With the news that AOL and Arianna Huffington are teaming up to take over the Internet -- combining the Huffington Post with AOL's roster of Web stars including Politics Daily, Engadget and TechCrunch -- I couldn't help but feel a bit overlooked. One of my inspirations for starting CurrentMom was the Huffington Post, and I'd like to take the opportunity to point out to the AOL acquisitions team the many ways in which Arianna Huffington and I are alike.
We use our friends
A few years ago, when friends of mine started blogging for the Huffington Post -- for free -- I was shocked. These are experienced, talented journalists with insightful, powerful things to say, and they were giving it away. So that got me to thinking … if Arianna Huffington could elicit high-quality content without paying for it, why couldn't I? Thus, CurrentMom was born, just over two years ago.
Like Arianna, I launched with a core group of friends I persuaded to write funny, informative, thought-provoking blog posts to drive traffic to my Web site. The only difference is that her friends were drawn from Hollywood, national politics, big business and journalism. Mine come from the preschool parents' group, volunteer journalism organizations, my school days and my secret life as an a cappella singer.
I'm immensely grateful to my friends -- and the new bloggers we've added since then -- and very proud of the result: CurrentMom is immensely readable, never predictable and I regularly find myself in tears over an intimate emotion or universal truth that one of my bloggers shared. Granted, AOL just agreed to pay Arianna Huffington $315 million for the enterprise she built on free labor, and CurrentMom's advertising revenue hasn't even covered my expenses, but things can change!
Our readers are powerful, wealthy women
One of the reasons given by Tim Armtrong, chairman of AOL, for acquiring the Huffington Post was AOL's "80:80:80 focus -- 80% of domestic spending is done by women, 80% of commerce happens locally and 80% of considered purchases are driven by influencers." As Paul Carr translated this MBA-speak on TechCrunch, "we bought the Huffington Post because it's full of important women who buy things."
Well, if you want important women who buy things, look no further than the CurrentMom readership! With 93 percent of our writers being female, it should be no surprise a majority of our readers and commenters are women. And it would take an independent analysis of our traffic to back this up, but I'm guessing that readers who flock to our thoughts on the chaos in Egypt and the psychological basis for attention seeking are a bit better-educated than the average Web surfer looking for naked pictures of Christina Aguilera.
We're pragmatic about the Web
That's not to say that CurrentMom ignores the realities of how people use the Internet. In fact, I've tried to teach all the CurrentMom bloggers the basics of search engine optimization and to include keywords in their posts that people are looking for online. That's because, like Arianna Huffington, I am a pragmatic woman. I have no desire to create a painstakingly curated and never-read work of art. I want readers!
One of the criticisms often leveled at the Huffington Post is that HuffPost bloggers will take an exhaustively researched news story, write a couple of paragraphs riffing on the news, link to the story and end up diverting massive amounts of traffic that should have gone to the journalism organization that funded the original news gathering. It's hard to overstate the threat this behavior poses to democracy and the future of journalism. Original, impartial news is expensive to create, and there's no clear model for how it will be funded in the future.
To me, Arianna Huffington is simply being pragmatic. Instead of railing at the Huffington Post for being a leech on the face of journalism, as I've heard many top journalism executives do, we need to test better models. The Huffington Post certainly is a model that works, and HuffPost recently began paying a reporting staff to write news stories, although that effort is dwarfed by the much larger volume of "SEO crap," as Carr puts it on TechCrunch.
We go with what works
And that brings me to the final point of similarity between me and Arianna Huffington. We go with what works. I've written before about how you can start a business in three days, and the point I'm trying to make is not that planning isn't important, but that you can't really know whether a plan will fail or succeed until you begin to put it into action. I'm quick to move from idea to action -- just like the famously impulsive Arianna Huffington. Just look at her spontaneous commitment to spend $250,000 busing people from New York to Jon Stewart's "Rally to Restore Sanity" -- or her expensive, losing campaign for California governor.
I started CurrentMom to see whether I could do it, as much as any other reason. To see whether I could engage readers, flex my editing muscles and sustain an original group of voices in a media world where so much writing is rehashed and reactive and predictable. I'm not sure where we go from here, but I'm certainly open to suggestions. (Especially from anyone at AOL with a blank check and a yen for another women-oriented Web property.)
Photo by WilliamNyk via Flickr