Arianna Huffington’s next million mark
What’s one million mean these days? If we’re talking about unique visitors or even page views, that’s small potatoes as smartphone usage balloons all the usual digital metrics.
What about one million writing contributors? Now, that sounds like a lot. It is, though, now Arianna Huffington’s new vision for Huffington Post.
Huffington told her staff about the plan Thursday. Here’s the first behind-the-scenes look at the how, why and what of one million HuffPost contributors.
Before the end of this year, HuffPost will release new tech and a new app, opening the floodgates for contributors. The goal: Add 900,000 contributors to Huffington Post’s 100,000 current ones. Yes, one million in total.
How fast would Arianna like that to get that number?
“One day,” she joked, as we discussed her latest project, code-named Donatello for the Renaissance sculptor. Lots of people got to be Huffington Post contributors through Arianna Huffington. They’d meet her at book signing, send an email and find themselves hooked up. “It’s one of my favorite things,” she told me Thursday. Now, though, that kind of retail recruitment may be a vestige.
“It’s been an essential part of our DNA,” she said, talking about the user contributions that once seemed to outnumber the A.P. stories and smaller original news staff’s work. “We’ve always been a hybrid platform,” a mix of pros and contributors.
So what enables the new strategy? Technology, naturally.
HuffPost’s new content management system is now being extended to work as a self-publishing platform as well. It will allow contributors to post directly from their smartphones, and add in video. Behind the scenes, a streamlined approval system is intended to reduce human (editor) intervention. Get approved once, then publish away, “while preserving the quality,” Huffington added.
We’ve got several prisms through which to look at Arianna’s One Million Contributor March.
First is how it competes in the age of News Platform Wars. This is the year of platform ascendance, as Apple extends to News, Facebook to Instant Articles, Snapchat to Discover and Twitter to Lightning. If you’ve got the distribution, flaunt it.
For Huffington Post, that means it now moves dramatically into the cross-post business. Why only take contributions from those who want to primarily write for Huffington Post? Why not take “cross-posts,” from among the endless stuff people now write for Facebook, LinkedIn, Medium and other sites, each and all extending the value of their own platforms?
On the “Donatello” app, contributors would be able to take what they’ve put on any of those platforms, and, with a click or two, put it up on HuffPost.
Ever the phrase-maker, Huffington said: “Ubiquity is the new exclusivity,” quoting Linda Kaplan Thaler.
“We’re putting the entire power of our content management system into the pockets of our bloggers and our editors in a way that allows people to report in real time on events as they unfold,” adds Sam Napolitano, HuffPost’s V.P. of Engineering. “Upload photos, upload videos. We don’t have to scour Twitter or Facebook for that content.”
“The next evolution of what we are going to do – and what the world is going to do – is not just create a group of commenters who can do what they want to do, but a group of contributors who are adding to stories they are reading.”
The new platform makes this possible: Sign up to be a HuffPost contributor via a website or the new app. Once a contributor is approved, she’ll be able to self-publish without further review. Today, only 60,000 of those Huffington Post’s 100,000 contributors can self-publish. One big notion here, shared by all in the digital biz: eliminating that old foe of digital flow, friction.
Second, mobile and Facebook drive this change, as they do much else. Combine the two, and it’s that hot Facebook mobile app specifically that makes a lot of sense. More than half of Facebook users only use their smartphones to access the community. Donatello builds a bridge between Facebook and HuffPost contribution, again reducing friction.
Third, this is a “user-gen” initiative writ huge. Remember “user-generated” content? It was supposed to replace journalists and democratize the world. We got that wrong. Journalism, it turns out, is still a professional craft, and community-generated content does a poor job of replacing all of it that’s been lost. Commentary, expert view and tips, though, have flourished, and that’s where HuffPost contributions have excelled.
Those 100,000 current contributors have found HuffPost a good platform for whatever they’re writing, from this week’s post by Bernie Sanders (“Corporate Greed Must End”) to one by foster parent Benjamin Hardy on 8 Things Every Person Should Do Before 8 A.M.. (Unfortunately, “sleep in” isn’t one of them despite Arianna’s own campaign and series on the perils of under-sleeping.) Collectively, they have found an audience. How big is it?
Fifteen percent of the site’s usage derives from the 100,000 contributors. Add in 900,000 more contributors—drawn as much from HuffPost’s now-12 non-U.S. sites as with its flagship—and that percentage should grow, at very low cost.
Here we’re confronted with an immediate irony. If you are one of the million, in Indiana, Italy or India (one of HuffPost’s newest international expansions, says Arianna), you would now be essentially blogging—for free—for the phone company. Verizon, new owner of Huffington Post, will be monetizing—through the ad tech that we believe is the linchpin of its deal to buy AOL—all this new free content. In all the crazy Googlezon nightmares we’ve seen hypothesized about web futures—(check out this mostly dystopian one, out of the Netherlands)—who ever thought a million people will would work for free for the phone company?
Unions took a shot at organizing HuffPost contributors four years ago, and failed. Search for “HuffPost contributors” on the web, and you find more cheer than complaints. Non-paid contributors use the authority of Huffington Post as a platform, for building whatever businesses and profiles they want, in our gig economy. Just as eBay opened up a new world of small businesspeople, HuffPost enabled those who write well enough on subjects they know and/or care about it to find public air.
Four years ago, FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver applied his analysis to the question of whether bloggers were being unfairly treated, as non-paid writers, and concluded they weren’t.
Assuming the one million takes longer than a day, how long might it take?
Arianna says each would-be contributor would be reviewed once, and that HuffPost’s staff of 850 may help. Do the math yourself. Let’s say each vetting took an average of 15 minutes. Multiply that by 900,000 and that’s 13.5 million minutes or 225,000 hours. That may depends on what “vetting” may now mean—or it may signal coming reliance on others to vet. As part of the 10X multiplication plan, Huffington Post will reach out to universities and other institutions, offering them access to the new platform as “trusted” partners. Then, the university could do its own vetting of trusted contributors, whose work would flow into the site.
It’s just another wily example of that new web currency, O.P.T. Remember O.P.M., Other Peoples’ Money? Other’s People Time looks to be even more valuable.