“The advertisements fit into spots where we already promote content,” he explained, meaning the page where his staff curates the best of Tumblr. "We've got this thesis that you can build a business that not only does not compromise Tumblr, but actually makes Tumblr a better place. If you ripped all the ads out of Vogue it would be half the magazine and you would lose a lot of good content."
There's a community of underserved creative advertisers, some of the most interesting people who got into that industry, people with Mad Men aspirations, people who want to make great ads and win awards, that’s been totally ignored by technology companies.
Karp has been an outspoken critic of the current model of Internet advertising. He’s referred to other company’s efforts as “hyper-hyper-targeting of little blue links” and believes that there are advertisers who want to do more than just "harvest intent" and drive pre-qualified buyers to their merchandise. “There's a community of underserved creative advertisers," he says, "some of the most interesting people who got into that industry, people with Mad Men aspirations, people who want to make great ads and win awards, that’s been totally ignored by technology companies that have been ignoring the creatives who actually make the most compelling content.”
That type of content is part of the reason Karp agreed to the Yahoo! deal, which has been unpopular among some of the Tumblr faithful in much the same way Facebook's acquisition of Instagram was viewed with skepticism. For his part, Karp has called Yahoo! "the original digital media company," explaining that “they approached media as an editorial team that created content and created creative branded advertising on top of that content. That’s a big part of the future of Tumblr’s business,” said Karp. “That’s something they built out technology for, it’s also something they have advertising relationships around. They have a humongous team and a lot resources behind that effort.”
Hearing Karp wax on about empowering creative and creating great editorial makes it hard to reconcile the shuttering of one of Tumblr’s most forward-minded initiatives: Storyboard. Charged with the task of highlighting cool stuff happening on the network, Storyboard had an acclaimed editorial staff and managed to notch a James Beard Award nomination during the year they were in business. But then in April 2013, Karp announced that the Storyboard team would be "closing up shop and moving on."
When pressed, Karp says Storyboard had three goals: “Identifying the stuff going on in the community, telling those stories in a way that elevates them up, spread that out to the world.” In his eyes it was the third step that wasn’t working. And after a year, the company found that it wasn’t “elevating those stories in a way that actually made it a part of an effective marketing effort.” And since that was the ultimate goal, Tumblr decided to nix it.
Will anything replace Storyboard? Karp’s eyes widen at the question but he remains enigmatic, saying only: “We’ve started to see this year some real breakthroughs that actually let you unlock all of the stuff that you’re going to love on Tumblr.”
Tumblr’s users genuinely love Tumblr. The community is an extremely vocal and fierce defender of their digital home. Will they stay now that their little community is owned by one of the biggest and most archaic tech companies in the world? That’s yet to be seen. When the acquisition was announced, despite Marissa Mayer keeping Karp as CEO as part of her promise “not to screw it up,” users still created a petition on ipetition.com to stop the deal that’s gotten over 170,000 signatures. Some, like Matthew Ingram from GigaOM, have pointed out that despite that pledge, Yahoo! has messed up previous acquisitions like the once popular Flickr photo sharing and storage service. David doesn’t think that will happen. He believes in Marissa Mayer and her plan for both Yahoo! and Tumblr. "She’s a visionary in this industry,” he told Rose. "She’s one of the most capable leaders." To his point, Yahoo! also took over Geocities and didn't screw that up at all.
Karp attempted to douse the flames of disapproval by taking to Tumblr and posting a message in which he said the company wasn’t “turning purple” and that the team and mission weren’t changing. He said that he and Mayer “share a vision for Tumblr’s business that doesn’t compromise the community and product we love.” Karp closed his letter with a rousing “Fuck yeah.”
Exactly what that vision is, we’re not sure. Will it involve claiming the right to repurpose user generated content in ads as happened with Instagram? Since Yahoo! now has to chart a clear path to profitability for both itself and Tumblr, there's no doubt it will include advertising. Mayer said the company would be introducing ads to Tumblr’s Dashboard. Will the Tumblr takeover turn out more like Geocities or more like Instagram? It’s too early to tell. But this much is sure: It’s safe to say, either way, that Karp is still smiling. And should remain smiling for a long time to come. Fuck yeah.