Automattic and Tumblr: could this buyout herald a revival of the personal website at the expense of social networks?
Verizon is closing the sale of Tumblr, one of the properties it acquired with the leftovers of Yahoo!, to Automattic founder Matt Mullenweg. For a nominal price, far from the $1,100 billion that Yahoo! paid at the time (probably under 3 million), Mullenweg will get a company with a workforce of 200 and some 468 million blogs, with about three million new blogs and some 700 million posts created every month, making it the 76th web page in the world in the Alexa ranking, finally bringing to a close he’s thinking about since May 2013, if not before.
Automattic is the company that runs WordPress, the software that powers no less than a third of the web. Created by Matt in 2005 when he was aged 20, it employs about 1,000 people who all work remotely from anywhere in the world, do not use email, and whose culture has been studied and defined on many occasions as the future of work. In 2017, the company closed its San Francisco headquarters because nobody was using it and it has continued to function without any problem. In addition to WordPress.com, the blog platform par excellence, and its huge community of volunteer developers constantly contributing ideas and plugins, its products are used by companies and media around the world.
In 2010, WordPress.com reached an agreement with Microsoft to manage blogs on Live Spaces, from which the company was withdrawing its support. By taking Tumblr now, it clearly reinforces its quest to become the absolute leader of personal publishing products, an alternative for online identity mistakenly believed dead due to the popularity of social networks and that could experience another phase of popularization among young people jaded with the likes of Facebook.
The acquisition of Yahoo! in May 2013 made Tumblr’s founder David Karp a millionaire, but after seeing his company neglected with so many others that formerly belonging to Yahoo! he ended up leaving the project in 2017. Tumblr is the paradigm of so-called push-button publishing, through a simple browser plugin or an easy-to-use smartphone app, and is part many young people’s cultural identity and social communication. In 2018, the company decided to remove pornography from its platform, alienating part of its user community, but has maintained its popularity. According to the WSJ, the same rules will remain under the new ownership. Verizon had been trying to sell Tumblr for some time, but so far, the only interest in buying it has come from Pornhub.
The acquisition makes Automattic an even more relevant player in the generation of web content, particularly in the field of personal publishing. Over the years, Tumblr has experienced many phases of low growth and some loss of relevance due to the lack of an effective strategy and poor management, but has maintained a reasonable level of use and has a fairly loyal community. With the right management it could go far, particularly in an era when people are growing tired of social networks that see users as simple raw material to be monetized. Here’s an interesting proposition: could young people turn away from the social network and instead start creating their own websites?