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by Stephen Logan on 6th July 2011
Over in the US, the left-leaning blog/news site has been a revelation. By combining soft and hard news, as well as original material and aggregated content, it grew into one of the most popular destinations for information seekers.
Earlier this year, HuffPo was acquired by AOL. The $315 million price tag didn’t sit well with everybody though, particularly those contributors who had provided material for free. With founder Arianna Huffington pocketing a large slice of this investment, many commentators felt that the brand had lost a lot of its gloss.
For AOL it was something of a coup though. With the company looking to dominate online searches for content, snapping up such a major player – alongside other blogs like TechCrunch – could help realise this ambition globally.
It’s a business that has struggled with its worldwide reputation for years, almost dissolving into complete insignificance here in the UK; therefore having a brand like HuffPo out front, they can hope to realise this ambition of content dominance.
But is there any space for the Huffington Post in the UK? What does it offer that you can’t get elsewhere? Content aggregation and SEO awareness ensure that it will get visibility within local SERPs, but will casual visits result in any kind of long-term traction?
The thing that has always been in the favour of HuffPo is the diversity of contributors it attracts. In many ways it is an open book, with experts encouraged to offer their two cents (now pence of course) on particular issues. Currently the site is hosting pieces from MP Jeremy Hunt, Ricky Gervais and the BBFC’s David Cooke, which provides a little something for everyone – essentially how the site as a whole works.
Personally speaking, the site is a visual mess. The three column approach no doubt works for many, but this blog-like construction makes it difficult to focus on any particular story. Whether the quality of articles is an improvement on existing news sites, notably the BBC, Daily Mail and Guardian, is also up for debate. The blend of stories is also a little jarring, with entertainment, politics, sport and celebrity tattle all overlapping on the homepage.
Essentially, the difficulty I can see it encountering is finding that core niche that makes it stand out in what is already a crowded market. Unique editorial comments from guest contributors are one thing, but even this has its limitations. The Daily Mail has already achieved great success at offsetting its serious reporting with populist content, as evidenced by its move in the opposite direction – setting up a permanent base in America. The Guardian has the long-established Comment is Free, which allows anybody to contribute their view without demanding a fee (including celebrities and politicians) – thus following the same kind of model.
Muscling In on a Crowded Market
HuffPo UK won’t fail. At least not in the near future. The aggregation style that it employs ensures a regular turnover of fresh content. The SEO friendly headlines and instant reporting will also ensure that stories are found, which will always guarantee casual visits. This leads to advertising revenue and ensures that the site is profitable.
Whether it can become a major player in the British market is certainly up for debate. Currently the site has something of an identity crisis, with the headlines from the American blog appearing within UK stories (Below). Just as our news doesn’t translate to a US audience (certainly not all the time), so the opposite is true. Only by becoming a unique entity, with occasional crossovers for the biggest stories, can it truly hope to develop a longstanding and popular existence here.
Essentially it is the US model repackaged for British news. There’s nothing inherently new or different, except in the topics covered. Whether they can be quite so cut and paste with two entirely different markets remains to be seen. Of course there are similarities within the audiences, but there are also marked differences.
A local presence may help develop the brand beyond American shores though, particularly with a global rollout imminent. This has always been a limitation of the US-led news site. However, it could equally become spread far too thin if not properly managed. There’s a big job on for Arianna Huffington to convert her blog in new territories, but it would take a brave man to bet against her and AOL achieving this – even with teething issues (including painfully slow load times) and market saturation concerns.
It’s one more of a growing list of online companies that we’ll be keeping a close eye on this year. But what are your initial thoughts. Can a US model work in the UK? Do we need another news aggregator/producer? Does the layout and content work for you?