The Old Person’s Guide to Tumblr

Just when you’ve figured out Facebook, Yahoo buys Tumbler for $1.1 billion. Make that Tumblr. Winston Ross on what you need to know to keep up with those microbloggin’ millennials.

Nadine Rupp/Getty Images

Dear old(er) people of the Internet:

Right about now, because you still read newspapers (that’s a good thing!) you may not know much more about Yahoo’s announcement than it is buying the microblogging site Tumblr for approximately 50,000 Cadillac Sevilles (or $1.1 billion).

We’re not being ageist, we’re just going off the facts: only 1 percent of Tumblr users are older than 65, with the largest group by far being those millennials you keep hearing about. (And even they could be aging out—see this prescient 20-year-old asking if he was too old to use Tumblr.)

OK, but what is Tumblr? It’s a service that lets you post short blog posts (thus, “microblogging”) which seem to mostly consist of photos of toenail art, pearls of wisdom, lame jokes, or clips of loud music. It’s like a bunch of very short picture books written by your grandkids and all their friends, without any pesky editors correcting their spelling. Freedom!

OK, so what’s on Tumblr besides pearls and feet and loud music and jokes? Avert your eyes! A lot of amateur pornography. We’re not just saying that for shock value, either. The site’s owners won’t tell us exactly how many of its 108 million blogs are dedicated to the NSFW variety, but it has to be way more than Wordpress (that’s another blogging site). A few years back Tumblr even launched an “erotica” directory (before yanking it.) And the site takes a kind of wink-and-nod approach to the stuff with its official policy, asking users who “regularly post sexual or adult-oriented content” to at least flag it as NSFW. It does politely request that you don’t upload full-fledged sexually explicit videos, though, because “hosting this stuff is fucking expensive.”

How milquetoast Yahoo will handle its new triple-X content, while not scaring off its family-friendly advertisers, remains to be seen. But Mayer did tell investors Monday that the varied content is “exciting” and will allow Yahoo to “reach a far wider audience.” So there’s that.

Of course, with more than 50 billion posts to date, Tumblr isn’t all about porn. There are also enough GIFs to keep you busy until Mark Zuckerberg joins you in a nursing home.

Speaking of nursing homes, there are even Tumblrs devoted to old people!

Tumblr sometimes breaks real news, too. It’s where rapper Kreayshawn announced (and complained) that she is pregnant. And it’s where Frank Ocean revealed that he’s gay.

If nothing else, Tumblr has been a pretty amazing company to track, from its humble launch by a 21-year-old high-school dropout named David Karp (he’s now all of 26) to its meteoric rise thereafter to the mad drama last month after it stumbled with Storyboard and deep-sixed the entire editorial staff of journalists who’d been hired to cover all things Tumblr.

Which brings us to another important thing to know about Tumblr: it’s not exactly a massive profit center. Its total 2012 revenue was a pathetic $13 million. You made $13 million yesterday at the crap tables.

Now it’s swimming in money—Karp is, anyway—and it’s Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s job to figure out how to squeeze some revenue out of the site, which is likely why some Tumblr users are convinced it’s about to be ruined. Stodgy old Yahoo buying hip porny Tumblr has immediately pissed off a chunk of its flock, as evidenced by the 72,000 people who took their blogs over to Wordpress in a single hour on Sunday night, according to Matt Mullenweg, Wordpress’s cofounder. They’re worried that a company with a history of ruining websites (remember Geocities?) or ignoring them altogether (ever heard of Flickr? Neither have we) will ruin Tumblr, too. Problem is, if enough people jump ship, that will become a self-fulfilling prophesy.