From The Wall Street Journal:
At its apex, Tumblr had more users than both Instagram, now estimated to be worth close to $200 billion to parent Facebook , and Pinterest , which has a market cap of nearly $18 billion. In 2013, Tumblr sold to Yahoo for $1.1 billion. On Monday, the parent company of WordPress.com bought it for a pittance.
The precise amount is hard to pin down but insiders have observed that there are modest homes in Silicon Valley that might be comparable in price. Marissa Mayer, Yahoo’s former chief executive, once described Tumblr as an “incredibly special” property with “105 million different blogs, 300 million monthly unique visitors and 120,000 sign-ups every day.”
“We promise not to screw it up,” she famously added. And now look where we are.
Tumblr was ostensibly a blogging site but it quickly became one of the dominant, if hard-to-navigate, social networks of the early aughts. It attracted users who made and shared memes, art, their random thoughts and, eventually, a sense of community. Its mechanisms were opaque to outsiders: For many years, it didn’t have a function for direct messages or even traditional commenting, forcing users to communicate with each other by, among other things, reblogging each other’s posts.
Since it was difficult or impossible for outsiders to insert themselves into conversations, and because it was and still is a place that allows pseudonymous accounts, the site felt safe for members of marginalized communities, says Alexander Cho, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Irvine, who coedited a forthcoming book on the history of Tumblr.
“Tumblr can be as anonymous as you want it to be, and that allows people to share in a way they might not on Facebook,” says Catherine Holderness, Tumblr’s senior community trends analyst.
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Alas, Tumblr was inherently ill-suited to advertising, says Katrin Tiidenberg, a social-media researcher at Tallinn University in Estonia who has studied Tumblr for years. Its impenetrability was a challenge to advertisers. On top of that, many of its users interspersed their posts on various fandoms, obsessions and memes with sexual content. “A lot of advertising clients, particularly in the U.S., get disproportionately nervous about being seen next to someone’s boobs,” says Dr. Tiidenberg.
Advertisers instead turned increasingly to the ostensibly safer realms of Google and Facebook. Together, the two giants now suck up 57% of all digital ad spend, according to eMarketer. In addition to owning the biggest ad networks, their crown jewels are incredibly sophisticated advertising engines that drive measurable results for advertisers.
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It also doesn’t help that Tumblr, never a very polished or particularly reliable service to begin with, had a hard time going mobile. That’s where Google and Facebook ended up moving—quickly, through acquisitions and manic development—to maintain their revenue growth.
“The site was just fundamentally broken; it broke all the time” says Klaudia Amenábar, a senior media producer and comics vlogger who is also a self-described Tumblr power user. Now 24, she found the service at 16 and has been on it ever since, building a career in fandoms and social media from what she learned there. “The mobile app is a lot better now, but before, jokes about the mobile app were rampant on Tumblr,” she adds.
In the past year, Tumblr’s traffic has dropped by more than 40%, from approximately 640 million visits in July 2018 to around 380 million now. Much of that drop happened after the service implemented a ban on adult content.
Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)