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The $1.1 billion sale of Tumblr to Yahoo! offers a great opportunity to look at whether the creators of aggregation sites, or the aggregators themselves, are truly creative. In his Music*Technology*Policy blog Chris Castle is unequivocal is voting “Not,” at least as far as Tumblr is concerned:

Great news for Tumblr users–the eponymous Mr. Dave Karp just sold your content for $1.1 billion!  In cash!  And of course, he’s sharing that money with you, right?

I come down on the other side. Tumblr’s David Karp created this community of users. It was actually a bit more complicated than creating the community. He created the software necessary for all of them (us) to interact. Therein lies the creativity. Actually I think both the creation of the community and the development of the software both took no small amount of creativity. Tumblr’s David Karp has created a valuable platform. In some many cases it’s the value of the blogs themselves that’s really questionable.

It’s  critical to note that Tumblr users choose to take part on the platform. Each is free to go elsewhere or event to write in their own notebooks. In exchange for the availability and benefits provided freely by the platform and the community – as well as the ancillary benefits that may come from being “found” as a result of their participation – users agree to abide by the rules of the platform. One of the rules is that the platform may be sold and they won’t be compensated. That actually sounds pretty fair to me.

This is not by an stretch of the imagination a new argument. It was raised by critics looking at Demand Media and the Huffington Post, among others. The contributors to each are paid nothing or next to nothing. The same is true for bloggers contributing to Forbes.com. The key point, again, is that no one is forcing these contributors to write for free. It’s their choice. Arguably, they’re also getting something out of it, an association with major media brands.

In his recent book Free, Chris Anderson asserts that there is such a thing as a “free lunch.” I beg to differ. In the case of Tumblr we get to use the platform for free, but we lose some control over the fate of our content. The content may belong to us, but the platform does not. It’s the same with Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg and his shareholders along with David Karp are not creating the businesses as a public service. They’re doing it to make money. We reap the rewards of the utility. They reap the rewards of the cash.

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