The weirdest piece of email I’ve gotten all month was courtesy of Brian Krogsgard and the Post Status newsletter: Automattic (owner of WordPress.com, Jetpack, Akismet, WooCommerce…) has just bought blogging giant Tumblr.
Tumblr is a site that normal people have heard of, in a way they haven’t heard of WordPress.com, Jetpack, or maybe even WordPress itself. It’s the site whose oddly difficult-to-follow threading format you’ll instantly recognize if you like internet memes. Most visibly, it’s also the site that banned adult content last year, a decision that was covered widely in the news media and has led to, for example, YouTube videos parodying its executives’ decision making that have garnered millions of views.
It turns out Tumblr was owned by Verizon, following a more than $1 billion 2013 acquisition by Yahoo! (now also owned by Verizon). Whether or not the decision on adult content was a mistake, Verizon certainly seems on board that it’s been horribly mismanaging the property, because its top priority is clearly just to get out of the business: it appears to have sold Tumblr to Automattic for $3 million. That’s an absolutely mind-bogglingly low number. $3 million is almost in the range of what a small business could scrape together. That’s Verizon’s asking price. To buy Tumblr.
I don’t know what likely happens from here, and how it changes WordPress’s future. One possible answer is, simply, “it may not change much.” Tumblr itself may be fatally wounded at this point, and as savvy as Matt and Automattic are in some ways, we don’t know if reversing the fortunes of a declining blogging platform is in their wheelhouse. Nor do I think that WordPress itself necessarily becomes massively better or more connected now that Tumblr is owned by the folks who own Jetpack. As with the WordPress Rest API a few years ago: the news feels big—but, big how?
I am also curious what adding Tumblr’s staff of 200 people will do to Automattic’s priorities. There’s a world in which the Tumblr acquisition becomes a costly distraction in terms of WordPress’s progress forward as a software project—not because Automattic runs WordPress, which it doesn’t, but because Matt’s priorities tend to still get done in the absence of a better-functioning governance model for the project.
More than anything, this does seem like a confirmation that we are in some sort of End Times event, at least in the blogging world. But for much higher-quality analysis than that, you should read Brian’s article.