We’ve all heard the tale of the cool kid whose life peaked in high school.
The jock, the cheerleader, the socialite, the host of the coolest parties, who never amounted to much once forced out into the adult world.
Well, that’s Tumblr.
Once the source of an endless stream of memes, videos, and stinging social witticisms, the former cool kid of social media has fallen on hard times. Since it was bought by Yahoo in 2014, the service’s value has gone into freefall, costing its new owner hundreds of millions of dollars. It’s even developed a shady reputation for NSFW activities.
Now, perhaps in an attempt to revisit the glory days and revitalize its standing, Tumblr is launching a video calling app called Cabana. It’s built around the concept of shared video streaming, which lets users watch content together while also chatting.
It’s not a new concept, and Tumblr was never really a social platform in the Facebook sense of the word, but if there’s enough content to keep an audience interested it could be the former cool kid’s salvation.
Shared Media Streaming on Social Media
Sharing and watching media with friends in real-time within a social media platform is nothing new. With the relaunch of Sean Parker’s mobile social network Airtime late last year there are several services merging video calling with on-demand and live video streams.
Airtime, Google Hangouts, video calling veteran ooVoo, and WebRTC-based newcomer Rabb.it all let users watch streamed content in a group chat window from providers like YouTube, Netflix, Twitch, Hulu, and Vimeo.
Cabana’s content choice, beyond the Tumblr range of course, will be at least initially be limited to YouTube. That gives us pause, since there’s obviously a lot of different content available on YouTube, but as a general rule it’s not the high-quality programming you’d get with on-demand powerhouses like Amazon and Netflix. Still, the service could provide Tumblr itself with a needed boost in viewership by landing it a place in the emerging social space of the digital living room.
Social Media Hangouts: The Third Space
Tumblr was Snapchat before there was Snapchat; it was the king of microblogging sites and the originator of the viral GIF. There are still hundreds of millions of active accounts, and it only fell out of the top 100 free downloads on the app charts last year, nearly a decade after its launch.
The name still resonates enough that Cabana’s success will almost certainly depend on how users feel about Tumblr. Step 1 in that process should be getting existing Tumblr users to migrate over to Cabana, with the incentive of having a new way to experience their content.
Apps like Houseparty have turned video calling into a whole new world of online socializing. They recreate the in-person experience of chatting with friends by letting users easily and instantly reach out to each other and then add friends or move to new chat rooms as the conversation progresses. They are intimate platforms that don’t rely on the one-to-many dynamic of Facebook and Twitter.
If Cabana can create a stronger, real-time sense of shared space within a Tumblr community that has traditionally been more about solo digestion of viral content sent through other mediums, like email or other social networks, it could possibly re-engage its audience.
Or, it might just partner up with some established on-demand services and ditch the Tumblr association altogether.
Hanging Out With GIFs
The bottom line here is Cabana doesn’t seem to have a lot in common with Tumblr. It was created by a separate division of the seemingly doomed Yahoo organization, and its future appeal seems to lie in content generated on other sites.
Video calling is becoming a stronger part of social media with every addition of the feature to established networks like WhatsApp and Messenger, and live streamed media is a booming business soon to be worth more than $70 billion annually, so Tumblr is on the right track by merging the two.
Tumblr is, however, an old tech social media name and it seems horribly out of place to capitalize on its foresight. There’s a far greater chance a newer app like Messenger follows its owner’s lead (Facebook) and starts streaming live content over a shared connection, than there is of Messenger’s users being drawn to a whole new video calling platform just because they can watch YouTube together.
Video may not be able to save the viral star.