While the world debates about whether Instagram is killing Snapchat or not, Tumblr has been quietly launching updates to its niche and loyal user base. The latest and biggest by far is Cabana, a new app to "hang out" and "watch videos" with your friends that the company announced on Tuesday.
Yahoo-owned Tumblr calls Cabana a "digital couch" that brings together video chat and streaming content. Up to 6 friends can simultaneously hop on a video call and watch a video together to "virtually hang out." The app allows users to video chat while watching YouTube videos together, in sync.
While the app is separate from the main Tumblr app, it's still part of the distinctive Tumblr brand, and it shows. The logo, a pineapple with sunglasses on has Tumblr written all over it. "It's a chill fruit," said Jason Lee, Director of Product Management at Polyvore Labs, in an interview. "Cabana represents a fun and unassuming place that’s representative of somewhere where you gather."
The app was born out of Yahoo's Polyvore Labs and tested well with Tumblr users among ages 13-18. While Tumblr thrives on strangers coming together around shared obsessions, Cabana is designed around people you know.
If the app sounds familiar, that's because it is. Houseparty, which launched last fall and came from the makers of Meerkat made the spontaneous group chat popular. The app is loved for its casual premise, wander in and out of the rooms at the party. Google experimented with a similar app, Uptime and Mashable's Jack Morse wrote about how remote watch parties are the best thing to happen to introverts.
It's clear that there's room for something in this vague space of video chat and video streaming, but less clear that Tumblr is the right company to take it on. Lee says the company spent a lot of time "balancing the watching experience with the hanging out experience."
Tumblr, which turned 10 years old a few months ago, has always been a wonderfully strange place. It thrives on fandoms and communities. "So much of what we think is so special about Tumblr today are these communities that are thriving here," Tumblr CEO David Karp said. In his blog post to mark the site's 10th anniversary, Karp wrote:
Expression has been and always will be a foundational part of Tumblr—and our roadmap this year will not disappoint—but it is now more urgent than ever to empower positive and productive connections across the communities that thrive here.
Cabana is not meant to be an extension of Tumblr itself, rather a separate but similar experience. Just as users obsess over their interests with strangers on Tumblr, Karp hopes that they will similarly obsess with their friends on Cabana. The company is not set on a long-term strategy just yet. Karp said that the company intends to play it by ear based on how users respond to it.
Karp's own initial reaction to Cabana was that it finally captured the magic he had experienced so many times in person. "They're dragging me over to their computer, or I'm dragging them over to their computer to show them that video that I've been watching all day," he said. "And when you find out that your buddies haven't seen it yet, you're like, 'Oh my God. You have to watch this thing right now.'"
It is not Tumblr's content that Karp wants to recreate, rather it's the platform's energy. "You want to be there for them experiencing that," he said "It's a real part of the human experience."
Cabana might be Tumblr's catapult attempt back into relevance. However, the app's biggest problem might be the very first thing you see when downloading the app — to use Cabana, users must have a Yahoo account.
Cabana is currently only available in the U.S. and in English. The app is available now on iOS, and on Android in May.