What happened to Posterous & the lessons for journalists

Posterous now belongs to Twitter.

For Posterous Inc. and its venture-capital backers, this is considered a successful “exit” -- cashing out on an investment. For the users who blogged, shared photos or even did journalism there, it’s a jolt.

Posterous launched in 2008 as a lite-blogging service that would make posting and distribution easy. Users could create posts just by sending an email. Each entry could be automatically shared or cross-posted to other social networks.

New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen started a Posterous blog in 2009. “I just wanted a place to post things that were not fully worked out PressThink posts. More like notebook items,” Rosen told me.

But in 2011, Rosen’s use of Posterous waned to only three posts, and this year only one so far, in January. He explained that he “just wanted to try it, as part of keeping up with the digital world.” Meanwhile, rival Tumblr has been much more successful at holding Rosen’s attention, where he has posted 14 times this year alone.

That seems to be a pretty common experience. Tumblr became vastly more popular than Posterous in the field of short-form publishing or “microblogging.”

So in September 2011 the site rebranded itself as Posterous Spaces and pivoted to “group sharing,” where discreet groups of users could share information privately through a blog Space.

It was a fine idea, except that Facebook already had thought of it in 2010. As is often the case when a company is both the biggest and the first to enter a market, Facebook won.

The fragile lives of online platforms

Speculation is that Posterous will eventually go away.

It’s not clear exactly what Twitter wants to do with its new purchase, but it is clear they were interested in its talent, not the product. Posterous gave an ominous assurance that users will have “ample notice before any changes or disruptions to the service.” (If you’re concerned, LifeHacker has published good tips on how to export your Posterous content to a Tumblr, Blogger or WordPress site.)

I asked Rosen about the significance of Twitter potentially closing a platform in which he and others had invested time and creativity. “It's definitely a problem,” he said. “But nothing new.”

The fact is that all the social media or publishing platforms that journalists and others use can be sold, shifted or shuttered at any time. Just last weekend Facebook closed one-time Foursquare rival Gowalla, after acquiring its team three months earlier. Someday Twitter or even Facebook may be gobbled up by a next-generation tech giant.

The lesson is to experiment, to invest resources wisely, but don’t become overly dependent on a platform you don’t own -- you never know who will own it tomorrow.

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    Jeff Sonderman

    Jeff Sonderman is the deputy director of the American Press Institute, helping to lead its use of research, tools, events, and strategic insights to advance and sustain journalism.


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