Me Love Tumblr Long Time
Big news for Tumblr today. I’m a bit of a Tumblr fanboy — a fan of the service, the community, the amazing team, and of David Karp who has been a continually impressive CEO.
I published my first post just over three years ago. Since then, I have created 15+ blogs and this will be my 450th post on this blog alone.
Tumblr has meant a lot to me. But I really want to talk about what I feel it means to the millions of people that have found a home there. And I’ve put a lot of time in to trying to understand why that is.
Tumblr is about a specific type of identity. I’ll come back to that in a bit. First, a little more on what identity can mean to users these days.
For a long time, the internet was a haven for anonymous identity, people who wanted to be someone entirely other than their real-world selves. Anonymous identity is an important part of the internet, but the problem is it is not liquid. You cannot translate that anonymous social capital into real world capital.
On the other side of the spectrum is real identity. When Facebook bucked the MySpace trend and required new users to sign-up with a real name, it set itself apart as a network where the social norm is to represent some version of your real world self. This representation is as liquid as identity gets. This is the social capital you might use to make friends, find a job, and operate in the real world as a credible person.
But Tumblr is something in between. It’s where your aspirational identity lives. Aspirational identity is a projection of where you want your real identity to be in 2, 5, 10 years.
These are not new ideas — aspirational identity has been around since kids have been lining their bedroom walls with posters of sports cars and rock stars. What makes Tumblr an incredible home for aspirational identity is that it allows users to escape the confines of their real identity and have this future view of themselves validated. You could be a high school-aged boy growing up in the rural midwest who is obsessed with dance, or a teen girl from a struggling family that dreams of traveling the world. Your circumstances might destroy your confidence, limit your opportunities, and strangle your aspirations. But on Tumblr, on a simple platform for self-expression, you have an audience ready and willing to validate not just who you are, but who you see yourself becoming. We are all, in some way, bound by circumstance. Aspiration is how we move beyond those bounds.
What I love about the internet and Tumblr specifically is this: it has given form to what people want to become. It has made aspirations real, tangible, living, and changing.
Think about aspirational identity and real identity on opposite ends of a weighted scale. When we are young, who we are might be less important to us than who we want to become. (Think about young children playing house or pretending to be an astronaut.) College might be where aspiration and reality reach equilibrium. We are shaping who we really are, driven by who we want to become. Then later in our adult life, we suppress aspiration and focus on our “real” selves.
This might spell doom for Tumblr. Is it a home that people just eventually grow out of and move on from? I don’t believe so. I think this Tumblr-using generation has somehow figured out what we would all do well to learn. Aspiration is important to all of us and, we start to lose something of ourselves when we settle into our real identity and stick there. It is the interplay of aspiration and reality that make us dynamic, always-moving entities that are interesting precisely because we can’t be pinned down. These are the people that are inventing and re-inventing themselves all the time and that ghost of an identity that lived only as dreams and whispers before now has a form for full expression.
Anyway, this is a long-winded love letter to Tumblr. I have high hopes for their future. I’ll be sticking with them for a long long time.
Yahoo buys Tumblr
The news is official, Yahoo buys Tumblr for 1.1 billion.
There are a lot of people up in arms about it for good and bad (mostly bad) reasons. It should be made clear that startups (and companies) are in the business to make money. Startups are built for exits. Sometimes that timeline has a long horizon (IPO). Sometimes they are short (acquired, sold, fold). That’s why investors are willing to invest in them; so that one day they might bring back a large return for their risk.
As much as I love milk tea, Boba Guys isn’t “just for fun”. Our goal has always been to be the very best at what we do and to change the tea game like the Blue Bottles and Philz Coffees of the world have been able to do for coffee. Building and owning your own company is a lot of fun, but we’ve also put in a huge chunk of our life savings and countless hours into it. It takes its toll.
No entrepreneur in their right mind spends a huge chunk of their life building something for free. Money isn’t everything, but it’s certainly part of the equation. How it comes (through advertising, paid subscription, talent/tech/user acquisition) isn’t always uniform but payment is unequivocally rendered. If Tumblr gave me the option to get paid out for putting ads on my site, the left side would be Phoenix College and the right side would be penis pills before you could refresh.
What’s troubling to see is that there is a lot of entitlement towards something we didn’t create. Even worse, there’s backlash when a startup decides to monetize. We saw it happen with Instagram. It’s a free service and it’s awesome! We use the service and we can leave at any time.
One could argue that the services would be nowhere without the users (or early adopters). I would counter that I have acquired far more value from Tumblr, than they have from me. And I’ve been on the service for almost 5 years and paid nothing. When Google Reader decided to shut down, I was disappointed but optimistic that someone would pick up where it left off and make it better because again, I paid nothing and deserve nothing. If I cared enough, I might even build my own.
We live in interesting times..the tools and technology available today enables anyone with an Internet connection to build and deploy anything we want to see in the world. Don’t like a blogging platform anymore? Roll your own. Hate ads? Learn to pay when you receive value. I’ve never bothered to e-beg like Maria Popova but would you be upset if I did?