Will Automattic restore Tumblr to its former emo glory? (Illustration by Natashna Anderson, School of the Art Institute of Chicago)

Should We Expect a Tumblr Revival in the Near Future?

After being purchased by Automattic, the parent company of popular blogging site WordPress, the iconic site may mount an unforeseen comeback.

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After being purchased by Automattic, the parent company of popular blogging site WordPress, the iconic site may mount an unforeseen comeback.

Tumblr has found a new home. In a rapid but unsurprising turn of events, the once-mighty social media site was recently acquired by Automattic, the parent company of WordPress.

Forsaken and irrelevant as the once-booming subculture hub now is, the nostalgia remains. But is that nostalgia enough to revive an app left behind by the ever-advancing online cultural sphere?

A quick recap: After the infamous ban on porn last December, a third of Tumblr users abandoned the platform, marking what seemed to be a definitive death for the app that had long since been dwindling.

Even before the ban on porn, it was clear Tumblr was failing where other social sites, like Twitter, were succeeding. The fact is that it was never meant to be a mainstream platform. Where other technologies rose in the face of a rapid, volatile and hyper-competitive online space, Tumblr remained the same. For the past decade, the only major change appears to be the lack of porn.

The content looks the same as if the site is frozen in time. Potential Tumblr girls might now be getting their start on VSCO, but Tumblr in 2013 and Tumblr in 2019 still share the cheesy quotes, oddly satisfying gifs and an abundance of adorable animals that capture a nearly identical spirit. Think of it as the first iteration of a “retro” social media site.

Yet despite its failure to compete with the likes of Instagram or Facebook, and despite its outdatedness, the site still has a niche, dedicated user base. One that includes quirky individuals like Shane Dawson and Taylor Swift.

So why was the popular blogging site pronounced dead in the first place? Yahoo’s $1.1 billion acquisition of the social media site in 2013 marked the beginning of the end. Tumblr failed to be profitable.

Yahoo itself was unable to keep up with trends and ultimately paled in comparison to tech giant Google. It came as no shock when the company couldn’t keep Tumblr up to speed. Later, when Verizon acquired both companies, it was clear that Verizon had no clue how to handle the platform.

In a recent deal that saw Tumblr sold for less than $3 million, a mere fraction of the price it was acquired for back in 2013, Verizon handed the 200-employee company over to the owner of blogging platform WordPress.

So what’s next?

Fortunately, it appears that Tumblr has finally found itself parented by a community where it will be better understood. Whereas Yahoo and Verizon sought the potential for their own social media giant, Automattic sees Tumblr similar to WordPress. A small, tightly-knit blogging community surviving in an internet culture where blogging is no longer mainstream.

WordPress’s ability to survive despite the contradiction of blogging in a post-blogging world is a promising sign that Tumblr will survive as well. Not to mention that Tumblr also offers a plethora of other still-favored features like gifs, videos and short format text posts.

Better yet, it appears the site will finally be seeing at least a few changes in the coming months. “I would say absolutely look for new functionality on the site,” Automattic’s chief executive, Matt Mullenweg, said in a recent interview.

What Automattic does appear to plan on changing, however, is the current demographic and the content users in that demographic consume. Mullenweg recognizes the Tumblr “tribe” and said he plans to bring even more “freedom and creativity to the [existing] Tumblr community.”

If this strategy is successful, it could mean that more users who fit in with the spirit of the Tumblr community will come flocking back, or even jump on the site for the first time. At the same time, not many failed social media platforms have found a second wind. In an online universe that is perpetually pushing forward, even Tumblr users themselves express doubt that the app might survive.

Regardless of the outcome, what seems certain is that the site’s underground, rebellious essence will remain unchanged. For now, Tumblr remains perfectly preserved as the absurd, iconic platform that users once fell in love with.

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