Kara Swisher

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Tumblr Brand Will Remain — With Mostly “Hands-Off” Product Approach by Yahoo’s Mayer

According to numerous sources close to the situation, the Tumblr brand will continue on in the wake of its $1.1 billion acquisition by Yahoo.

That includes definitive promises by Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer to once-sale-shy Tumblr CEO David Karp to allow him to shepherd the fast-growing blogging product, with no forced integration with Yahoo’s many other content properties.

That said, sources added, there will be more back-end changes to marry infrastructure, such as undergirding Tumblr’s nascent advertising business and giving it more distribution opportunities.

“At the beginning, at least, it’ll be hands-off,” said one person close to the situation. “It has to be.”

While that is probably no surprise, it’s still good news for Tumblr employees as well as its very opinionated user base, which is not likely to greet a takeover by a corporate giant of the social, iconoclastic user-generated content service.

That said, Yahoo execs discussed and are aware of issues around porn published on the site, although they believe it to be fixable over time.

As Peter Kafka noted:

To spell that out: Tumblr’s advertisers don’t have to worry about their stuff showing up on blogs like We Want Porn. At worst, it’s possible that they’ll end up advertising to a user whose dashboard includes posts from We Want Porn. But in general, they ought to be pretty well insulated from that stuff.

By the same token, if Yahoo wanted to, it could end up scrubbing Tumblr of porn, and losing a lot of users and views — but it probably wouldn’t lose much in the way of monetizable users. Unless it turns out that the majority of Tumblr’s core users have signed on exclusively to use porn.

Or, as a Tumblr investor also told Kafka: “Non-story. Tumblr is the Internet. It’s a dashboard-follower model, opt-in.”

Moving on from porn, sources close to the situation — okay, pretty much everyone is chit-chatting away now — said that Mayer spent a lot of time with Karp (who was in Silicon Valley last week, in fact, visiting her) about the transition, and about how the new ownership would impact him and the service.

One source called them “kindred spirits” on the issue, and that Mayer has been given great purview by the Yahoo board to foster Tumblr to prevent it from turning out like Flickr, Delicious and many other big acquisitions dating back to GeoCities. (I was there covering that deal way back when, and what a mess that was!)

Mayer is well-liked by product and engineering entrepreneurs, and has often focused on them at Yahoo, over the perhaps more important demands of business and advertising execs.

That would appeal to Karp, who once famously said that online advertising made him physically sick. Still, he has recently begun to embrace ad sales at Tumblr.

Within the last year or so, Tumblr has started selling modestly sized “native ads” promoting brands’ Tumblr pages on users’ dashboards, which has shown promise. Tumblr has said it had $13 million in revenue last year, and sources said it could get to up to $100 million this year.

“We’re going to be very careful here,” said a source with knowledge of the acquisition.

A source at Tumblr agreed: “This will be a very delicate dance, since so much could go wrong if done without care.”

Still, some at Yahoo are worried that the company might be chasing the youthful demographic at Tumblr too assiduously. “This is a very fickle audience,” said another high-ranking Yahoo exec. “Chasing a young one is a very tricky thing.”

Yes, indeed, but Mayer thinks she is the one to be able to pull it off and make Yahoo relevant with an even wider consumer base.

AllThingsD broke news of the deal in the offing last week, which has since been approved by Yahoo’s board.

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There was a worry before I started this that I was going to burn every bridge I had. But I realize now that there are some bridges that are worth burning.

— Valleywag editor Sam Biddle