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Posted at 6:15 PM ET, 02/ 7/2011

Huffington Post + AOL -- 1 + 1 = 11?

By Alexandra Petri

Ariana Huffington described the AOL/Huffington Post merger as adding 1 and 1 to make 11.

Well, yes: That is also something that sounds impressive but is wrong.

Frank Conniff joked on Twitter: "Are AOL executives who purchased HuffPo smart & tech-savvy? Maybe not. For instance, it's rumored they still use AOL."

That's the underlying challenge.

It's one of those awkward marriages. I wouldn't call it a marriage of convenience. But it is the kind of merger that makes you think Huffington Post might need a green card.

And the shock and confusing brand-logic of it all makes me worry that it was simply the result of someone at AOL who had not adequately prepared for a meeting saying a fortuitous series of words and syllables.

"Ethan," the besuited man running the meeting said, "we're AOL. People still associate us with unwanted forwards and that awful You've Got Mail voice, in spite of the fact that we've been generating fun original content for years!"

"Yes," the other men at the meeting said. "Remember the success we had with that slideshow of One Hundred Images of Beautiful People Turning Slowly Leftwards and 30 Celebrities From The 90's You Keep Thinking You Just Saw At The Grocery?"

Everyone nods enthusiastically.

"Thoughts, Ethan? How can we rebuild our brand?"

Ethan has no idea what to say, so he decides to try stringing together some random words that he has heard around. "Why don't we do a content-creating merger with HuffPo?" he says, fiddling with a pen that happens to be on the conference table. "Building on synergies!"

"Ethan!" everyone shouts. "That's revolutionary!"

And now here they are. Sure, Ariana Huffington tells a convincing tale of shared visions for the future of the Internet and lunches without mushrooms, but it just seems suspect.

But the Huffington Post has been an inspiring story: It turns out that you can make a profit in journalism, as long as a great deal of your content is free, created by celebrities, or created by celebrities for free. Occasionally you do a little original reporting, just to show that you understand the principle of the thing, but mostly you just look fabulous and use other people's content in dynamic ways. Essentially, you are the Dane Cook of news sites. "That might not be original," everyone murmurs nervously, "but there's a lot of enthusiasm in the delivery!"

An AOL that's in on the Web 2.0 conversation? A Huffington Post that's affiliated with AOL Music?

Sure, Ariana Huffington is excited about the content AOL will bring -- music! cars! more cars! But has she looked at this content?

So we'll see whether this moves both of them forward quickly, as Ariana Huffington (now 300 million dollars richer) seems to think, or whether it just consigns Huffington Post to the AOLephant Graveyard of Internet History (anyone remember AOL Keywords?)

If the combination can overcome the branding challenge and figure out a model that works for both partners, perhaps it will indeed be what Huffington hopes: like stepping off a high-speed train onto a supersonic jet. If not, it might more closely resemble a supersonic jet stepping onto a high-speed train.

Regardless, it'll be exciting to watch.

By Alexandra Petri  | February 7, 2011; 6:15 PM ET
Categories:  Only on the Internet, Petri, Seems Suspect  | Tags:  AOL, Huffington Post, online comments  
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Comments

Face it, Arianna. You're just marrying this AOL geezer for the money. It won't work.

Back when you were still called Arianna Stassinopoulos, you dumped journalist Bernie Levin (the big love of my life) to marry Republican oil millionaire, Michael Huffington from San Francisco. Were you really surprised at what was in his closet? (Hint: he's from San Francisco)

I'm afraid you're doing it again with AOL. That guy who says, "You've got mail" is obviously from San Francisco.

AOL makes their money by letting your kids buy things with your credit card without you knowing it, and making you call 4 different departments to cancel the orders (true story). This is not a sustainable business model.

You say that the Huffington Post will now be going "at light speed." Einstein showed that if could you travel at the speed of light, time would stop and you would disappear into a single point. In other words, AOL is a black hole!

Posted by: divtune | February 8, 2011 3:32 AM | Report abuse

The fine print is that they're paying Ariana in AOL installation disks.

Posted by: jimward21 | February 8, 2011 2:01 PM | Report abuse

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