The first time I saw Arianna Huffington speak, she was standing in front of a room of media types at the New York Yacht Club preaching the gospel of the linked economy. Huffington's view of publishing was simple: writers need links; publishers need links. No matter who you are, a homegrown blogger or the New York Times, the site that sends you traffic is going to be a key partner. She was sure that the Huffington Post could be a good partner to content creators without having to pay them. I'm pretty sure no one knew what she was talking about. But she was forceful, unwavering, and determined.
Across the room of gainfully employed media execs, her message was taken with polite bemusement. She was charming and well-meaning, but wrong, of course.
This breakfast was back in 2008 when HuffPo was gearing up to be a big force in democratic media as the presidential election approached. Even as her traffic grew, media veterans seemed comfortably confident that once the elections were over, the era of Huffington Post would fade into the background, and the trend toward aggregation and curating content would soon be over.
Then a funny thing happened. Huffington Post continued to grow adding sections on media, technology, sports, comedy, food, and the environment. From June 2009 to June 2010, The New York Times website nytimes.com gained just 2 million unique visitors while the Huffington Post's uniques nearly doubled. And from September 2010 to June 2010, the gap between the Times and the Huffington Post has narrowed from more than 12 million to just 6 million.
Historically, reporting has been fact-based and objective, while blogging is crafted for the Web, allows for more opinion and often includes facts that are modified or updated after the blog's original publication. Huffington is able to say that she is both linking to and being linked from the wider Web. This curation mix gives the Huffington Post some exclusive content, the ability to break headlines, and protection from critics who say all it does is link to existing content.
Huffington explains, "We are certainly at a turning point leading to the tipping point—an exciting prospect in my view. There needs to be a distinction between saving journalism and saving newspapers. The idea that you can go back to a pre-Internet world where you can create walled gardens around content, and charge for admission, is simply futile. Those who try that are going to fail."
Instead, Huffington is now the editorial leader of the large, and fast growing AOL. Tim Armstrong has added a cadre of well know bloggers, a team of experienced editorial aggregators, and a winning mix of original reporting, bloggers, and aggregated linked content. The combination makes sense on a number of levels.
AOL gets and editorial leader with vision, passion, and a skill set well served for the new world. Huffington Post content gets mixed into a larger collection of traffic as part of the AOL advertising offering, able to provide national advertisers with the reach and frequency they require to place large buys. And Huffington post editorial, both created and contributed, has a new outlet in the AOL content universe.
But perhaps most importantly, AOL now has a clear message to critics who have said their were building a low cost content-farm. Indeed, Huffingon's vision of a linked economy and a curated content mix is clearly ratified and emboldened by this endorsement.
Arianna is now AOL's Curator-In-Chief, and as such she's got the editorial reach and resources to lead the way and create a content mix that should put AOL head and shoulders above the competition.
Steven Rosenbaum is a entrepreneur, author, and video curator. His forthcoming book Curation Nation, will be published by McGrawHill this month. learn more: CurationNation.org