr
Promises not to screw it up

That's the actual headline and subhead of Yahoo's press release this morning. Here are three ways Yahoo can stay true to its promise:

1. Just throw in the towel and learn to love copyright infringement.

Tumblr's strength has always been that it makes it incredibly easy to share -- reblog -- what others have already shared on their Tumblr blogs, which is typically image-centric. A truly breathtaking amount of stuff that gets blogged and reblogged on Tumblr relies on copyrighted images produced by the usual suspects: mainstream media organizations and entertainment companies.

Some corporate content creators don't necessarily find that problematic. For instance, consider Comedy Central's tweet this morning: "Yahoo! buying Tumblr is really going to pay off when the dominant currency becomes Dr. Who gifs." Fans of "Dr. Who" posting gifs from their favorite show (i.e., passionately promoting it) is obviously a great thing for the BBC and BBC America. And Comedy Central itself actually has one of the most popular blogs on Tumblr; it's smartly taken the Tumblr bull by the horns by Tumblr-izing its own content.

But take a look at some of the more popular Tumblr fashion blogs, just for instance -- fashion is a huge category for Tumblr -- and you'll routinely see bloggers posting and reposting uncredited, professionally-shot runway and red-carpet photos as well as countless fashion-magazine images (from Conde Nast and Hearst glossies, etc.).

A few things work in Tumblr's favor here: First, it's seen as a sort of somehow still-indie start-up (even though it's six years old), not a massive competitor for eyeballs and time spent on the web (even though it attracts 300 million unique visitors per month across the more than 100 million blogs it hosts). Second, it does technically have a team that responds to copyright-infringement take-down requests. Third, a lot of old-school content creators are either still simply clueless about Tumblr or just too overwhelmed by the new post-originality/post-copyright culture that Tumblr represents to be able to do anything about it.

2. Just throw in the towel and learn to love porn.

One of the most telling comments I've seen about Yahoo's acquisition of Tumblr appeared on Reddit last night: "lol someone actually paid for porn on the internet," wrote Redditor nhztgb. Meaning, family-friendly Yahoo is acquiring a giant purveyor of porn in buying Tumblr. It's an open secret among the Tumblr community that a, uh, healthy proportion of the site's explosive growth since its birth in 2007 has been thanks to NSFW blogs. In fact, Tumblr has officially had a rather hands-off policy when it comes to porn. (See this TechCrunch post from last summer: "Is Tumblr Quietly Cracking Down On Porn? Two Deleted Sites Say Yes [Update: Tumblr Says No].") Its Terms of Service specifically allow NSFW blogs as long as they're labeled (aka "flagged") as such. But Tumblr draws the line at hosting porn videos, because... well, I'll let Tumblr explain:

[P]lease don't use Tumblr's Upload Video feature to host any sexually explicit videos. We're not in the business of profiting from adult-oriented videos and hosting this stuff is fucking expensive. You can use services like xHamster to host those instead.

Yes, Tumblr's official T.O.S. actually complains about how "fucking expensive" it is to host porn videos.

3. Stay out of David's bedroom, mom! I'm serious!

Here's my favorite part of Yahoo's official press release:

"Tumblr is redefining creative expression online," said Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer. "On many levels, Tumblr and Yahoo! couldn't be more different, but, at the same time, they couldn't be more complementary. Yahoo is the Internet's original media network. Tumblr is the Internet's fastest-growing media frenzy."

Yes, Marissa Mayer literally called Tumblr "the Internet's fastest-growing media frenzy" (!) -- as good a sign as any (along with that "redefining creative expression online" bit) that she doesn't really understand what Tumblr is, exactly, why it's become so popular, and what 26-year-old Tumblr creator David Karp gets that she doesn't get. (See items 1 and 2, above.)

The press release also insists that,

Per the agreement and our promise not to screw it up, Tumblr will be independently operated as a separate business. David Karp will remain CEO. The product, service and brand will continue to be defined and developed separately with the same Tumblr irreverence, wit, and commitment to empower creators.

Everybody at Yahoo needs to read that passage -- and reread it. Over and over again. Especially mom (Marissa Mayer).

Simon Dumenco is the "Media Guy" columnist for Advertising Age. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.

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