The service has a solid base of devoted users who are passionate about its creative and community-building power and their fear of the effects of commercialization under Yahoo is palpable, according to Gartner analyst Andrew Frank.
"They fear loss of control over the interface, over privacy, and over the freedom of expression in general," Frank said via email.
The price Yahoo is paying for Tumblr is more than 84 times the $13 million in revenue Tumblr generated last year, a considerable multiple in any acquisition.
A big challenge for Yahoo, therefore, will be to determine how to boost the revenue of Tumblr, which is currently very light on ads, without ruining the experience for users, according to Forrester Research analyst Zachary Reiss-Davis .
This is just the latest attempt by Yahoo to jump-start its business by scooping up a hot social media property, and it remains to be seen what reward Yahoo will reap from this deal.
Deals that didn't deliver the expected results include Yahoo's acquisitions of social bookmarking site Delicious, blog social network MyBlogLog and enterprise email vendor Zimbra.
It would be premature to dismiss Yahoo's decision to purchase Tumblr as merely a public-relations move meant to give it an injection of cool, or a way to pump out more advertising, according to one observer.
"Why Tumblr and why now are sensible questions and lack clear answers save for the common meme that Yahoo is trying to 'buy hipsters,'" Gartner analyst Allen Weiner said in a blog post. "While that may be fun fodder for the Twitter cybergabfest, Mayer and Yahoo no doubt have some concrete plans beyond PR value and such pat answers as 'because they were available' and 'we bought Tumblr before one of our competitors did.'"
"Tumblr makes sense as a content management-meets-curation platform," Weiner added. "Such a move would allow consumers, brands and marketers (i.e. content marketing) to curate Yahoo's syndicated content (original and licensed) and use those pictures, videos and stories to create personal and professional Tumblr pages."
This strategy would give Yahoo "a few revenue paths including a freemium service option and a venue for targeted advertising," as well as get "more mileage" out of its Flickr photo-sharing service, Weiner wrote.
While she didn't sketch out such a vision on Monday's conference call, Mayer did cite Tumblr's content creation tools as a key reason for the acquisition, and said the company indeed plans to explore how to integrate Tumblr with Flickr.
(With reporting by Juan Carlos Perez in Miami and Zach Miners in San Francisco.)
Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris' email address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com