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How Tumblr lost its way: The inside story


If you’re convinced by the idea, Tumblr turned 15 this month. The microblogging platform that has produced more than 1,000 sites was started by a software engineer David Karp in 2007. In a time where longer-form blogging on platforms such as Blogger or WordPress was the standard, Tumblr provided an interactive brief-form experience that was a draw for millions. The site was purchased in 2013, when it was acquired by Yahoo for $1.25 billion in what some believed was an investment gamble. “Tumblr is redefining creative expression online,” the Yahoo chief executive Marissa Mayer said, calling it “the internet’s most popular and fastest-growing social media platform. ” The press release stated that the company would “not to make a mistake. “


They did , however not, and Tumblr hasn’t been able to recover.

I was a part of the Tumblr joy between the years 2010 to 2015, it’s regrettable to watch its potential decline. In the most current New Yorker piece described it as ” popular because it’s outdated. ” Although I’m pretty sure Tumblr users aren’t concerned about their status but I’m a big fan of Tumblr and its potential to be can be a beacon for the future generation. I talked to Tumblr’s former employees and users to understand the process by how a series of acquisitions, mergers, and time-wasters left Tumblr being tossed around in the midst of uncertainty. I also inquired about the ways that the site that was popular with so many users could be reborn.

A brief description of the acquisitions that were made by Tumblr

Jack Christian (his name has been changed on request to keep his identity private) joined the engineering team at Tumblr shortly after the Tumblr acquisition through Yahoo the acquisition. The internal reaction to the acquisition was initially favorable as was the comment that “culturally, it wasn’t a bad fit,” however Karp’s quick fingers placed Tumblr on the platform not strong enough and fragile to handle the thousands of blog websites.

When the team was re-building to expand, Yahoo leadership “were really insisting that we join some of their platforms and connect more tightly, without understanding the reasons behind why we built things in a certain way to be] Tumblr-specific to our previous model. We did a lot doing integration rather than thinking about how we can really help people who use the service,” says Christian. While Tumblr tried out new features, competitors like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook introduced new features to their front-ends in order to draw users.

The Tumblr team was beginning to recognize the first signs of what would later become a routine pattern: management’s desire to make a splashy profit which shattered the fundamental belief that what makes Tumblr unique is the communities it aids in creating.

Tumblr homepage on March 6, 2007, less than a month after the site’s launch. Credit: WayBack Machine

In the year 2016 Yahoo reduced the value of Tumblr to around half due to Tumblr’s inability to meet its sales goals. In 2017, Verizon Media acquired Yahoo, Meyer stepped out, and Jeff D’Onofrio was named COO. Karp was named Tumblr’s CEO. Tumblr. The following year, Isabella Kahle joined Tumblr as an executive in the department of product marketing within the marketing team, who was experiencing the chaos caused by these shifts. “We were severely under-appreciated, understaffed, underfunded,” she says, “and lacked a lot of tools that could have helped us make our work more efficient and possibly increase the size of the company. “

On August the year 2019, Tumblr was acquired again and this time it was by the owner Automattic for only $3 million.

We were severely under-appreciated, understaffed, underfunded, and lacked a lot of tools that could have made our work great and potentially grown the business.- Isabella Kahle, former product marketing lead

“It seemed like a really good move in terms of a fit for Tumblr at the time,” Christian says. Christian, “although very quickly I was feeling opposite. ” Automattic “didn’t really understand the importance to Tumblr,” believing it to be “another place where people could visit to blog. ” Like Yahoo, Automattic clumsily shoehorned Tumblr into its existing infrastructure. “Early on they were discussing “why we can’t operate Tumblr using WordPress? It’s easier, and they were not aware of the intricacies of the platform. There were many individuals with opinions who were high in the leadership who influenced the strategies and decisions without understanding the user experience and the potential impact could be had in specific aspects of our growth. It was pure fanciful. We spent a lot of engineers’ time trying to incorporate the system for nothing to benefit users in any way. “

Christian as well as Kahle Christian and Kahle left Tumblr by 2021. In 2021, Kahle said that she had a “gut feeling…that Automattic had kind given up on Tumblr. The impression I received from hearing executives speak about Tumblr was that I’m sure there is a mental date of when they’ll want Tumblr to show its worth. The timeline they have set is not possible based on their team’s resources, support, and financial resources. ” Tumblr would not cease but it will be put “on Autopilot” she claims and continue to function with no additional development.

Automattic’s Chief Executive Officer Matt Mullenweg calls the claim “untrue,” citing his ongoing involvement with Tumblr as an additional proof of the worth Tumblr adds to the company. Following the sudden loss of D’Onofrio’s management on the 20th of January, 2022 Mullenweg was appointed to lead Tumblr. “We haven’t gotten the results in the past two years that we [had] hoped for,” Mullenweg stated to Mashable. The first priority is to grow, to “make the product better so that users are more likely to use it and share it with their friends about it. “

A product in dire need of direction.

When Christian arrived at Tumblr in 2013, an official team of product developers was just getting off the ground. With constant turmoil and a rotating door that covered the entire Tumblr company and team, the team was not able to take its final form. He ultimately changed from engineering to product and was unable to keep the count of product managers saw leave and then come to return. “They all were brought in with their own ideas about how they would manage things, without any understanding of the Tumblr’s past or background or information. “

The Tumblr management staff had been “trying to figure out what the next thing for Tumblr could be,” however their team “never really took a critical look at what it would take for that feature to improve the community and the platform as a whole,” Christian declares. They did not take advantage of the opportunities to involve the marketing and community teams, which were in constant contact with the users. They might be able not just figure out ways to enhance the capabilities that the site offers, but also as also “help the public understand why Tumblr is great, why it should be here, and why it’s cool. ” Employees who’ve been on the platform for a long period of period of time, such as Christian who had been using Tumblr since 2005 , the time he was appointed “felt as if we knew what we had to do in order to assist the community and to help the platform develop. It was a challenge to speak up in a world where the loudest users had the least information. “

The site wasn’t free of attempts. After seeing that people deliberately erase posts after a certain period of time, Christian suggested the site offer the possibility of an “ephemeral post” that could be scheduled to be deleted. The website is watching Giphy scrape the API from Tumblr to load their database GIFs that were directly sourced from Tumblr users, Christian suggested that the company use the format in order to make use of one of undisputed “strategic advantages. ” Additionally, he suggested that the site reinstate a previously-used feature dubbed “Tumblr crushes” that let users know which websites they enjoyed reading the most posts from , and helped create a sense of friendship and community.

It was difficult to have a voice in a place where the loudest people had the least amount of context.- Jack Christian, former product manager

The plans never got the attention of the public. However much of support he got from the marketing, data or engineering teams “the product direction was directed by the person who was in charge on the day. ” The majority of them weren’t members of the group made up of Tumblr customers or even long-term Tumblr employees and so were focussed on achieving attractive, short-term goals that “shifted over time” and did not represent what the platform actually required.

What they did in order to keep their place in the race was like spinning the wheel which caused “really skilled and enthusiastic people who are doing an amazing job but not doing the right things. “

Tumblr’s revolving door

When Tumblr became Automattic, Christian says “all the changes that came from Yahoo and Verizon sort of shattered the company’s culture and made employees less enthusiastic about working there. ” It was clear that the most frequently occurring aspect that was part of the job at Tumblr was the continuous changing hiring process.

Christian and Kahle have attributed the resignations on the toxic mix of anger and frustrations: the inability to move upwards for directors of any level or above management changes throughout the acquisitions, which left many feeling detached from their work, and the continual stealing of talent from companies that offered better pay and more interesting project. Tumblr was the equivalent of a snake eating its own tail. It was not unusual for employees to experience exhaustion due to the additional work of former colleagues.

When asked about the absence of momentum for growth Mullenweg responds, “Nothing else matters for Tumblr unless we can get users using the platform more. If it’s growing, there are many opportunities to move upwards and take on new roles within the companyand within the company. “Tumblr is similar like a snake eating web. It’s common for employees to feel exhausted after taking on additional work for former colleagues.

Amanda Brennan worked on Tumblr’s marketing team for seven years prior to leaving as editorial director on the 20th of March 20, 2021. It was only 19 months following Automattic’s purchase. Automattic purchase. “I was feeling like I was no longer fighting since no one was listening. I’ve been saying this until I’m red in the face and am not receiving the responses from my boss that I had hoped for… If I’m not able to make a difference then who else could? What came next for me required more commitment than the management at the time was willing to make. That was investing into Tumblr as a platform for culture. “

Christian claims that in the process of buying “There was a fair amount in the way of top-down direction…focusing on the features and business. We didn’t invest long periods of time doing thorough analysis of the reasons why users join Tumblr and the reasons they remain. This wasn’t element of our plan. There was an inability to comprehend. “

Kahle claims, “It really comes down to the leadership’s inability to understand the platform and its requirements. ” Kahle believes D’Onofrio “really took a keen interest in the users. ” He worked hard to develop Tumblr as a company , it was also his goal to “maintain David Karp’s vision” and maintained a strong relationship with the Tumblr’s founder. “When Tumblr was purchased from Automattic, Karp [visited] the office and was elated for the futureand wanted to advance the company and discover what we could do,” Kahle states with sadness “I believe we didn’t accomplish many things. “

According to both Mullenweg and Kahle, Tumblr is roughly 200 employees. In 2021, 53 employees working with Tumblr prior to the acquisition left Tumblr. Mullenweg believes that up to 75 percent of Tumblr’s employees are currently employed following acquisition and there has been an increase in hiring over the past couple of years. “I hope it’s really clear that I’m incredibly excited about Tumblr,” Mullenweg said to Mashable. “I am passionate about Tumblr extremely. It’s evident in all of the current staff. “

The point where there is the line of

“Our users are very opinionated, vocal, and passionate,” Kahle declares. Kahle. As she served in the role of CEO Tumblr members loved their platform but were resistant to changes that would aid in making it more sustainable and “there were only a handful of product updates we introduced which were not well-received. ” While she is aware the fact that “any time Instagram changes their homepage, I’m angry, too” The Tumblr users were not willing to leave. “A year later, we’d get messages from users saying”literally, no one ever demanded that we stop changing things or ‘we want porn back. ‘”

The porn ban in the year 2018 proved to be a significant moment for Tumblr which resulted in a reduction of 30% in traffic and a huge withdrawal of users that scared the company.

“Tumblr has always been extremely vigilant about abusers online,” says Christian. A security and trust group of 20 people had an internal wall inside the office. It was where they kept the details of users who were given the authorities. Kahle calls them “the most effective team at Tumblr. They’re extremely dedicated and work closely working with FBI… The team had a fantastic team who worked with human rights organizations at the Hill. ” They Christian and Kahle assert that the work of the team has influenced similar strategies using Twitter, Facebook, and TikTok. However, “to be fair,” Kahle adds “some of our employees quit and moved to these platforms. “

In November of 2018, when Apple removed Tumblr out of its App Store due to pornographic content that children could access through the app, Tumblr panicked. Christian has “created an idea that will permit Tumblr to remain acceptable with Apple and Verizon’s policies without having put a total ban on anything that is controversial. ” Instead the solution they proposed is “a huge sledgehammer for the issue that was sort of specific. This was far more extensive than a ban on porn, it was a restriction on explicit content, based on what the algorithm in the computer decides. “

Tumblr has had a difficult long time to successfully monetize its content. It’s been unable to earn a profit. Christian remembers that, in addition with being a disaster for public relations and pornography on the site caused an economic death-knell. “We received a warning that could not make money if we had explicitly explicit material on the website specifically, that advertisers who are willing to give us a large quantity of funds to maintain the site running won’t come to us. “

It’s an incredibly scary thought considering it was revealed that at the time of prior to the decision-makers didn’t know what made the platform so effective for the past five years. At the end of the day it’s like trying to put lipstick-on-a-pig. The fundamental issue is “how can you create the right platform that has a solid business view, a platform where people discover their identity and let out the most profound emotional, vulnerable feelings? ” Brennan asks. Brennan. “You’re likely not going to make money from it in the same way you can monetize [ it’sa blank page that allows users to create an online presence for something that they are already familiar with. Tumblr is an exploration platform, Tumblr is the place where you can do the deep digging. It’s very difficult to monetize. “

It is the Creatr economy

The porn ban was a major blow to Tumblr which was swollen due to the battle against the churn of users. In 2014 it was estimated that there were 84 million posts posted every daily. By the end of 2018, that number fallen to 30 million. Tumblr was especially difficult for those who were unfamiliar with Tumblr to get around and the most important thing was that it was not able to provide that “stickiness” Christian says would reduce retention. If users are not familiar with the system and makes a post, “it doesn’t show up on other people’s dashboards or on the pages for exploring. There’s no sign of interaction,” Kahle says. That causes them to increase their churn rate within the beginning one-week period.” Christian states, “I believe we didn’t help the user experience [and examinethe meaning of be content on the platform, and what is an enjoyable experience after joining for an initial time. “

Tumblr isn’t able to keep pace with the changing times its features even in the simplest way. “There’s lots of complexity and a long history of bizarre features like submissions and questions which haven’t really been updated for a lengthy time. ” For example, he’s referring to the answer time feature on Tumblr that lets users submit questions to celebrities that they can respond to. The time between submission and reply could be weeks and sometimes even several days. Christian believes that the idea of having this live streamed and live streamed, and possibly letting users manage responses to their questions, are simple improvements.

Tumblr is the exploration, Tumblr is where you do the deep digging, and that’s hard to monetize.- Amanda Brennan, former head of brand advocacy and editorial

The platform should also foster those who created it. Christian claims that research has shown that only a “small percentage of users were actively active in responding to posts and postings. ” Most users are on “passive consumption. ” It means that even in the event most popular blogs stop publishing, the dashboard will cease to function. Engaging creators is vital for the survival of Tumblr but there’s very few reasons for investing in the blogs specifically when compared to YouTube’s market-leading income share , as well as Instagram’s own shopping platform.

Post+, a recent first step towards paywalled content available on the platform has been met by a mix of disdain and a feeling of anger. While the feature was completely free, users argued that the idea of making money from fan-created works was unjust to make use of copied characters and stories and could expose creators to risk of legal proceedings. Post+ was a beta test, but “I think that users thought it meant that the entire platform would eventually become sort of like subscription-based,” Kahle declares. Kahle.

The response highlighted a difference of the expectations. “Across Tumblr there is still this widespread mentality that content should be free,” Kahle writes. Kahle. “My role as a marketing professional was to convince our users that the creators of our content must be recognized and rewarded for the work they’ve done for the world. “The platform recently launched the”tip container” feature that Kahle says “many employees have fought to get,” however, the platform is not without actions to take to satisfy the demands of creators seeking the monetization of platforms.

Where is the next place Tumblr be?

In honor of Tumblr’s 15th birthday, the Tumblr’s launch, Mashable is publishing numerous articles on the history of Tumblr. “Every article is saying how Tumblr’s dead or dying and it’s not,” Mullenweg promises me with the words, “It’s kind of getting better than it has ever been. ” Mullenweg is then able to read a great feedback from a user , I get an email with fifteen more. It makes me believe that the user experience on Tumblr is improving and safer and less prone to bugs, bots and bugs and broken functions. To be more efficient more than it ever has been before Tumblr should re-energize itself and reaffirm its distinctive appeal.

I’ve spoken to several former users who were active from 2010 to the year 2016. For those who were ex-users, Tumblr was a glorious archive of their work and discoveries. When it was at its prime , Tumblr was a place to go for teens searching for meaning and information, as well as people who were looking to discover themselves.

Dimitra Zuccarelli says that she believes the contents of her Tumblr is a diary of her quest to discover her identity “It’s really just a simple research of what you’re aboutand who you are. You’re choosing and deciding the things you love and creating an aesthetic. It’s possible to create your own identity each time you launch your blog. ” Zuccarelli didn’t use her real name. She wrote about skater-influenced lifestyle and also fashion (“a lot of pictures from people similar to those of the Olsen twins”) street photography, Christmas-related content and one of them was filled with “really painful” GIFs. “

The exploration was mostly manual and was enabled by the constant endless energy of adolescence which does not come with any algorithmic program. “We are in this place in culture, where so many people expect algorithmic understanding,” Brennan declares. Brennan. Tumblr could be the ideal platform to get to know and understand your self “TikTok basically comes to you,” Zuccarelli says because the algorithms “knows everything about your personality. ” To compete in the world of algorithms for recommendation, Tumblr would need to seek out more information about their identity as well as what they are into, something has been a common practice for anonymity.

The key is to look at Tumblr as a creative culture platform versus a tech platform.- Amanda Brennan

At the time of writing Tumblr says the number of 9.4 million posts per day on the platform. This is lower than the average of 84 million in 2014. With the increase of the nostalgia of the 1990s and early 2000s in Gen Z A revive of the site may be possible. The 1st of January D’Onofrio revealed it was 50% of people who are active and 70% of the brand-new customers are Gen Z. Kahle, who at the age of 25 is an old man believes that the challenge of the attraction of Gen Z and convincing them to stay “may depend on the product. ” It is particularly, she declares that “if the attention span of Gen Z is any percentage lower than that of millennials’ , then the recommendation algorithm must be utilized to produce information much faster. “

However, the most important element of the Tumblr experience for everyone in any age group is the concept of community.

According to Brennan, “the key is to think of Tumblr as a culture-based platform, not a technological platform. The majority of users don’t join Tumblr because its features are innovative. ” Automattic isn’t able to take into account Tumblr as an alternative to “WordPress is a utility, it’s easy to use, it gets you up and running,” she declares. If Facebook is a call-in platform that “you go to connect with people you like, find a handyman, pick an event,” and Twitter is a radio-based call-in show where “you hear all these different opinions, but you can shoot back,” and Tumblr is the cafeteria of an secondary school. The normalities aesthetics, goths with a bizarre style and musicians each have their own place, Brennan says, “and it’s possible to be anything you’d like to be. Sometimes , you’re not a good fit for one of them, so you go to another. There’s eavesdropping. It’s inevitable to learn something no matter the place you are. “

“That is so much magic,” Brennan states in the midst of a shout. “Some aspects of content that takes place on Tumblr isn’t happening elsewhere online… It’s never ever going to be a place for everyone, and it’s fine.” At the conclusion, Brennan says, “Tumblr thrives in spite of itself..

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