And with Yahoo’s purchase, Tumblr is essentially opening its userbase to advertisers as a volunteer army of telemarketers. As with Google's AdSense and YouTube's payments to users with the requisite pageviews, Tumblr will incentivize this tastemaking lottery with the bait of user payments. Everyone without a big-enough following swims in a kind of internship lagoon, waiting to impress enough people to earn a tastemaking cubicle of one's own.

It's easy to get trapped by the seeming inevitability of advertising footing the bill for every meaningful exchange people have over the Internet, pushed for by investors and boards looking for more "growth" to inject into purple dinosaurs like Yahoo.

But it's also possible that something built to open up new ways of communicating online could have carried on as an open-source project supported by donations and user-built updates, all while connected to a number of hosting options. In objective terms, this approach would have given the platform far greater flexibility, and made it an even more creative tool than it already is.

Yet, we live in a culture where ideas that make sense in the rush of an adolescent moment need to be held on to and evolved by their originators, all driven toward the same end of making money so they can keep an office for status and have a wardrobe that says "grown-up." With Internet advertising starting to become interchangeable with any other content on sites like The Atlantic, BuzzFeed, and Gawker, the last remaining frontier is not the media proper, but the audience.

Platforms like Tumblr are becoming less like shelters and more like traps designed to build a workforce of unpaid marketers who'll eventually be used as collateral to keep the dream of living in the adult world alive for a little while longer. 

Michael Thomsen is's tech columnist. He has written for Slate, The Atlantic, The New Inquiry, n+1, Billboard, and is author of Levitate the Primate: Handjobs, Internet Dating, and Other Issues for Men. He tweets often at @mike_thomsen.

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