I'll Tumbl For You
Late Tuesday night, while most of New York City was “afk” enjoying the balmy weather, Tumblr CEO David Karp snuck a post onto the staff blog paying tribute to Storyboard–a team of journalists and editors assigned to “cover Tumblr as a living, breathing community.”
After gushing with pride over Storyboard’s many accolades, Mr. Karp pivoted, abruptly. The year-old concept “had run its course” and the editorial team, he announced, “will be closing up shop and moving on.” Please, he asked, “join us in wishing them well.”
But the Storyboard layoffs, which affected three staffers peripheral to internal operations, are hardly the only departures Tumblr has faced over the past six or seven months. Rather, they’re the only ones Mr. Karp has spoken about publicly.
Time for a little trip down memory lane! Digiday asked several ad-tech execs for high school snapshots, and Tumblr revenue consultant Rick Webb really delivered. He turned over this amazing proto-selfie, which wouldn’t look out of place on your Dashboard today.
Mr. Webb admitted to his past as an adolescent goth and told Digiday, “Stephin Merrit once said, ‘I could dress in black and read Camus. Smoke clove cigarettes and drink vermouth like I was 17.’ HOW DID HE KNOW?”
Sundancing in the Dark South by Southwest is basically right around the corner, but it seems several techies needed a break before March offers the excuse for a tax-deductible trip to Austin. Investor Scooter Braun is be there (for obvious reasons), as is VHX cofounder Casey Pugh, ABC News’s Maya Baratz, onetime Myspace prez Jason Hirschhorn, and Thrillist cofounder Ben Lerer. Judging from Mr. Lerer’s Instagram, Gary Vaynerchuk is also along for the ride.
Startups are taking advantage of the festival’s halo of hipness. The creatives at Kickstarter have devoted a page to Sundance entrants funded on the platform, and cofounder Yancey Strickler says he’ll be in attendance. Uber will be there–and handing out hot chocolate. “All you have to do is tap the Uber app and we will come wherever you are to deliver sweet salvation from the epic cold,” the company promises. Not to mention helping sooth the pain of Uber’s high fares.
As 2011 came to a close, we looked back at our most popular posts. But this year, we’re a little older (a mature year and nine months!), a lot wiser, and thought we’d try something a little different. Thank you for reading!
Ultra-Orthodox Jews Take a Hard Line on the Internet at Rally of 40,000 Men (And Me) In which our intrepid reporter sneaks into Citi Field in drag.
Faith, Hope, and Singularity: Entering the Matrix with New York’s Futurist Set It’s the end of the world as we know it, and they feel fine.
The Undercover Ad Man
Of all the “if you build it, they will come,” social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, Tumblr seemed the most advertising-averse. Floppy-haired founder David Karp memorably betrayed a visceral distaste for the stuff. It “really turns our stomachs,” he said in 2010, following that up with a vow not to become “wildly profitable” by slapping an AdSense ad on the otherwise elegant dashboard of all 80 million Tumblr blogs. But it seems as though the microblogging site’s methodical approach toward making money has paid off—thanks in part to guidance from Rick Webb, a 20-year veteran of the ad industry and co-founder of digital consultancy Barbarian Group, who was attracted to Tumblr for its aversion to the “crap” ads that permeate the web.
Jack Dorsey, cofounder of Twitter and Square, recently tried to disabuse the tech industry of its infatuation with the word ‘disruption.’ “We don’t want ‘disruption,’ where we just move things around. We want a direction. We want a purpose,” he said on stage at TechCrunch Disrupt, humbly suggesting the biannual conference change its name. But it’s more than just semantics. The tech sector’s claim to produce world-changing products and services often gets drowned out in a chorus of me-too companies solving problems no one ever complained about. The umpteenth nightlife-recommendations tool or empty real-time dating app can obscure the whirr of a nascent robotics sector in Manhattan or a futuristic, even revolutionary, experiment in manufacturing in Queens.
Hacking the Hurricane
Late last week, Betabeat took a two-hour trip via interborough bus to Secret Clubhouse, a newly launched Williamsburg coworking spot. The shared office (decorated with vintage Apples and a motley assortment of posters) was packed with techies typing away on the laptops, but the vibe was no more panicked than that of an undergraduate library in the earliest days of reading period.
Nearby, permanent residents Small Girls PR were hashing out wardrobing details for the upcoming “Tech Homecoming” fundraiser and upending their desks in search of a missing checkbook. The occasional burst of laughter filtered from the back, and every so often someone would look up with a piece of news gleaned from Twitter. But quiet largely reigned.
The only obvious sign of extraordinary circumstances was a sign on the wall, handwritten grade-school-binder style: “Sandy Shelter,” it said, with a Wifi login and the message of support, “we <3 u.”
One of the great frustrations of Tumblr has long been the unavailability of rather basic metrics–a major problem for a company that wants to be a hub for the world’s creators and brands, as well as a sophisticated advertising option. (It’s hard to get marketers to do much without offering access to some sweet, sweet ROI metrics.)
Soon, however, all those brands with purdy pages will have access to a real-deal analytics dashboard. That is, if they work with Tumblr’s preferred partner. In an announcement released today, the site has crowned Union Metrics as its preferred analytics provider.
The elevators to the BuzzFeed office are magnificently slow. Each fits about six people comfortably, and they trundle and groan up to the 11th floor, where the company’s ops, tech and marketing people sit. “Considering how fast the company moves, it’s amazing how slow its elevators are,” quipped one dapperly dressed man as we all awkwardly waited for the doors to open.
Betabeat was visiting the BuzzFeed office for the first time to attend a real-life roundtable. Hosted by Branch cofounder Josh Miller, the event included beers and mingling among some of New York’s prolific tech reporters and entrepreneurs, as well as a discussion with Twitter cofounder Ev Williams and BuzzFeed’s own cofounder Jonah Peretti.
Caught In The Webb
Bubbles bubbles bubbles! The talk continues. Last week the anti-bubble camp was in the ascendency. First we had a massive bubble debate on Branch.com (disclosure: I am an investor in Branch), featuring some of the best minds on the internet: Anil Dash, Dave McClure, Paul Kedrosky, Chris Sacca, Michael Arrington, MG Seigler and more. The rough consensus? No bubble.
In wrapping up the Branch debate, Seigler pointed to First Round Capital’s Josh Kopelman, and his hilarious bubble post – from 2007, no less – mocking those who continuously cry bubble, and failing to grasp the transformational power of the internet. A fair point.
Next we had Business Insider Henry Blodget’s presentation State of Startups 2012 presentation, subtitled “No, it’s not a bubble.” Many charts, graphs and points followed laying out why the bubble doesn’t exist.
I must confess, however, I’m in the pro-bubble camp, and while reading the Branch debate, I found myself jumping up and down with counter arguments on why we actually are in a bubble. And, since I’ve taken a two week vacation from this column, I figured I’d come back with a vengeance, and cogently lay out all the arguments and counter arguments.