When she plunked down $1.1 billion for Tumblr, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer promised Tumblr's users that she would try not to "screw it up."
A day or two later, she had a conference call with investors and was at pains to assure them that she would find a way to "monetize" the popular site. How? Why, with ads of course, a resource the site now lacks but which Yahoo has in abundance.
Mayer said that Yahoo, which operates one of the largest ad networks in the known universe, might find a way to display ads only to users who asked for them. Which probably translates to users who don't find the little opt-out box.
Ads and more ads
This is hardly outrageous though. After all, if you paid $1.1 billion in cash for something, you'd want it to at least try to make a few bucks, wouldn't you?
After all, the defense for all those ads you see everywhere is that they pay for all the great content you wouldn't get otherwise. This argument is OK if we're talking about news, sterling entertainment or even well-organized drivel but in the case of blogging sites, billboards and the junk that clutters everybody's mailbox, the argument maybe gets a little weak.
It's not as though Tumblr -- an admittedly beautiful site that exists on a plane seemingly a few notches above the rest of the web -- supplies anyone with anything they really, really need to know. And even if it did, the creators of Tumblr's content are its users, who don't get a penny for their efforts. (That may be too much in some cases, but that's another story).Â
Hey Marissa, have you thought about charging users to post stuff?Â
For their part, advertisers are not crazy about displaying their ads on sites that consist largely or solely of user-generated content -- you know, pictures of cats, your yoga schedule for the day and condolences on your high school classmate's loss of his trusted Harley.
It's not just a question of effectiveness, it's a control thing. If you buy an ad on "Mad Men," you know what you're getting. Buy an ad on Tumblr or Facebook and you could be putting your cherished brand next to a shot of someone's private parts. Or worse.
And speaking of content, it took only minutes after the deal was announced for skeptics, critics and passersby to note that a great deal of Tumblr's content is pornography, or something awfully close to it.Â
Inquiring minds have now put numbers next to that observation. TechCrunch reports that an analysis of Tumblr's 200,000 most-visited domains finds that 22,775 of them are "adult" -- 11.4 percent.
If nothing else, the deal has cheered up the New York City tech world, where Tumblr took root. It's the first venture-backed web property to sell for north of $1 billion. They didn't exactly have a ticker-tape parade but there was still muted rejoicing among the venturati and their hangers-on.
What all this means for Tumblr users remains to be seen, but for now at least the answer is probably: not much.