Saturday, May 14, 2005

Weekly Jackass Number Twenty-Three: Arianna Huffington

A rumored 8 million visitors the first day! Larry David! Harry Shearer! Jim Lampley! (Umm, scratch that last one - please!). What could be more exciting than the newly launched Huffington Post?

Well, for starters: watching paint peel. A trip to the dentist also comes to mind. Arianna's high-priced venture is a bomb of epic proportions. Don't let the initial numbers fool you; as this excellent article in LA Weekly rightly points out, it would have been almost impossible not to get huge numbers for the launch, given the hype. But blogs live and die by repeat visitors; I've had days of Instalanches, and thousands of visitors, yet what pleases me is to watch my baseline inch up on just normal days.

Arianna's got nowhere to go but down, though, and I predict the flameout will be swift. I am an admitted blog junkie, and whatever the Huffington Post is, it is most emphatically not a blog. What went wrong? How could the site be this blindingly bad? Let's break it down a little.

(1) The exponentially too-large group. Group blogs can be both successful and excellent; PoliPundit and Power Line come to mind. However, PoliPundit has five voices, Power Line three. Longtime fans of both can usually tell whose post they're reading before they even get to the byline - each player has a recognizable voice. Doubtless the same is true of Huffington's gaggle, but sixty-two people waving their arms for attention at once is not only not entertaining, it's downright annoying!

(2) The group members. Look me in the eye and tell me honestly: do you really want to read a random paragraph by Walter Cronkite? Do celebrities need yet another platform to pontificate from? Lord knows I've been itching to hear Laurie David's view on environmental issues, since it's such a big secret. Ditto Norman Lear. Wonder what his political leanings are, anyway? It's so great that he now has an outlet.

(3) The split personality. Is it a blog or a news service? Answer: a poor example of both. The very concept of this venture is wrong, wrong, wrong - it's as if you can just plunk down some people, link to a few headlines, and tell everybody to go to work. That's not the way to do it. Blogs are highly individual, even the group ones; they have their own style, their own pace, their own look and feel, and (with the best of them) a distinctive voice that rises above the fray.

This thing is a train wreck, a complete disaster. As paranoid as sportscaster Jim Lampley's election conspiracies are, his postings are the only ones to cause a buzz, and (not coincidentally) the only ones that seemed to invite dialogue. Conservatives will not come to this site regularly, because of its heavy liberal leaning. (Those that do will come to gloat). Newshounds have Drudge. Liberals aren't impressed, either (read this hatchet job in the Village Voice). And unlike the blog you are currently reading, Arianna's venture costs money - serious money. Money that is now surely as gone as if it had been set on fire.

The real reason I'm awarding this week's prize to Huffington, though, is for the pure arrogance of thinking that celebrity involvement would make the blogosphere 'come of age'. When it's all said and done, the Huffington Post will have as much impact on blogging as Pat Sajak had on late-night TV. Bye-bye, Arianna; don't let the door hit you on the way out.

(A hat tip to the great Tim Blair and Larvatus Prodeo for some of the links above)...and thanks for the link, Tim!

UPDATE 05/15/04 3:52 pm central: A tip of the hat to the great Lorie Byrd for the link, and welcome to all you good folks from PoliPundit. Lorie's suggestion of Chevy Chase instead of Pat Sajak is indeed a good one; that's why she's in the blogging big leagues, while I'm languishing in the minors. Hope your weekend has been an agreeable one...

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