I killed my Tumblr account last night. I know – I’ve done it before. Last night felt like the final time though, because it wasn’t so much about me, as the platform. An explanation would probably be a good idea.
Our middle daughter was 13 years old yesterday. Quite apart from finally being unleashed on the internet through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, she has been asking for some time about starting a blog. We had held firm until her 13th birthday, because the terms and conditions of the various social platforms all state 13 as a “line in the sand” of sorts.
My first thought had been to setup a Tumblr account for her, because it’s simpler to use than WordPress – and even if she did end up using WordPress in the long run, it wouldn’t hurt to reserve the same username elsewhere.
While signing up for Tumblr “as her”, something interesting happened though – the new user signup routine sent an email confirmation to her from Yahoo. After confirming it, I grew curious, and clicked on the password reset within Tumblr – it took us to Yahoo.
So quietly, without any notification at all, all new user signups at Tumblr have become tied to Yahoo accounts. I seem to remember Marissa Mayer promising that Yahoo would leave Tumblr alone when they acquired them. Now Yahoo has been acquired by Verizon, Mayer has gone, and it looks like all promises have become worthless.
I deactivated the new Tumblr account immediately, and headed to WordPress – setting my daughter up with a new account that sits quietly waiting for her first post. Later in the day I wandered over to my own Tumblr account, and set about clearing it down. After a couple of hours I thought “what the hell”, and deactivated it.
I am left with a single blog, at WordPress. If you’re reading this, you’re reading it. While talking to an old friend last night via Twitter, we both agreed that the way things are shaking out, Tumblr could very well be on the same path as LiveJournal – being sold on from owner to owner, while the user base leaks away like water from a rusty bucket.
You can of course speculate about why and how Tumblr lost their way. There was a time – about five years ago – when it seemed they could do no wrong (even if they were losing money spectacularly quickly) – but then the Yahoo acquisition happened, half the team walked away, and rumblings of ineptitude behind the scenes began to circulate.
Strange decisions began to happen – such as the removal of all commenting functions. Perhaps half of the people I once knew at Tumblr began to walk away in response, and never came back. It’s worth noting that most of them were the life blood of the user base – the content creators – posting original, thought provoking pieces about their thoughts, experiences, and daily lives. Comments eventually re-appeared, obviously built in blind panic as the staff watched traffic numbers fall off a cliff behind closed doors.
Aside from the general lack of development, mismanagement, and general corporate ineptitude that’s obviously had a hand in killing Tumblr, I can’t help feeling that their eventual downfall has been inevitable, because of a core feature woven into the system from it’s birth : re-blogging. The very feature used by legions that dominated the fashion and lifestyle taste-makers that Tumblr chased for so long also caused the entire platform to become an incestuous walled garden filled with recyclers, rather than creators.
It strikes me that you have to admire the long term vision of Matt Mullenweg at Automattic for setting up the WordPress Foundation so early, in order to build protections around the core publishing platform. You also have to feel a little sympathy for David Karp – it can’t be easy to see the platform you spent the better part of your life building slowly falling apart around you.