Houston’s Matt Mullenweg sees opportunity in Twitter chaos

When Elon Musk bought Twitter for $44 billion last month, he immediately began a chaotic reorganization of the company and its products, laying off half of its employees, dismantling its authentication system and initially threatening to upend its content moderation. standard.

As a result, some big-name advertisers have stopped spending there, and many users, including celebrities, are talking about dropping the service. Some people are actually doing it.

Now, Twitter’s constituencies are looking for new online homepages, and several platforms have emerged. One of them is Tumblr, an ancient blogging site that, at the time, was a haven for artists and writers and their fans. It is also known for hosting porn and alternative porn.

Tumblr was acquired from Verizon in 2019 by Automattic, the parent company of WordPress, the most used blogging platform on the internet. WordPress was co-authored by Matt Mullenweg in 2003 as a student at the Houston High School for the Performing and Visual Arts.

By the time Automattic acquired Tumblr, Tumblr had become a shell of its predecessor, going through several ownership changes, as well as banning adult content on the site.

Mullenweg and his team have made Tumblr a fix and in September eased restrictions on users for former owners, including Verizon. Tumblr still doesn’t allow hardcore porn, but does allow nudity and other adult themes through a flagging process that users must follow when posting.

Now that Twitter’s problems present an opportunity for Tumblr, Mullenweg says there’s already evidence people are exploring it. Downloads of Tumblr’s iOS and Android apps are up nearly 60 percent, and some high-profile users have established an outpost there, including actor Ryan Reynolds, writer Neil Gaiman and TV’s original Wonder Woman, Lynda Carter.

In a conversation with Chronicle, Mullenweg talks about what’s happening on Twitter and how it’s changed since his company acquired Tumblr. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: In general, how do you feel about what’s going on in Twitter?

A: Oh surprising. You could say every element of this deal is amazing. If nothing else, it’s fun. It was a little tougher than I expected.

Q: Do you think it will be smoother?

A: certainly. Everyone hopes it will go smoother. So there’s something interesting, you know, sometimes you might see changes and wonder if there’s 4-D chess or something you might not understand.

related: How will Elon Musk change Twitter? If you hate what’s going on, here’s the place to go.

If I’ve learned anything from Tumblr and acquisitions in general, it’s that they are very difficult. This is very different from starting a company or investing in a company. Usually by definition, if you’re buying it for a turnaround, there’s a problem there as well. But people (using it) are also very attached to it, so it’s a very difficult thing to do. They try to fix what’s broken without breaking what makes it something you want to buy.

So, I would say this is probably the hardest job in business. I myself am very humbled by the transformation of Tumblr. It took longer than we thought, and it was much more difficult.

Q: If you ran Twitter, what would you do differently?

A: The only thing I want to say is that I wish I would have done something different is (I won’t tweet) Paul Pelosi stuff. (Editor’s note: Musk sparked outrage by tweeting a conspiracy theory about the husband of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi being hammered.)

This undoubtedly spooked advertisers. More important than actual changes in policy or layoffs or anything.

Q: What do you think of the whole mess around verification – selling Twitter’s blue verification badge for $8 without any actual authentication?

A: It’s useful to see your internet history when you’ve tried other things (to prove your identity).

I’ll point out using real names, and the biggest proponent in history is Facebook. The idea is that if (their actions) attached to their Facebook account, people wouldn’t be assholes because it would have a real name. Now, if the internet has shown us anything over the past 10 years, it’s the ability of people to be complete assholes under their real names.

The second is the idea that cost is an obstacle for trolls and spammers (buy a verification badge for $8). One idea that came up (Musk) was that if you got banned, you lost $8. To take another Internet example, spammers often register domain names for more than $8—not just thousands, but millions.

I don’t throw stones at other companies’ content moderation decisions, just because I understand how hard it is. It’s harder than launching a rocket from a ship.

Q: A lot of people have suggested Tumblr as an alternative to Twitter. Is this a chance for Tumblr’s sustained recovery?

One: Yes, we’ve seen unprecedented interest, including from some very famous celebrities, like Ryan Reynolds, who came over and “got” Tumblr culture right away.

Now, Tumblr is a place unlike any other social network, in fact an original. A lot of what we’re doing is trying to create a very, very healthy community, but also seeing how we can push the envelope.

Part of our strength is that subscriptions already account for the majority of our revenue over other networks. We offered an upgrade to turn off ads, which Elon has said is on Twitter’s roadmap. We have virtual goods, we have payments, we have a lot of what he said he wanted to do there.

Q: In September you announced that you were relaxing some restrictions on the type of content allowed on Tumblr. How did you get to the point where you could finally flip the switch?

A: For 17 years, we have been using our service to host content on the Internet. Our policy is similar to our policy on Tumblr, which is that we cannot be hardcore porn hosts.

The reality is that I don’t think we can do it legally and responsibly. Apple is also very concerned about Tumblr, and they have very strict rules about it. If we take it off the app store, we’re screwed.

ask: Many people have never seen Tumblr from its heyday when it launched in 2007. How would you describe Tumblr to newcomers?

A: The best way to think about Tumblr is a bit like a video game. Just like a video game, you need some setup at the beginning to see how it works, right?

The first thing is to curate how and who you focus on. Know that you need to put in some effort to find the right people to follow.

It’s really about art, artists and creativity. I want to say more than what you are doing right now. You can be anonymous, and you can create different accounts for different things you want to view or share.

Q: Do you think Tumblr can scale to the scale of Twitter?

A: If I thought it couldn’t be as big or bigger as Twitter, I wouldn’t.

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