Just received word moments ago that Consumating, the niche dating community acquired by CNET in December 2005, will be shutting down next month. In the wake of the sale of Webshots to American Greetings, it appears that CNET couldn't find a buyer for the site and is no longer interested in maintaining it.
Founders Ben Brown and Adam Mathes are no longer affiliated with Consumating, but they were the first to break the news two hours ago. "Just got word of the plan to turn off Consumating," Ben wrote on Twitter. Adam replied, "Beginning my long mourning period over the end of Consumating."
After Ben Brown left CNET in Spring 2007, Jesse Keyes took over managing the site. This morning, he posted a revealing Question of the Week on Consumating: "What will you do when it all comes grinding to a halt?" Jesse's own response was, "Pack it up and call it a day..."
Rumors of its demise have been swirling for the last two weeks, so most of the community didn't seem surprised in the active discussions. A week ago, Consumating users set up an off-site message board to ease the transition and keep friendships alive, in the event of a closure.
Though there hasn't been an official statement from CNET on the matter, sources close to the company confirmed that the shutdown date will be March 15. Users will be able to download a data dump of their questions, answers, and other social activity as a comma-separated file.
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?
Well, maybe the Consumating founders did find a way to preserve it after shutdown. Shortly before Ben Brown left, he pushed CNET to open source the Consumating code base. That project, Clonesumating, is available on Google Code. After it's burned to the ground, maybe an open version of Consumating will rise from the ashes.
February 14 Update: Yesterday, Jesse Keyes gave the official announcement. "We know you want and deserve a site that is vibrant and fresh, and we don't think it's fair to you to keep an unsupported site live. And so, we'll be shutting Consumating.com down on March 15th," he wrote. "In a couple weeks we'll have a way available for you to download a file with most of your profile data, which could theoretically be imported into a similar site. Details will come when we're ready to release the exporter."
According to this thread, the private messaging feature recently stopped working and nobody's around to fix it. How depressing.