The Tragic Downfall Of Tumblr

Published on August 16, 2019

Back in 2012 you would have been hard-pressed to spend more than an hour in any American high school without hearing a reference to Tumblr, the blogging and social networking platform that was once considered second only to Reddit in terms of teen popularity. The website created a platform for users to share anything from art to workout tips and tricks, and had amassed, at one point, more than 738 unique visitors worldwide that had created and shared as many as 148 billion posts through the platform. That was its peak, though, and what was once valued and sold for $1.1 billion is now only worth $3 million dollars—and it has porn to thank for that.

How Tumblr Went From A Top Social Networking Platform To A Thing Of The Past

When Tumblr was at its peak user database a couple of years ago it was a roughly censorship-free corner of the internet. Users could communicate with others that shared similar interests and quickly found that the platform was one of the best ways to share and spread art and creative work online. Where Facebook was meant for communicating with people you knew in real life—the point of Tumblr was to communicate with people you may never meet but share interests with. Each pocket of Tumblr was highly niche—an entire community of people that like and share whatever interested them most—whether that be porn, fan fiction, or exotic makeup looks.

While Facebook and Instagram were growing and increasing ad-revenue (and selling our data), Tumblr remained pretty much ad-free and anonymous. Users did not have to disclose much personal information to start and run an account, and the platform didn’t sell much ad space to maintain user trust. Despite that, though it maintained its valuation and was sold to Verizon from Yahoo in 2017 for $1.1 billion. Since then, the platform has seen major changes. A recent decision to ban pornography on the platform aimed to keep the website PG-13 to maintain its teen user-base despite potential parental controls. The idea backfired, as the algorithm that detected pornography wasn’t able to distinguish it from art that featured nudity.

Thus, many artists turned toward other platforms for a place to share their content. Others who may not have been posting the content or sharing it left the platform to boycott its sudden decision to moderate so deeply. Many pointed that pornography was not the inherent issue, so much as it was worrisome that a creative content platform could have the ability to successfully dictate what was and was not allowed on it. Within months, the platform’s user base declined heavily. It lost about 30% of its traffic in a matter of weeks, and now Verizon just offloaded the platform for as little as $3 million—the same price that many Bay Area tech executives spend on their second or third homes. Or, as Business Insider points out—less than the value of an empty lot in Palo Alto.

Verizon Sells Tumblr To WordPress Owner

The telecom giant Verizon sold Tumblr only months after it made the announcement that it would ban adult content on the platform. Because the company sold Tumblr to the owner of WordPress for only $3 million it means that it lost over 99% of its valuation. The sale to WordPress’ parent company Automattic could be its savior, but the company’s CEO Matt Mullenweg said that he plans to maintain Verizon’s ban on adult content. In the future, Tumblr may share a lot of the same features as WordPress while still functioning like a social media platform on the front end. It’s hard to believe, though, that it could ever get back to where it once was.

Julia Sachs is a former Managing Editor at Grit Daily. She covers technology, social media and disinformation. She is based in Utah and before the pandemic she liked to travel.

Read more

More GD News