Has Oath Killed Tumblr?


When I received news from Yahoo! that in continuing to use its services, I would in fact be dealing with an organisation called ‘Oath’, I immediately feared for Tumblr’s welfare. I mean, what sort of brainstorming session results in a company name like ‘Oath’? Then I discovered that the new collective business also involved AOL, and thought: “Yep, that’s probably that for Tumblr”.

Yesterday, my fears were realised, as a peep at my Tumblr blog stats, in Google Analytics, showed a catastrophic drop in visits from search engines. There was a rise in referrals from Tumblr (you’ll see why in a moment), but overall, the page visits were significantly down.

I Googled my own posts, and found they were still ranking well. So the only test left was to click on one of my posts in the Google results. It took me to my blog, right? Nope. I was redirected, by Tumblr, to this…

Tumblr Privacy Redirect May 2018

A highly uninviting, full-page privacy notice, guaranteed to get some vistors backstepping their browsers and returning to Google. Which is exactly what some had done – hence the visits being down. And I should just stress that on smaller screens the click-through prompt falls below the page fold.

I realised that the referrals from Tumblr, which were showing in Google Analytics, represented visitors who’d actually taken the step of progressing beyond the deadly privacy notice. And then it dawned on me that the display of this traffic-damaging notice would not just be there for the day. It would be an ongoing obstruction for any new visitor, and any previous visitor who either cleared their cookies, or didn’t accept them at all.

I don’t want to sound too hard-done-by. I’d been suspicious of Tumblr’s likely fate for some time, and I haven’t posted on the site at all this year. I was already fairly well resigned to letting my biggest Tumblr project go, and that wasn’t just because of changes to Tumblr. But I was still staggered by the company’s cavalier attitude to the value of blog visits. I know privacy is important, and that blog visitors should be properly informed. But seriously, an officious-looking full-screen site block? Just float a privacy/cookie banner over the top or bottom of the page – like LITERALLY EVERYONE ELSE does. Jeez…

It’s not the stupidity. It’s the bullish, corporate disrespect for the work bloggers have invested. The value those bloggers have contributed to the Internet. Unpaid. Just to give to the online community. Then along comes Oath…

“Yeah, let’s lob a big feckin’ notice over all that crap – so we can pump a shitload more ads into everyone’s face. Years and years of people’s time went into the vast array of blogs on the Tumblr network. Some bloggers have even paid us for premium design themes, so their visitors can enjoy a better user experience. But bollocks. Let’s spend a bare FIVE MINUTES of our precious corporate timetable making a page that looks like a GOVERNMENT FRIGGIN’ ARREST WARRANT, and chuck it at everyone who tries to access a Tumblr blog.”

They wouldn’t do this to their sacred portals. There’s a definite sense of “It’s only Tumblr“.

I guessed I’d find a few choice complaints from Tumblr users on Twitter, and I wasn’t wrong. Neither, I found, was my personal gripe the only one being cursed. The complaints bemoaned… Use of the woefully insensitive privacy redirect within the RSS feed, making the feed unfit for purpose… The same woefully insensitive privacy redirect blocking entry to blogs as accessed from search engines, as I’d already found… A new barrage of adverts within the Dashboard… A new ‘Recommendations’ / ‘Suggestions’ protocol which pushes requested Dashboard content out of sight… Timeline content slipping out of the user’s control…

People weren’t just complaining. They were uninstalling the app and vowing never to use the site again. It’s fair to say that the changes have not been overwhelmingly well received.

Tumblr’s current owners are companies to whom the actual history, nature and user-value of a website means absolutely nothing. They’re like burglars on the Antiques Roadshow. Don’t give stuff what they’ve got, who made it or why it’s important – only how much money they can make out of it.

They operate on the extreme edge of user tolerance. You’d think they’d have learned the danger of that back in the 1990s, when Google nonchalantly stepped into the search business and kicked their excruciating portals out of the race. As Google demonstrated to them with profound consequences, the public do have brains, and they’ll choose the service that offers them the best experience.

So we’re perhaps just seeing an inevitable consequence of portal providers getting hold of a blogging platform. Could Tumblr turn into a portal? Keep your eye on the site, and I suspect that in the not too distant future you’ll be finding out.