Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer announced Monday that the company has agreed to acquire popular, hip young blogging platform Tumblr for a whopping $1.1 billion. To the glee of bloggers everywhere, Yahoo!’s press release explicitly promised “not to screw it up.” That’s not enough to assuage the fears of many Tumblr users, who’ve greeted the acquisition with nothing short of sheer panic.
What are they so afraid of? While Yahoo! hopes the acquisition will rejuvenate the company’s rather staid image, Tumblr users fear the opposite – that Yahoo!’s leadership will force users to toe the company’s family-friendly line. For a platform where a significant chunk of the content – 11 percent – is NSFW, and where colorful language flourishes, that’s a legitimate concern. Some Tumblr users are already abandoning ship – WordPress CEO Matt Mullenweg reported Sunday that more than 72,000 Tumblr posts were imported to WordPress in the space of one hour.
Concerns that Yahoo! might tighten Tumblr’s rather lax posting guidelines abound amidst doubt about the acquisition’s implications for Tumblr users’ privacy and copyrights. Though Yahoo! promises to leave Tumblr CEO David Karp and the rest of his team in charge of the platform, and not to interfere with its operation or development, Tumblr users worry that the new boss could make critical changes that might compromise users’ privacy or their rights to their intellectual property. Some of these fears may be based on Yahoo!’s handling of its 1999 acquisition of Geocities, in which Yahoo!’s attempt to restructure the platform’s copyright policy sent users fleeing in droves and eventually led Yahoo! to discontinue the site ten years later. Still others expect to soon see Tumblr’s ad-free aesthetic sacrificed for the sake of Yahoo!’s bottom line, which could render the once sleek, appealing platform cluttered and spammy.
Widespread panic is a common side effect of mergers and acquisitions in the online corporate world, but Tumblr users might be forgiven for calling this acquisition the beginning of the end for their beloved platform. The Geocities acquisition isn’t the only one that Yahoo! has bungled in its 19 year history; the company has long had a reputation for screwing up pretty much everything it touches, hence the need to make promises about not screwing up yet again.
Some of Yahoo!’s most famously fumbled acquisitions include its poorly-timed acquisition of Broadcast.com in 1999; its failure to make the most of Overture, a company that laid the groundwork for the pay-per-click advertising model; and its mismanagement Flickr – with the right kind of attention from Yahoo!, Flickr could have been a social media contender on a par with Facebook, Twitter or, especially, Instagram. Yahoo!’s biggest merger and acquisition mistakes might, for that matter, be the ones it didn’t make – Yahoo! didn’t buy Google in 2002, it didn’t buy Facebook in 2006, and, in 2008, Yahoo! refused a $44 billion buyout offer from Microsoft. What’s Yahoo! worth today? Just $19 billion.