May 19th, 2013

quote - B5 avalanche

Another day, another fandom platform buyout

So word is that Yahoo! has made an agreement to purchase Tumblr for $1.1 billion. Yes, that's billion, with a B. I've heard rumors that David Karp will stay on as CEO, that Tumblr will be allowed to largely continue operating as an independent entity, that Yahoo will try to entice Tumblr users toward other Yahoo services. All the news stories I've seen have not included official comment from either company, so it's all speculation at this point. Supposedly there will be an announcement tomorrow, but the wailing and gnashing of teeth has already begun.

But we've been here before, haven't we? Stop me if you've heard this one: Fandom congregates on an advertising-supported Internet platform and contributes content and traffic that helps make the site a success. Then the founders of the platform can't keep up with growth and/or can't figure out how to make sufficient money off the userbase, so they sell to a larger media company that either shuts down the site or starts making drastic changes, and fandom moves to a new platform. Second verse, same as the first...

Little bit louder and a whole lot worse.

I've said this before, and I'll say it again: there is a tension in all social media platforms between the users as customers, the users as audience, and the users as providers of content. And remember, as far as these corporations are concerned, we aren't their primary customers. Their advertisers are, because ultimately they're paying the bills -- and the shareholders. You'd think that, since these sites have no content without their users, that they'd put more effort into making users happy, but their track record is notably poor, as a group and Yahoo!'s in particular (buying eGroups and driving out adult content, buying and shutting down Geocities, the acquisition of Flickr that nearly killed the service, and my personal favorite: the debacle). Any LiveJournal veteran knows how badly these acquisitions can go wrong. That particular series of botched acquisitions is a huge reason that fandom migrated to Tumblr in the first place. So I think we have lots of good reasons to be worried.

That said, I'm officially taking a "let's wait and see" attitude. One thing all reports agree on: Tumblr, on its own, was almost out of money, and I would currently rather have a Tumblr owned by Yahoo! or another large media company than no Tumblr at all. (And it could have been worse -- rumor was that Facebook was once involved in the bidding. *shudders*) But whenever fandom sets up camp on a platform run by a for-profit company, this is the risk we take. And this is why, ultimately, I think we're better off with non-profits that are either created by fandom or explicitly welcoming to us. Because then we really are the customers, and the content we produce is valued, and not just for the advertising dollars it might attract.

(Adapted from my comments on a Tumblr reblog.)

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