On the one hand she rails against corporate greed. On the other hand, Arianna Huffington, one of the web's most prominent political bloggers, refuses to pay the legion of citizen bloggers that have made her site (The Huffington Post) the 5th most linked to blog on the web according to Technorati. Or, so argues Froma Harrop in a biting editorial in the Providence Journal.

"Like most political blogs, the 'news' on The Huffington Post is merely links to newspapers, TV stations and other organizations that actually pay their creators. Without the serf-written blogs, the site would be worth next to zero.

Being very left, The Huffington Post provides a daily damnation of top-hatted capitalists oppressing the toiling masses. Imagine obtaining such content from slave labor. Business schools will be studying this example for years."

Somewhere in Harrop's sarcasm-infused diatribe she has a point -- or she misses one completely about user generated content. It's hard to tell. The Huffington Post is hardly the first site to build a business around content created by uncompensated users. YouTube springs to mind. MySpace springs to mind. Epinions, Digg, TripAdvisor, DailyKos, etc. Heck, even the very newspaper Harrop sits on the editorial board of prints letters to the editor (or, user generated content) without payment to the writer.

Do amateur content creators deserve a slice of the pie? Yeah, probably. Many user generated content-powered sites are beginning to offer their users payment in the form of revenue share (YouTube just started, for example), and I think that's a trend you'll see continue as these sites mature. But to call it slave labor is probably stretching a point.

No one is forcing people to blog for The Huffington Post, and what those amateur bloggers get in return for their content is a platform. What most YouTubers seek in return for providing free content is a platform. User generated content sites make money off their users, and in return those users receive exposure that they might not otherwise have access too.

As we recently discussed, making money in the long tail of the blogosphere is difficult -- the bloggers contributing to sites like Huffington's likely would not be able to attract much of an audience to their content if they weren't being provided a popular platform to get their ideas out to the public. Making money on the long tail, however, is doable. And that's exactly what The Huffington Post and other user generated content sites are doing -- they've figured out a way to aggregate the long tail of content creation into something meaningful and monetizable.

Certainly there is some irony in the fact that bloggers on The Huffington Post who rant about the corporate greed of old media companies for not paying Hollywood writers for new media usage are doing so on a new media site that is making money off their work and not paying them. But if and when that bothers those writers enough to demand a cut, they'll walk out on The Huffington Post and ask for their fair share of the money they're helping bring in. For now, though, it seems that most amateur content creators are happy enough just being heard.

What do you think? Is user generated content really just a fancy term for slave labor? Do the companies getting rich off user creations have a responsibility to cut those users in on the back end? Sound off in the comments below.

Image credit: jdlasica