One of the biggest of these was the acquisition of Geocities in the late 90s. In its heyday, Geocities was much bigger than Tumblr in relative terms (at its peak the third most-visited site on the web), and Yahoo paid more -- three times more. The site languished for a decade, then Yahoo killed it off.
This acquire-and-ignore “strategy” as an alternative to innovation is precisely what gave Yahoo such a bad reputation. And it’s precisely what former Google executive and current Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer was brought in to not do.
In fact, the idea that Yahoo paid a billion and change in cash for Tumblr just to own it and to integrate nothing from it is inconceivable to me.
Another reasonable fear is that Yahoo will improve Tumblr -- and that’s the last thing Tumblr fans want. For example, they might improve the search, make users more discoverable, add parental controls to make it family friendly.
Why wouldn’t Yahoo integrate it? Why wouldn’t Yahoo improve it?
And that’s the trouble with isolated social sites: If they succeed, some giant company buys them and integrates them.
Increasingly, users who spend years cultivating social connections on isolated sites find themselves suddenly part of a big integrationist mashup. That’s one reason why history will favor the giant, integrated sites.
The other is that increasingly integrationist sites will be able to offer user benefits that I think will prove highly compelling. One of these is artificial intelligence assistants.
The first time I used Google Now on an Android phone, I said “call Kevin.” I have several Kevins in my Contacts, but Google Now knew I was talking about my son. It also knows my restaurant preferences.
It might have learned who my top Kevin was from Google+ or Gmail. It might have learned my restaurant preferences from reviews I’ve done on Google+ Local. Who knows?
Note that Google launched today the ability for users to enable Voice Search queries with voice commands inside Chrome. By saying “OK, Google,” the search feature starts paying attention to the user’s voice, and natural language interaction with Google’s giant server brain begins. Pervasive, ubiquitous intelligent agents are going mainstream fast.
Increasingly, social signals will be used not only for intelligent agents to know us better, but as the platform of delivery for our interaction. The big social sites will not only have the resources to offer these benefits, they’ll also have a wider range of activity to harvest from in figuring out who the users are, exactly.
It’s likely that Yahoo wants to become the third mega social site that integrates a wide range of services that is connected with a social layer and which can be used to track user activity to improve the relevance of both interaction and advertising.
Tumblr will increasingly be integrated as that social layer, I suspect. And that’s another strike against the future is isolation and independence in the world of social sites.