Tim Mcdonald, Huffinton Post’s director of community, has announced that posting comments on HuffPo henceforth will require a Facebook identity, unless you apply for permission to post anonymously:
Now, as Arianna Huffington announced earlier this year, we’re going a step further to evolve our platform — which has always been about community and engagement — to meet the needs of the grown-up Internet. On December 10, after weeks of fine-tuning our commenting technology and platform, we are pulling the switch in a way that will keep the best parts about commenting on HuffPost while bringing more civility and accountability to the experience.
Here’s how to get started under this new system. When you log in to your account and go to make a comment, you will be prompted to link your commenting account to your verified Facebook account. Then, choose how you’d like your name to be displayed. You can either display your first and last names, or your first name and last initial. This is the only information that will be viewable to the community at large, and you will have control over your private information via Facebook’s privacy settings.
If you do not want to link your Huffington Post account to Facebook, you can still log in to your account and fan and fave other users and their comments. And if, for whatever reason, you fear posting a comment under your name — if you are a whistleblower, or fear harassment, or any other reason — you can apply for the right to comment anonymously by filling out this form.
Oh, yes, how very grown up! You must use only this one identity, and at all times and in all contexts, and we’ll put that power in the hands of a company — Facebook — that has proven itself incapable of putting the interests of people ahead of corporatism.
Now that Zuckerberg and co. are turning the Facebook news feed into a daily newspaper, maybe Facebook will acquire AOL and integrate HuffPo into the user experience directly.
Brian Stelter reports on a consolidation of control under Ariana Huffington of parts of the Huffpo machinery that had been consolidated into AOL, like marketing, technology, and business development groups.
This fits with my bet: Ariana Huffington will be running AOL before long, despite the new contract that AOL CEO Tim Armstrong has signed. My bet is that Patch and others of Armstrong’s projects will fail dramatically, and he will have to resign.
In the short term, this may look like Ariana is simply gaining direct control of the tools she needs to make HuffPo work, but to me it looks like she’s laying the groundwork for the new organization, so when Armstrong’s day of reckoning comes she’ll have all the pieces in place for a new executive team to run AOL.
Goldman: AOL is a brand with a lot of baggage. It makes people remember that dial-up-modem sound and those free CDs.
Armstrong: One of AOL’s biggest assets is its brand. For people over 30 and, due to AOL Instant Messenger, even a lot of people under 30, AOL was their first real interaction with technology in a positive way.
Goldman: You’ve decided to turn it into a content company. But a year after spending $340 million to acquire the blog TechCrunch and The Huffington Post, traffic has barely budged.
Armstrong: Traffic actually is going way up on the properties where we’re investing for the future and pushing content. Huffington Post is up 46 percent. Numbers have been going down on some of the historical stuff: AIM went down, MapQuest went down and dial-up subscribers go down every year. So flat is up for us.
How can you counter that? Flat is the new up, Tim?
The brutal reality is that people’s aggregated media experience is rapidly shifting, and the rate of drift appears to be increasing. For example, TV sports grew 21% between ‘07 to ‘11, 15% more than TV as a whole. ‘Going to the movies’ is starting to look like a future vaudeville, with ‘11 US tickets falling to 1.29B, from the ‘02 peak of 1.5B.
People are spending their time looking at other things than AOL’s Patch. Oh, and Techcrunch US numbers have dropped like a rock, too, down ~40% in the past year. Huffington Post is booming, so I guess Goldman’s gibe — citing Paul Carr’s belief that Ariana HuffPo will be running AOL soon — might actually have merit.
HuffPo has gone too far.
The American Journalism Review reveals how Arianna Huffington was able to lure Peter Goodman from the Times. It also reveals Goodman’s own self-loathing for taking the offer that was “too amazing to turn down.” So what did it? Freedom (and I’m sure the money wasn’t bad either).
Adding original content was a goal from the outset, Huffington says. So when the site became profitable last year, she took a dinner meeting with Peter Goodman — who says he was satisfied at the Times writing in-depth news features — as a chance to give him what he saw as an offer he couldn’t refuse.
Total freedom, as Goodman describes it. A chance to dig deep into the economic issues facing Americans left powerless by economic recession.
After he decided to join up, Goodman says “it was almost hard to get out of bed for a week. I thought, my God, this woman has described something that is too amazing to turn down, and yet I’m at this job where I’m doing serious, high-impact work at the greatest brand in American journalism.”
Goodman speaks highly of the Times (and of its executive editor, Bill Keller, who is not, as can be seen in a recent New York Times Magazine column, a big fan of Goodman’s new employer). But there were limitations. For instance, when a front-page story on predatory for-profit colleges generated hundreds of e-mails, Goodman wanted to do another story on the topic — but the paper had no place for it.
“My editors said, and I’m not criticizing them, ‘Well, we already hit the subject,’” Goodman says. “Arianna’s whole thing is, “This is the Web, let’s hit it again and again. If we’ve got another one, let’s hit it again.’”
So now Goodman has assigned a reporter to that beat full-time and has deployed his staff of about a dozen, some established journalists, some eager new recruits, to cover economics and business issues across the country, all with the idea of pursuing a story as long as it takes to tell it thoroughly.
Well played, Huffington. Well played.
The NY Times — especially Bill Leller — just can’t stop throwing rocks at Ariana Huffington and her Post. Jeff Jarvis spends some time analyzing this — a good read — but I can abstract the argument using just one phrase buried in his piece:
Jeff Jarvis, Who’s afraid of Arianna Huffington?
Comments have cooties.
All the tired arguments being kicked about by the Church of Journalism about their reason to exist, why we need them, and why we should pay them to do what is most comfortable for them really don’t address the deep motivations of people online.
We have invented the web to happen to ourselves, and to the extent that the NY Times staff and owners wise up to that, they can benefit from it. We are not here to be informed, or be part of the public that they want to address.
The central problem at work here is not paywalls, but simply that conventional, old school journalism doesn’t want to share the podium with us. They don’t even want us nattering in the comments, really. The leaders of The NY Times — arguably in favor of liberalism — are really not willing to accept the basic premises of the social revolution, and will definitely not reshape what they do to support it.
Comments have cooties because we, the people, have cooties. We have unwashed ideas, dirty minds, and bits of social rhetoric caught between our teeth.
Huffpo is not going to up end the media world, necessarily, but it has accepted more of what is hotting up the social mess online than the NY Times does, and so Huffpo is gaining community while the NY Times is losing readers. There is more of us in Huffpo than in the NY Times, and with the exception of our money, that seems to be the way Bill Keller and company like it.
The problem with taking about for-fee versus free writing on the internet is that it has become strongly biased by those who are most interested in making money into being only about making money. AOL’s acquisition of the Huffington Post has set off a wide-ranging discussion, often based on financial analysis like Nate Silver’s at FiveThirtyEight, where he calculates the value of a post (very cleverly), and discovers that even the most popular of writers there wouldn’t get paid much:
The Economics of Blogging and The Huffington Post
At this 50:1 ratio, the average blog post, which received 43 comments, got about 2,150 page views. This distribution, however, was highly inequitable. The top-performing blog post — one by the former Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich — had received 547 comments (tantamount to about 27,000 page views) as of Friday morning. By contrast, more than 40 percent of the blog entries received 5 comments or fewer.
This distribution reflects a classic power law relationship, with 20 percent of the blog posts accounting for about 80 percent of the comments (and, we are assuming, the traffic). The median blog post, on the other hand, received just 11 comments, which equates to only about 550 page views.
Next question: how much are those page views worth? The Huffington Post had revenues of about $30 million last year, they’ve reported, almost all of which was from display advertising. This revenue was generated on roughly 4.8 billion page views over the course of 2010, according to Quantcast data. That means the average page view was worth a little more than six-tenths of a cent, or that 1,000 page views were worth about $6.25.
Do the multiplication, and you find that the average blog post — which we estimate generated a couple thousand page views — was worth about $13 in advertising revenue. The median blog post, with several hundred views, was worth only $3 or $4. Even Mr. Reich’s strongly-performing post was worth only about $170, by our estimates.
I’d imagine there are occasional instances in which blog posts hit the jackpot and generate thousands of comments and hundreds of thousands of page views. For the most part, however, they do not move the needle very much.
But even if The Huffington Post makes relatively little money from these blog posts, could not they pay their bloggers something? Of course they could — and maybe they should. But the mechanics would get a little tricky.
If they were to pay a small flat fee, for instance, they might run into some problems with adverse selection. An amount like $10, for instance, would provide more of an incentive to people who were producing relatively low-quality posts than to someone like Mr. Reich, who could probably command several hundred dollars for a freelance article if he were so motivated. The presence of well-known writers like Mr. Reich, also — along with the armada of politicians and celebrities that blog at The Huffington Post on occasion — brings up the group average. The expected figures for a typical piece from a typical freelancer, instead, is probably closer to the group median: a few hundred page views, worth just a few bucks in advertising revenue.
The Huffington Post could instead compensate writers based on a revenue-sharing scheme; perhaps they are vulnerable to a competitor that might elect to adopt such a business model. Still, even if The Huffington Post were to lose most or all of its unpaid bloggers, this would have a fairly negligible impact on its bottom line. Those posts make up only about 4 percent of the traffic in their politics section, according to our estimate.
One of the omissions in this analysis is that the impact of a post, nowadays, is much greater than its page hits or the number of comments on the website might indicate. Tech savvy users might be reading Reich’s post, excerpts, or commentary about the post on other websites, or through tools that pull a copy of the post once, and distribute to many users. So the social impact of a post might be much larger than the raw numbers indicate.
And the gorilla in the room is ‘why does Robert write?’ Not just at the Huffington Post, but anywhere? He is a successful person, working in academia these days, probably with millions invested from his books and public speaking. Even if HuffPo would pay him $170 for his post — or even $1700 — his motivations must be extra-market oriented: his goals lie beyond the financial incentives that might influence some of the contributors at HuffPo.
From the perspective of a participant in open social discourse, Reich is confronted with the challenge of being heard, of making an impact, pulling society in some direction. From this viewpoint, HuffPo is one of many alternatives where his thoughts could be published and distributed. His motivation to contribute to the Huffington Post run in a completely different dimension than a paycheck.
Reich is picking the Huffington Post for extra-market reasons: it is not an economic choice. He is making a choice based on utility and his desire to make a difference by swaying others to his arguments.
So, part of the HuffPo valuation is about the perceived value of the site as a locale in which valuable and open social discourse can and does occur. Yes, for every Reich post there are 100 repackagings of breaking news, or summaries of important articles elsewhere, all of which lead to page hits and ad clicks. But that is just like the litter and noise in the plaza, where on the podium a great voice is making a case for us to care about something and take action. The value of the plaza to the city shouldn’t be measured by the number of cigarette butts or candy wrappers on the ground, or the cost of the timbers in the bandstand, except to the degree that they indicate that the needs of the community are being met. And even if 80% of what gets posted in HuffPo is banal and bland, the other 20% that matters justifies it.
I was (briefly) a contributor at True/Slant, prior to my mother’s illness and death in the first half of the year. I never really posted much, and by the time I was back at work, True/Slant was in process of being acquired by Forbes.
The reality at Forbes is stark. Advertising falling like a rock, growing competition from AOL and Yahoo, and the rising expenses of a paper magazine.
So can Lewis D’Vorkin turn around the collapsing Forbes beofre it hits bottom? Does a Huffington Post-like community of ardent bloggers represent the future?
Matthew Flamm, Inside the radical reinvention of Forbes
Mr. D’Vorkin, a former AOL executive who has also been an editor at Forbes and The Wall Street Journal, will field an army of bloggers from existing staff and new contributors. They will publish and promote themselves using tools developed at web journalism startup True/Slant, which he founded and ran until Forbes bought it in May. He certainly has experience creating winning web businesses. At AOL, he helped to launch TMZ, the wildly popular gossip site.
According to insiders, the bloggers will include all Forbes staffers and some former True/Slant contributors and others, who will be paid based on what kind of traffic and web interaction they attract. There will also be a multitude of writers who won’t be paid—a model similar to that of the Huffington Post, whose thousands of bloggers write for free.
At core, this is a community move: but is there a community of bloggers who want to contribute to Forbes for free? When there are so many places to contribute, what is the purpose or meaning of being affiliated with Forbes, which has been associated with the gargantuan lifestyles of the obscenely wealthy? That could be a stumbling block, to say the least.
Marketers to add content
In addition, marketers will be able to join the conversation. As Mr. D’Vorkin explained in a post last week that introduced the test launch of the blog platform, the aim will be to open up the website and magazine to “creators, consumers and marketers alike.”
The advertising content will be integrated, “yet with clearly identified distinctions,” according to the presentation.
Some observers believe the new emphasis on blogs represents an improvement over the old focus on building web traffic through lists and slide shows, like “America’s Drunkest Cities,” that had little to do with business.
“The problem I’ve always had with Forbes is that the website doesn’t come across as something that reflects the ideals and objectives of the publication,” says Chris Roush, director of the Carolina Business News Initiative at the University of North Carolina. “I think there’s been a disconnect between the web operation and the print operation, and hopefully what Lewis is doing will resolve that.”No choice but to change
The blogs may end up attracting a more engaged upscale audience, but the “re-architecture” of the company, as the presentation calls it, came about because Forbes Media didn’t have a choice. Between 2007 and 2009, ad pages at Forbes plunged 40%.
The bottom also fell out of Forbes.com, which had long been the rare example of an online extension that overshadowed the magazine. Over the past 18 months, its traffic has fallen 40%, to 8.6 million unique visitors in June from a high of 14.3 million in December 2008, according to research firm Compete.
Insiders blame the steady erosion on a change in strategy at large web portals like Yahoo and AOL, which used to feature those cheesy Forbes.com lifestyle stories on their home pages. As the portals focused more on their own content, they fed less traffic to Forbes.com.
Others blame the decision at the end of 2008 to combine Forbes' print and online operations, which left two different cultures fighting it out.
In addition, ad rates fell as online ad networks drove down pricing. Private equity firm Elevation Partners, which paid $300 million for a 40% stake in Forbes Media in 2006, shuffled its board members last year to focus on cost cutting. Forbes went through several rounds of layoffs, culminating in 100 staffers losing their jobs last October.
Insiders say that following the departure of Forbes.com Chief Executive Jim Spanfeller a year ago, the company has lurched in different directions with no clear strategy. That changed with the arrival of Mr. D’Vorkin in May.
Critics of the proposed changes wonder whether Forbes’ target audience of C-suite executives will want to wade through hundreds of blogs. Fans of Mr. D’Vorkin, however, say he has a sense of how media is changing.
The redesigned magazine will debut with The Forbes 400 issue in late September. The website rollout will continue until the end of the year.
Not only does Forbes face a large potential mismatch between C-level execs and bloggers, they may be heading for the problems that SEED Media stumbled into with the PepsiCo Nutrition blog.
For now, I guess it’s a matter of wait and see, but my sense would be that Forbes will fall a lot more before finding a new normal: a level at which advertising supports core operations, bloggers are getting the regard they seek, and the greater Forbes community visits regularly. The biggest question mark is who will form the core of that community?
arig: The HuffingtonPost is Adding Sponsored Messages to Your Tweets This is very clever.