New rumors that Yahoo is eyeing Tumblr for a mega-pricy acquisition are startling at first. It'd be an expensive, desperate plan. But if you look over the company's past, you'll see history repeating itself—and a trail of blood.
GeoCities - 1999
Now this was a doozy. Yahoo, looking to branch out of the "list of things on the internet" and email game, spent almost $3 billion on GeoCities, the paleolithic precursor to whatever you'd call a social network today. They thought it'd be an easy win: stick one popular thing (GeoCities was the third most trafficked site in the world back then) into another popular thing, and, like, hey, twice as popular? Dig this bleak press release from 14 years ago:
"GeoCities has built the Web's most popular and widely used community," said Tim Koogle, chairman and CEO, Yahoo!. "Through this acquisition, we are accelerating our global leadership position by combining two of the Web's strongest brands and most heavily used services into one powerful offering."
Sounds familiar, right? We all know how this turned out: GeoCities is synonymous with ugliness and failure, the punchline of lazy tech jokes. Yahoo let the site languish. It sat there, sad and out of date, while its users jumped ship for Facebook—Yahoo never tried to make GeoCities anything more than the Lascaux caves of the web, and it died a quiet death, shuttered in 2009.
Flickr - 2005
Rather than make an enjoyable photo sharing site of its own, Yahoo took one that everyone already loved and stuck its name on it. Its mismanagement of the now obscure site, and the alienation of its fiercely loyal fans, is legendary. Yahoo's new boss says she wants to revitalize Flickr, but has made no visible effort.
Delicious - 2005
Now the pattern starts to emerge—this is serial killer stuff. Yahoo, once again, snatched up a cherished internet community for around $20 million, and once again, proceeded to do absolutely nothing with it. Delicious was repeatedly rumored to be on Yahoo's chopping block, its indie-minded users were turned off by Yahoo's ownership, and it took the two guys who invented YouTube to save it with a purchase in 2011. Then they ran the site into the ground.
Konfabulator - 2005
This was really a rough year, huh. Yahoo bought the widget company, which was supremely popular among the Lifehacker set and rebranded it as "Yahoo! Widgets." Konfabulator's founding engineers started to quit Yahoo by 2006.
All Sorts of Crazy Crap - 2013
Yahoo under Marissa Mayer is taking an alternate path: instead of buying mega-popular sites and propping the company's feet up on them, she's devouring startup minutiae, buying up failing companies who aren't going to say no because their other option is death. It's like the Island of Misfit Toys, except a bunch of white people with kooky ideas instead of toys. Just look at this stuff!
Social sharing app Stamped ... Video chat platform ONtheAIR ... Snip.it, a tool for copying and sharing Web content ... Alike, a mobile recommendation engine for local businesses ... Jybe, another bootstrapped recommendation engine ... Summly, a news reader... Astrid, a social task manger ... MileWise, a six-employee travel rewards tracker, ... GoPollGo, a public polling company with three employees
What is Yahoo going to do with those companies? Who knows! Who cares! Buy, buy, buy. Now we're facing the same prospect with Tumblr, which Yahoo hopes to subsume for the same reasons it bought GeoCities: buy your way to popularity. In all honesty, Tumblr probably should take the money, given the fact that it doesn't (and can't) make much money on its own. Better to die in Yahoo's multi-billion dollar hospice care than out on your own.