I’ve been shaking my head ever since 2 AM, which is when I found out about AOL’s purchase of the Huffington Post. If you clicked on the Huffington Post website anytime Monday morning, you were greeted with a colorful graphic depicting the major AOL content portals along with some of the Huffington Post’s content categories, all of them surrounding the words “Huff Post + AOL”. All that was missing was the shape of a heart drawn around the combined company names.
I’m still shaking my head about this corporate lovefest, as I imagine a lot of people are, because I actually read Huffington Post articles. When I want to know what’s happening right now on the web, I go to Twitter because it is instant and unfiltered, and I go to Huffington Post because I know Arianna Huffington will post anything that hits the streets in five minutes. There is a certain helter skelter quality to the whole website, as if you are walking down the aisle of a supermarket where you have to wend your way around half of the goods because they are stacked on the floor instead of being put away on the shelves. Some of the chaotic feeling you get while reading articles at Huffington Post comes from the fact that some of the titles in the middle column link directly to stories in other publications, which means you may be greeted by the typeface of an entirely different publication, as I was this morning when I clicked on Army Wounded Warrior Units Have Become 'Dumping Grounds For Criminals' , and was whisked to a page on the Pittsburgh Tribune Review's website.
Plenty of people are flabbergasted at the amount of money Ms. Huffington and her co-owners were able to extract from AOL’s coffers in cold hard cash. A blogger over at HighTalk has already started the speculation mill, arguing that AOL should have paid $50 million to Michael Arrington for TechCrunch if they valued the Huffington Post’s 25 million unique monthly visitors at $315 million, but he is dead wrong. Everybody knows who Arianna Huffington is. Nobody outside of technology has heard of Michael Arrington. For Ms. Huffington, relentless self promotion is probably her most marketable skill. And if AOL needs anything, it needs someone to relentlessly promote its wares.
But back to the all this head shaking I’ve been doing—just what exactly is it that Huffington is supposed to do now that she is the head of a corporate internet content provider, a behemoth with all the attendant problems bureaucracies bring? The chaotic mix of Associated Press copy, content that is “scraped” from other sites, and celebrity bloggers works when you are the new kid on the block who is willing to play fast and loose with the rules because you’ve got nothing to lose and no public company analysts playing Monday morning quarterback with your quarterly results. This is a whole new ballgame. As a corporate bigwig, will Huffington tilt AOL towards her own distinctive brand of uber progressive political proselytizing that only an ex-Republican can muster? If AOL CEO Tim Armstrong agreed to pay almost all of the purchase price for Huffington Post in cash, what long term incentive does Arianna Huffington really have to try to successfully rebuild AOL’s content business?
I’ll probably shake my head all day long over this one.