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So basically an exercise in blowing several million dollars.



It's funny the stuff HN fixates on. If all you read is this comment thread, you might actually believe that non-porn Tumblr really is just "an exercise in blowing several million dollars", rather than a concern for a very loud, probably rather small subset of Tumblr users (or rather: former users).

What seems at least as likely as "adult content is vital to the future of Tumblr" is that adult content has much more valence in an HN discussion thread, since people have opinions about adult content and not so many opinions about the overwhelming majority of Tumblr content that isn't suppressed. So it takes on an importance on HN that it doesn't have elsewhere, simply because of the fundamental dynamics of message boards ("controversy is always important").


I know that almost all the SFW content creators I know who had a Tumblr blog, have gradually left the platform over the last year. The NSFW content-creators left, and with them dragged away most of the audience for SFW content. The platform is a "dead network" now; the SFW content creators are getting 10x less likes/reblogs than before for their SFW content, because none of their followers (who presumably have both SFW and NSFW interests) checks Tumblr any more, instead having moved onto whatever platform the NSFW content is on (Twitter, I think.)

Think of it this way: a pharmacy sells both prescription drugs and OTC drugs. You can buy OTC drugs from anywhere (e.g. a grocery store, a convenience store, etc.) but you can only get prescription drugs from a pharmacy, so people tend to buy their OTC drugs from pharmacies while they're there for prescription drugs. If your neighbourhood pharmacy decides to stop selling prescription drugs, would you still bother to go there for your OTC drugs? Or would you just buy your OTC drugs from whatever pharmacy you end up now having to go to for your prescription drugs?


I think this is an excellent analogy.

Tumblr was always fun because you could get both. I could have a feed of all of my interests, not just those some group deemed acceptable. I’m sure there’s some who’s interests fall entirely within the venn diagram of “acceptable”, and for those, it’s still viable. But as you stated, many like both, and many of the creators I think (who are also consumers) had interests in both SFW and NSFW content.

I don’t have any data to back this up either. But I think – and it’s a very certain feeling – that more individuals are into, let’s say, deviant content, than is spoken publicly. And the tech community, which has always skewed the populations of these platforms as opposed to the population whole, influences this. To put it succinctly (and bluntly) as a friend once told me, “the venn diagram of “kink” and “geek” practically overlap.)

I visited Tumblr for it’s digital art community, but also because it was also heavily used by the shibari community, which practices and demos erotic rope bondage.

Photographers, riggers, and models all maintained accounts on there and Instagram (IG). Tumblr was in some cases the preferred (with Instagram accounts forwarding their users over to Tumblr) as it was the more open platform.

There was a huge outcry in this community and others when the shift was announced, with people scrambling to maintain connections and set up alternate platforms. For while IG was (and to some extent still is) popular, many accounts on IG are often deleted due to reports (“female presenting nipples”). Tumblr was a good anchor to reconnect because it was consistent.

Tumblr’s “closing” had many discussing what to do, as IG is becoming increasingly intolerant to even “artistic” adult content. Twitter remains somewhat usable. But to go back to the original point, I asked some of my favorite artists if they didn’t want to consider a platform such as “Ello” (which seemed a natural fit for this content) instead of Instagram or other mass-market platform, which seemed all too likely to follow Tumblr’s path. The answer? “Because I want my work to be seen.”

And I think that’s what the controversy comes down to. The legally questionable content notwithstanding, artists want their work to be seen, to be viewed by new people, and to connect with those who are waiting to find something to inspire them. Our community meets people all of the time who see an image and get drawn to something about it, feel something unlocked inside that they never knew to ask about. Walling this content off into “adult-only” areas is like a segregation of sorts. You may be able to post pictures, but with it comes the implicit labeling that somehow, it’s different, shameful, and isn’t worthy of being grouped with everything else. And this has a chilling effect on people and their interests which different from the mainstream.

So I’m dismayed when I see waves of channels deleted on YouTube, accounts taken down on Instagram, and one more artist I follow declaring that they’re tired of fighting whack-a-mole and head off into one of the secluded boxes in some corner of the internet like bdslr, or FetLife, or others. They essentially “go dark” [1]. This doesn’t bode well for the internet and society at large, for all we’ll have left is the sterile, the “acceptable”, the echo chamber which we find so troublesome today.

1. https://onezero.medium.com/the-dark-forest-theory-of-the-int...

P.S.: I didn’t hit upon the tremendous hypocrisy I feel occurs when it seems to pull a hate speech post offline requires hand-wringing or controversy (or god forbid, a shooting), but adult content accounts can be shuttered instantly with no explanation other than a boilerplate. That, I feel, could be an entirely new discussion however.


Thank you very much for voicing your input and opinion on that matter. It always feels a little dangerous to take position on kink, even though it shouldn't.

> To put it succinctly (and bluntly) as a friend once told me, “the venn diagram of “kink” and “geek” practically overlap.)

It's nice to have an outside view on this. I was always of the opinion that my friends just happen to overlap because my interests select people in both worlds. But yeah, there might actually be a strong correlation.


> a very loud, probably rather small subset of Tumblr users (or rather: former users)

Well, according to this chart (which I have only cursorily vetted), it seems there are a lot of "former users": https://www.reddit.com/r/dataisbeautiful/comments/af9rwu/oc_...

It shows that as of Jan, 2019, there were about 50% as many users as when the ban was announced. That would suggest that there are as many "former users" as there are current users. And the downward trend has probably continued in the subsequent 6 months.


That chart is based on Google Trends, which is a terrible way to measure social network activity/popularity.


A lot of people don't use bookmarks and even when they know very well it is facebook.com they still hit search "facebook" on Google.


That doesn't matter much. The largest difference is that the majority of people access social networks through mobile apps now, and Google Trends can't reflect that at all.

For example, Facebook shows a 71% drop worldwide in Google Trends over the last 5 years. Their Q2 2019 earnings showed a 20% worldwide growth in monthly users over the last two years alone.

Google Trends can't tell you anything useful about a site's growth or activity.


Do you have anything better?


The assumption that Tumblr's loss of users is entirely or even mostly due to suppressing adult content is probably unwarranted, but I'd be interested in data either way.


The chart shows that there was already a downward trend, but it really fell off a cliff after the announcement.

Also, for platforms with network effects, a drop-off (or even belief that there will be a drop-off) can do major damage to even unrelated communities on the platform. For example, Tumblr used to be a huge referrer for my startup, thanks to Tumblr's robust ADHD, dyslexia, and CFS communities who spread the word about our tools. We still get occasional traffic from posts, but I get the sense that those communities have been hollowed out by the perception that Tumblr is dead. I don't know if they've moved elsewhere (perhaps Twitter), but they sure aren't on Tumblr much anymore.

I certainly hope Automattic can revive Tumblr one way or another, but it seems like the smart play here would have been to announce that they'll be looking to find a way to restore the prior functionality, and then work out the details later. That way they can get a bump in traffic from the expectation that there will be a bigger community, which helps them regardless of the extent to which the ban is reversed.


On July 15, 2017, ~36 million posts were made on Tumblr [1]. A year later, July 14, 2018 [4], about ~31 million posts were made [2]. July 13, 2019 saw only ~21 million [3].

The Wayback Machine doesn't have fine-grained enough details to get a good estimate of how much the loss of adult content itself was responsible, but this does reinforce the impression given from the Google Trends link cited several times that there has been a steady decline in Tumblr punctuated with a massive hit on or around the removal of adult content.

[1] https://web.archive.org/web/20170711122839/https://www.tumbl...

[2] https://web.archive.org/web/20180714223645/http://tumblr.com...

[3] https://web.archive.org/web/20190713180936/http://tumblr.com...

[4] Each of these dates is a Saturday, so not quite a year later, but matching time of year and day-of-week is better anyways.


People who had nudes on their tumblr weren't on tumblr just for nudes. It was just great to have a place you could stash everything you liked, kinks included.

So, network effects work both ways, people leave because their kink got banned and people who followed that person now have one less reason to log on.


Yes and no. As someone commented above, when people lost one of their interests, the dropped it completely and took all their presence away.

One of the reasons that I left is the need for Yahoo to share all my actions with some of the shittiest trackers, advertisers, and privacy violators. Not fun fact: you can't shake/AdBlock/NoScript/PrivacyBadger them if Tumblr itself is doing the sale.


I didn’t even use tumblr for porn at all. I pretty much only follow artists.

I’m not sure if it’s still a problem, but the ban resulted in loads of non-porn images being flagged as porn. Most people gave up trying to fight it and left. When I visit tumblr now, it’s dead. Everyone moved on and fast.


Tumblr's audience(s) were: adult, fandoms, teens, artists

Artists use it less and less, mainly to bait and switch (patreon). Adult content is out. Fandoms wither because well teenagers grow and abandon this slowly - until the next/new fandom pops up.

Curating is one thing. Make "chinese walls" and prevent teens to access the hard adult stuff, but let them free and it will organically grow again.

We are past the years where teens needed a journal, they've gone to FB/IG for that.

Tumblr is fun if let free. If not, then it will wither further and die.

I can only see Automattic using it as another wordpress, a bit more hip. But still the user geneated content needs to be the free driver, not the gagged driver.


From my little corner of the internet (furries), porn was often a lead generator. People came for the hot werewolf boyfriends, then stayed for all the non-porn stuff. They don't necessarily stick around if the thing that reminded them Tumblr existed goes away. They follow the draw where it goes. A lot of them moved to Reddit, Twitter, Mastodon, and Telegram chats.

It's a niche, but not a small one. Enough niches tumbled together (or out) is a lot of people.


The adult content is what differentiated tumblr from other platforms, users came to tumblr for it and stayed to view other content. Remove it and those users decide it's not worth sticking around versus twitter/facebook/whatever. So while you don't lose as much content you do lose a proportionally larger percentage of users (50% seems to be cited). And once those users leave the creators of sfw content will start to move to other platforms.

Or in other words porn was free marketing and lead generation for tumblr. I somehow doubt a buyer will be willing to put in enough money to make up for it.


Sure, it's the former users that are complaining rather than the current users. The problem is that the Tumblr with its current set of users and current policies are what make it a boring and uninteresting place to go on the web.

Tumblr was a hot property specifically because of the former users, and if the site doesn't try to get them back it will become something reminiscent of Digg and Myspace- something to be looked upon with nostalgia but not for spending any time visiting.


One thing I’ve noticed with the Tumblr migration, is that I’ve switched to hard core porn.

With Tumblr I had my lists of soft things where there was a lot left to imagine. Some of them are still online, proof they were supersoft. But I had to surf away and I can’t find mild ones. All because some überentity wants to sanitize and cleanse the world. And drove all the softporn to Instagram, where the everyday girl poses, which... is worse for the masses. And is less easy to browse.

If anything, closing Tumblr has driven my habits to way worse, and I’d bet we’re hundreds of thousands in this situation. As much for sanitizing society.


This happens with other things as well. One of the problems with kicking $bad_thought people off the mainstream platforms like Twitter is all the $bad_thought people get isolated, enter an echo chamber, and radicalize.


Sometimes one has to wonder if that isn't precisely the point. Destroy freedom through manufactured "abuse of freedom".


This is spot-on. HN has generally massively over-estimated the amount of porn on Tumblr, in terms of percentage of total content. I say this as a primary source with first-hand factual knowledge.


I've observed most discussions about Tumblr outside of HN. Most discussion revolves around how banning adult content from Tumblr removed any reason to go to Tumblr for many people. These are your average kinksters, artists, creative types who have been forced off the platform because it no longer caters to their interests. Not sure what any of this has to do with HN.


This subthread is discussing a misconception prevalent among HN users. But this same misconception may also be shared by other groups; no one is saying it's exclusive to HN.

I believe your anecdotal experience in this area is true and accurate. But at the same time, the raw stats just don't reflect it being universally accurate across all users. A similar phenomenon has occurred regarding people saying they're quitting Facebook, deleting Uber, moving off GitHub, etc.

In this specific case re: Tumblr, my guess would be that only a portion of them actually stopped using Tumblr at that specific time and for that reason. I suspect some of these people already stopped using Tumblr long ago, and meanwhile some others do continue using Tumblr despite previously saying otherwise. I'm just speculating though.


Do you base that on anything but a suspicion on your part? You are claiming this to be a misconception, can you actually back that up? I have no idea who those new content creators are supposed to be, like everyone else i just saw people with a decade or more of content producing behind them leaving. And not some of the people i knew but all of them. If there are great hidden communities that grew in the vacuum left, please share.


I am basing my statements on knowledge from personal experience. As I said above, I'm a primary source with first-hand factual knowledge about this topic. (If you do a lot of capacity planning for a UGC / social network infrastructure over many years, you become intimately familiar with changes in growth rate over time...)


First of, thanks for sharing your experience and insight here.

You do however see how that is a bit difficult to just accept without any backing up, considering a former engineer might naturally be a bit biased about the public perception of a former project dying? By no means a personal attack, just picture yourself in my shoes. I do understand however if there is just no such data available.

Like everyone else here I saw whole communities with active people, with sometimes over a decade of content creation behind them, just vanish. And those werent just the complete porn focused ones, hell even the few leftists i followed from soup.io days packed up for good. Granted, just my anecdotal experience but given how many experienced the same, i would be confident to say that some rather big, active and motivated communities died and others lost a great share of formerly active members and especially content creators due to the sometimes bizarre overlap.

So if tumblr isnt dying, which new active communities sprung up to fill that void? Did any with the current public perception of tumblr? How is the rate of content creation and interaction looking pre and post porn ban announcement?

Differently put, what good do lurker numbers do if the content creators are gone? Without them lurkers arent going to be sticking around forever and which new content creators are acquired?

I do mean what I said in the last post and I mean everyone who reads this,

>If there are great hidden communities that grew in the vacuum left, please do share.

edit: I also forgot to mention the most damming part, Verizon selling tumblr for under 3m. They sure are convinced its dead for good.


> a former engineer might naturally be a bit biased about the public perception of a former project dying?

Personally I'm not too concerned about that. I have other things on my resume.

I'm more concerned that people keep blindly parroting that Tumblr is/was primarily a "porn site", when the internal data absolutely did not bear that out at any point.

> So if tumblr isnt dying

I haven't said anything about whether or not it is "dying". Afraid you've misunderstood. My point is that HN tends to vastly overstate the amount of adult-related Tumblr usage. Far more users slowly left over time long before the adult content ban.

You want public numbers, OK, I'll link directly to the wayback machine info that I previously mentioned downthread:

Jan 21 2014 (random day around "peak Tumblr"): 110m posts [1]

Dec 16 2018 (before adult content ban): 28m posts [2]

Feb 3 2019 (a bit after adult content ban): 23m posts [3]

While daily posting volume doesn't perfectly equate to MAUs, in my experience with UGC / social networking products, posting volume is closely correlated with overall usage.

[1] https://web.archive.org/web/20140121015438/https://www.tumbl...

[2] https://web.archive.org/web/20181216220821/https://www.tumbl...

[3] https://web.archive.org/web/20190203200751/https://www.tumbl...


Awesome, thanks for clearing that up


You're talking about accounts with porn content. GP and others are talking about visitors who may not even have an account.


I've addressed that nuance in other comments in this subthread. My statements are accurate no matter how you define a "user".

Additionally, Tumblr started requiring a logged-in account to view adult content some time before the ban (something like 9 months before it iirc).

Furthermore, GP specifically said "forced off the platform", "go to Tumblr", etc which strongly implies people with accounts / using the site's dashboard feed which requires an account (as opposed to visiting specific blog subdomains directly as a logged-out user).

I really don't understand the implicit distrust of my direct first-hand experience here. The amount of gaslighting in this thread is profoundly disturbing.


Because stuff like this this:

> Additionally, Tumblr started requiring a logged-in account to view adult content some time before the ban (something like 9 months before it iirc).

Is only technically accurate; it's irrelevant to the user experience. The ban was implemented by enabling safe mode for all users, removing the option to disable it, then automatedly marking a huge number of accounts as adult (plenty of which that got caught in this step weren't actually adult).

Content wasn't actually deleted, and can still be viewed on your own dashboard for the accounts you're subscribed to, making it less obvious to users with accounts - the ban primarily affected visitors without accounts and the posters who wanted them as an audience. Those posters are the ones who have been forced off the platform, no longer able to grow an audience, but some have been slow to realize they even got caught by the ban because of how it was implemented.


I don't follow how that relates to the topic being discussed here (HN misconception about the percentage of adult-related users/content/traffic on Tumblr). I only mentioned the logged-in account requirement in response to your claim about non-logged-in traffic being relevant to the stats.

I haven't expressed any opinions about the user experience of the ban, or whether the ban was implemented well, or whether the ban was a good idea or a bad one. I have no horse in that race, and was not involved in the ban's implementation in any way whatsoever.

What I am stating is that I'm directly aware of the rough percentage of Tumblr activity that was adult-related from ~2010-2018, and that percentage is significantly less than the numbers commonly thrown around on HN. But several people here think I'm lying for whatever reason, so clearly it's time for me to bow out of this infuriating gaslight fest.


It doesn't have to be a large "percentage of total content". It just has to be the content that matters to most users...


Well, "most users" implies a majority, which is simply not the case here, full stop. Far from it, especially if you define a user as a person who has a Tumblr account and posts content on the site.

If you consider a "user" to include non-monetizeable lurkers who were just there to view adult content, then saying "most users" is definitely still wrong, but perhaps slightly less so.

Tumblr's peak was many years ago (2013 iirc), and the very slow drop-off over time is far more significant than the recent adult content ban. If you choose not to believe me, you can go to Internet Archive / Wayback Machine and view post-per-day stats on https://www.tumblr.com/about going back a decade and see for yourself.

I'm not going to reply to this further. I know the stats, I've seen the internal stats over many years, and this is a pointless thing to argue.


>Well, "most users" implies a majority, which is simply not the case here, full stop.

Well, 30% of the traffic leaving within the first couple of months of the ban, seems rather significant to me:

"The blogging platform’s traffic has dropped by 30 percent since the December ban on all adult content (...) In December, Tumblr’s global traffic clocked in at 521 million, but it dwindled to a mere 370 million in February, according to The Verge".

And moving onwards, it continues to look like a death spiral - a website that lost half or more of its users and is on a slope:

https://www.statista.com/statistics/261925/unique-visitors-t...

>I'm not going to reply to this further. I know the stats, I've seen the internal stats over many years, and this is a pointless thing to argue.

Sure, no reason to reply. I've posted the stats myself, people can draw their own conclusions...


> it dwindled to a mere 370 million in February

You are linking to incorrect stats. These numbers claim Tumblr has more MAUs than Twitter and Snapchat combined.


Feel free to link to the "correct" ones...


Those stats are not publicly available. In general, for any company, at best they may or may not include the stats in quarterly earnings statements if the company is publicly traded. Although Tumblr has been owned by public companies since 2013, its corporate owners have not made these stats publicly available.

Elsewhere in this subthread, I've linked to public info showing that in absolute content creation numbers, the impact of the adult content ban was far less than a majority of content, and also far smaller than the slow drop-off of users over the previous five years.

Judging by your use of quotes around "correct", it seems you've already made up your mind anyway and I'm wasting my time discussing this. If you want to trust clearly incorrect numbers in The Verge over the person who built the company's relational storage tier, I suppose that's your prerogative.


>If you want to trust clearly incorrect numbers in The Verge over the person who built the company's relational storage tier, I suppose that's your prerogative.

So, the Verge refers to data from two sources SimilarWeb and Statista, whereas your data are basically "trust me" and "absolute content creation numbers" (that is: not visitors).

And on top, you say you've built Tumblr's infrastructure.

I guess it's me and The Verge who is biased.


How would you feel if random people on HN repeatedly insisted your former employer was primarily a porn site, despite these people having no real evidence, and despite this going against years of your personal experience scaling and capacity-planning the site?

Do you actually believe these numbers from SimilarWeb and Statista claiming Tumblr has more MAUs than Twitter and Snapchat combined, even after banning adult content (which you claim was a majority of Tumblr's usage)? Does that even remotely make any sense at all?

You're outright accusing me of lying here. I find this insulting and do not wish to continue this discussion. Goodbye.


>How would you feel if random people on HN repeatedly insisted your former employer was primarily a porn site, despite these people having no real evidence, and despite this going against years of your personal experience scaling and capacity-planning the site?

I'd have no problem with people insisting it being "primarily a porn site", any more that if they insisted it was an "anime site", "fan fiction site" etc. The point is whether they're right or wrong, not if I don't like the type. I'd have no particular urge to disprove claims that it's a specific type of content that it's most successful.

You also repeat "having no real evidence", while the Verge article has 2 sources, and you gave none.

>Do you actually believe these numbers from SimilarWeb and Statista claiming Tumblr has more MAUs than Twitter and Snapchat combined, even after banning adult content (which you claim was a majority of Tumblr's usage)? Does that even remotely make any sense at all?

I believe Statista and SimilarWeb have no particular reason to lie about Tumblr. They just post their stats. Are they off in absolute numbers? That's neither here nor there. Even if e.g. Statista double counts, it double counts before AND after the ban, so whether the absolute numbers are accurate is irrelevant. The huge relative drop is still there.

>You're outright accusing me of lying here.

No, I'm simply accusing you of being biased and giving no numbers.

In any case, I can't see how anyone would insist Tumblr did OK after the ban, when it's said to be sold for 3mm (or close).

Heck, that's so low, that if I sold some family property, I could have bought it...


> The point is whether they're right or wrong, not if I don't like the type.

Precisely. The point is saying Tumblr is/was "primarily a porn site" is simply factually incorrect. At no point have I expressed whether or not I "like the type".

> I believe Statista and SimilarWeb have no particular reason to lie about Tumblr. They just post their stats.

And what's the source of their stats?

> Are they off in absolute numbers? That's neither here nor there.

So it's "neither here nor there" if their stats are blatantly inaccurate, but you trust the relative proportions of their stats anyway because they "have no particular reason to lie". And yet I do have some reason to lie about this? I no longer work for Tumblr, have worked on other things several orders of magnitude larger than Tumblr, haven't been an active Tumblr user in years, and had no involvement whatsoever with the implementation of Tumblr's adult content ban. Why on earth would I spend my free time making supposedly false claims about the relative percentage of adult content on Tumblr? Why not have a good-faith discussion where you assume positive intent of the person you are conversing with?

> I'm simply accusing you of being biased and giving no numbers.

I've repeatedly linked to the only publicly available numbers (posts per day stats publicly provided by Tumblr itself). What is your expectation here? It seems like you expect me to somehow retroactively capture internal confidential statistics from a former employer and then post them publicly, in order to satisfy the whims of some random pseudonymous person on HackerNews?

> I can't see how anyone would insist Tumblr did OK after the ban

At no point have I made any statement on whether Tumblr "did OK" or not after the ban. Rather, what I have stated is that the impact of the ban is a drop in the bucket relative to the much larger decline in usage over the preceding 5 years. And the reason it's a drop in the bucket is because the amount of adult content/usage on Tumblr was much smaller than you and others claim, which was precisely what tptacek theorized and I confirmed.

In any case -- you certainly aren't going to somehow change my mind regarding my personal first-hand experiences, and it seems unlikely you will change your position either, so for the third time let's please disengage and stop discussing this!


FWIW, every discussion I've seen outside of HN has attributed Tumblr's decline to the porn ban.


In your opinion what value tumblr has without the adult content (and the communities around them)?


Well sharing adult content was the only thing I used Tumblr for so the adult content ban was why I left.


>It's funny the stuff HN fixates on. If all you read is this comment thread, you might actually believe that non-porn Tumblr really is just "an exercise in blowing several million dollars"

Which it pretty much is. That kind of content (which wasn't exactly porn, though if one is prude enough everything is porn) was Tumblr best differentiator.


Where the "several million" are "a handful or million". So much for the "post-ban everything's OK" thing some people were peddling...


Why do you think that hosting porn for random people will make Automattic money?


It's certainly more likely than a site with no users.


Because it drives multiples of traffic?


Which is mostly unmonetisable by anyone other than advertising more porn. So it's not worth that much?


Except from what everyone is saying and the drop in traffic people are observing it drove multiples of SFW traffic. The porn kept and drove users but they also viewed plenty of SFW content as well. You can monetize the SFW side of things.


As far as I know, Tumblr has never come close to being a sustainable, profitable business; it survived on VC funding until it was bought by Yahoo.




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