We like startups and innovation here at RWW so we try to pay attention to the news good and bad about what tech entrepreneurs are up to. It certainly seemed strange then that almost no one but its users and the intrepid Andy Baio seemed to notice that the CNet-acquired hipster dating/social site Consumating announced that it will close down in mid March.

Movie reviewer Ben Brown founded Consumating some time between 2003 and 2005, as a joke, unless he's joking about it being a joke. This is the Bay Area we're talking about, so from an outside and sane perspective it's hard to know what's real.

The point is that this joker got his site acquired by CNet in December 2005, it continued to grow slowly and now it's going to end. Users will have an opportunity to export all their data in CSV format, in case they find anyone else who will take it. There do seem to be some philosophical questions remaining, however.

Has the Consumating Community Been Wronged?

Andy Baio asks the following:

Even though Consumating never found a huge audience or revenue, it's worth noting that it still has a dedicated following that loves the site, uses it every day, and formed offline relationships because of it. It's unfortunate that CNET couldn't find a way to keep the site online, even if that meant handing it back to the users that made it special. Since online communities are built on top of user's contributions and social interactions, it raises the question: are companies responsible for keeping community website alive, even after they cease to be strategically desirable?

Answer: No. No more than they are responsible to share the ad revenue on user generated content sites in the event that any money is made. Despite the principled demands by some power users, I think that revenue sharing either is or isn't part of the contract with users when they sign up. They know that. On YouTube no one expects a cut of the money. On Rever...well, never mind.

Likewise, CNet/Consumating's allowing easy export of user data is good form but surely no one would argue that they are under any obligation to keep an underperforming property alive. The internet may be about democratization of communication and community but in reality things are more complicated than that. The unspoken but widely understood assumption of every user who uses and contributes to a service hosted on someone else's servers is that it all might go away some day. We just want to be able to take our data with us when we hear the words "you don't have to go home, but you can't stay here."

Does this suck, anyway?

I'm sure it does for many of the people who enjoyed the site, though reactions in comments on the announcement were very kind. Perhaps those users can take their socializing over to Twitter, where the quality of service will often make them wish it would die.

Consumating was cool. It did things with tagging and questions that don't seem so unusual today but were less common when the site launched. There's a Consumating feel over at GetSatisfaction, I feel like, and probably elsewhere around the web, too. Maybe I just don't know how to take a joke, though. [continued after clichéd profile image below]

Is there a message here for entrepreneurs?

Yes. Add this to the list of reasons that getting involved with bigger companies is not pure fun. Presumably no one central to Consumating, or other startups acquired then shut-down, is too heart broken since this risk is part of the deal. If you sold the company then the money was more important to you than the future of the company and that's ok.

I want to see a user-centric model emerge with strength on the web but it's going to have to be either economically viable or go on in a nonprofit environment - and nonprofits tend not to be much fun. Such is life, whatever happened to Tribe (?) and thanks for reading.

It sure is interesting, though, that almost no one noticed. One minute you're getting acquired by the News.com people and the next...