WordPress.com owner Automattic that has last week been reported to purchase rival Microbloging site Tumblr. The deal is being reported to be below $3 Million, far below the hyper valuation of $1.1 Billion that Yahoo paid in 2013. Back then Yahoo was buying lots of start up companies as part of a revitalisation drive by Marissa Mayer, since then Yahoo has been sold of to Verizon, its companies bundled up in Oath, and its from this that Automattic is purchasing Tumblr from.
Tumblr will remain a separate brand. There is a dedicated Tumblr community even after years of neglect and confusion. Still, Matt says Tumblr’s user base is “several times larger than [WordPress.com’s].”
The Tumblr backend will change its technology, but the front-end experience will stay similar to what it is today, as Automattic “[doesn’t] want to change what’s working.” Matt said Tumblr’s interface is “working amazingly well, despite being fairly constrained in what they can launch [the] past few years.”
Theres always been a sort of friendly rivalry, between the two platforms. WordPress being seen as the more grown up, professional place to write, where as Tumblr was a more playful and creative space. This was emphasised in the more visual language and style from the themes that Tumblr and third parties provided, emphasising images and media. WordPress by contrast would focus very heavily on the written word.
Recently, and with other rivals such as Square Space, WordPress has been making efforts to become more visually focused. The recent edition of the Gutenberg editor and the merger of services between the self hosted addition of WordPress and WordPress.com, pushing WordPress users into Automattics products and reading dashboards has felt very Tumblr like.
WordPress and Automattic Founder also announced the acquisition, on his Tumblr (usually used to share photos)
Back in 2013, I reflected on how friendly the relationship has always been between WordPress.com and Tumblr, and on the exciting future I saw for web-publishing platforms like ours. In the intervening years, the Tumblr team has continued to impress me with their ability to create an intuitive publishing experience on desktop and on mobile, and to foster so many thriving, passionate communities. I have worked on WordPress my entire adult life — 16 years now — and so the democratization of publishing is near and dear to my heart. Tumblr and WordPress have always been very philosophically aligned there.
The controversy over adult content on Tumblr looks like it may well continue under Automattics ownership. Historically Tumblr was quite liberal in allowing adult content to be hosted, and many LGBT+ and sex positive artists set up home there. However under Yahoo / Verizon ownership Tumblr had been cracking down, mostly due to App Store bans. Whilst I do hope that there will eventually be mainstream spaces that will be adult about adult content, that will have to wait for another day. Automatiic confirmed that the adult bans will remain in place.
What excites me most are the plans to open source parts of Tumblr. Matt wants to port Tumblrs backend so that it runs on WordPress, which should be interesting to say the least. However doing so opens up the possibility of Tumblr being able to use WordPress plugins. Matt has said that he indents to maintain a separate front end, and plans to make parts of this open source. Perhaps there may be a self hosted version of Tumblr, or functionality that will be integrated into WordPress or available through Jetpack.
I’m looking forward to seeing how both Tumblr and WordPress develop together.