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  • 04.18.17

Tumblr Users Just Got Private Video Chat—This Could Get NSFW Fast

Tumblr’s new Cabana app wants to re-create the experience of sharing and watching videos with friends. But what will people be watching?

Tumblr Users Just Got Private Video Chat—This Could Get NSFW Fast

It’s been all quiet on the Tumblr front for some time now, save for mentions of the blogging platform within the context of parent company Yahoo’s sale to Verizon. Last summer, Tumblr made a few notable tweaks—namely, introducing ads and live streaming—and back in late 2015, Tumblr added instant messaging. Today, Tumblr takes that play for engagement one step further, with a standalone video chat app dubbed Cabana, presumably to also double down on the 80% of users who use Tumblr via mobile.

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But with Cabana, Tumblr is getting a bit more personal. The app, which allows up to six people to video chat while watching videos together, wants to virtually replicate the experience of showing a friend a new video you found on Tumblr.

It’s that experience that we’ve all had,” Tumblr founder and CEO David Karp told Fast Company. “I certainly have, hanging out with my friends and realizing that they haven’t seen that latest, incredible viral video, or haven’t seen this one thing that’s really very profound or important to me.” Karp believes Cabana—which Tumblr has regrettably christened a “digital couch”—can re-create the moment you insist a friend watch a video in front of you, just so you can “be there for them experiencing it for the first time.”

Cabana is far from the first app of its kind; similar offerings exist in the form of ooVoo and Rabbit, though their design leaves a bit to be desired. At first glance, Cabana wins on the design front; it also benefits from the Tumblr banner, which could be crucial if the intent is for Cabana to encourage higher engagement on Tumblr. (Cabana was created by Polyvore Labs, which heads up mobile app development within Yahoo’s publishing division, and tested positively with Tumblr users early in its development.) Still, it’s hard to see how a video chat app might organically make its way into a rotation that includes the likes of Snapchat and Instagram, both of which don’t require active, verbal engagement.

One obvious use case for Cabana may be for viewings of what Tumblr is perhaps best known for—its repository of adult content. In a recent study of 130 million Tumblr users, data scientists found that about half actively consumed or were “unintentionally exposed” to porn. (When Tumblr was acquired by Yahoo in 2013, the platform buried some of its explicit content in internal search results, but the posts remain.) For now, Cabana can only pull videos from YouTube, but one can only imagine how an app offering private video chatrooms with visual stimuli might be used once other video sources are introduced.

This might also explain why Tumblr is clearly branding Cabana as a complementary app for friends—something Karp and Polyvore Labs product management director Jason Lee pointed out repeatedly. As with Snapchat, Cabana only allows you to add friends with a phone number or username; Lee also disclosed that when users sign up for Cabana, they agree to Tumblr’s community guidelines and can reach out to the company’s Trust and Safety team with any complaints.

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But that doesn’t impose any limitations on the actual content of Cabana, unless Tumblr chooses to only offer heavily filtered video platforms like YouTube even post-launch. That may be the case: Karp says Tumblr will start chatting with brands this week about advertising opportunities within the app. If Cabana really is about creating “safe spaces,” as Karp says, the question is whether this one will actually be safe for work.

About the author

Pavithra Mohan is an assistant editor for Fast Company Digital. Her writing has previously been featured in Gizmodo and Popular Science magazine.

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