NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Monday, March 12th, 2012

Twitter buys Tumblr rival Posterous

Posterous, a startup that competes with Tumblr in the microblogging space, has agreed to sell itself to Twitter for an undisclosed sum, the companies jointly announced today. Launched in May 2008, Posterous’ service is known for its ease-of-use; it bills its platform as the easiest and best way to blog by email.

“Today we are welcoming a very talented group from Posterous to Twitter,” the microblogging giant said in an announcement. “This team has built an innovative product that makes sharing across the web and mobile devices simple—a goal we share. Posterous engineers, product managers and others will join our teams working on several key initiatives that will make Twitter even better.”

“The opportunities in front of Twitter are exciting, and we couldn’t be happier about bringing our team’s expertise to a product that reaches hundreds of millions of users around the globe,” Posterous’ team said in a blog post. “Plus, the people at Twitter are genuinely nice folks who share our vision for making sharing simpler.”

They stressed that Posterous’ service would continue to operate.

“Posterous Spaces will remain up and running without disruption. We’ll give users ample notice if we make any changes to the service. For users who would like to back up their content or move to another service, we’ll share clear instructions for doing so in the coming weeks.”

Many Posterous users left comments in response to the post expressing skepticism or outright opposition to the deal.

“Don’t like the sound of this at all,” wrote Mark Zahn.

“Twitter ruined TweetDeck. Better not happen to Posterous. I just spent a ton of time moving everything I had from Tumblr.”

Randal Matheney was even more blunt. “Not good. Not at all. Twitter will be the death of Posterous. You had a good thing going and now you’ve ruined it.”

“This may sound odd because it’s a free platform but I feel slightly betrayed by all this,” agreed Ian Cummings.

“I am happy for the Posterous guys, they get new stuff to play with and I don’t begrudge them that, but I have an emotional investment in my blogging platform. I don’t blog much and it’s only for family, but it took me a long time to start and Posterous got me going. It’s great to use and now it’s just going to disappear and I’m left to sort out the mess. This is the sort of thing that keep people away from startups and going to Blogger or WordPress cos they’re going to be around in 5 years time. Anyway, good luck guys, and thanks for all the fish.”

A Seattle-based web developer, Eric S., was less harsh.

“Don’t like. I really liked the Posterous platform before the SPACES model emerged, and I thought the mobile services available for iPhone was a good direction for the platform. I have even considered purchasing the third-party iPad app Blogsy which supports blogging for Posterous, but I’m less likely to do so now. Thanks for offering the service while it lasted, and best of luck to all of you.”

Others struck a more hopeful tone.

“What’s all this pessimistic talk about Twitter ruining Posterous?” asked Francois Guite. “I say let it be the other way around and hope you guys will improve Twitter. Congrats on your work and many thanks for the great service.”

Hundreds of user Posterous users, meanwhile, reacted positively to the news by “liking” the announcement.

But those users who are unhappy have well-founded concerns. Twitter has made it clear that the acquisition was about securing quality talent, not adding Posterous Spaces to its product portfolio. Spaces will undoubtedly continue to operate for at least a few more months. But then what? If the Posterous team is focused on improving Twitter’s service, who will be left to develop Posterous?

Nobody, and that will probably result in Posterous’ demise. History tells us that startups that get bought up by bigger companies for talent tend to either go downhill or get shut down. For instance:

  • Gowalla, which Facebook bought back in December, just announced that it would cease operations a couple of days ago. Users will be able to download their data for a limited time.
  • Jaiku, a microblogging service similar to Twitter, was purchased by Google in late 2007 and subsequently neglected. It was shut down earlier this year.
  • Going, a hyperlocal news network, was shut down by AOL around a year ago, less than two years after AOL closed a deal to buy it.
  • GeoCities, bought by Yahoo during the dot-com boom, was unceremoniously dismantled and destroyed in late 2010 after Yahoo decided it couldn’t be bothered to keep it online.
  • Delicious almost got shut down after Yahoo decided to dispose of it, but a buyer for the service was found, so Delicious continues to operate.

An “acquisition FAQ” posted by Posterous all but confirms that Spaces will ultimately be going the way of the dinosaur, once Twitter decides to pull the plug. It contains questions like “How can I backup or export the content of my Space(s)?”, “What happens to my content if I don’t do anything to my Posterous account?” and “I bought a custom domain from Posterous – what happens to it?”.

When Posterous closes down, it will hardly be the first blogging platform to set its users adrift. For example, Google alienated a number of longtime Blogger users when it decided to discontinue FTP publishing a couple of years ago. (We used to publish The Advocate this way, but now we have our own WordPress installation, which is totally under our control. We couldn’t be happier).

And Microsoft pulled the rug out from under its users when it discontinued MSN Spaces (later Windows Live Spaces) – though it did provide Spaces users with the ability to transfer their blogs to, Automattic’s hosted WordPress service, for a limited period of time.

We actually considered using Posterous to power our microblog, In Brief, before we launched it in 2009, but we ultimately went with Tumblr, which has experienced phenomenal growth since we began using it back in 2009.

However, our experience with Tumblr hasn’t been that great. Tumblr simply hasn’t improved its service to the extent we were hoping it would. We plan to move In Brief over to WordPress as soon as WordPress has better microblogging support, which will hopefully be the case with the next release, or the one after that.

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