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Ariana's Secret & The "Obsessive-Compulsive" Web

The Washington Post was founded in 1877, employs more than 700 in its editorial department and serves 8.4 million visitors to its Web site each month.

The Washington Post was founded in 1877, employs more than 700 in its editorial department and serves 8.4 million visitors to its Web site each month. The Huffington Post was founded in 2005, employs 60 people all told and gets 3.6 million visitors a month. No wonder that Ariana Huffington led off the keynote session of the Web 2.0 Expo in New York Friday.

Ariana Huffington

 "The secret is passion," she says. And taking advantage of what she calls the "obsessive-compulsive nature of the Web." The kind of obsession of its politically minded denizens that took down Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi for racist comments, for instance, way back in 2002.

Here's how the traffic has gone at the newspaper in the nation's political capital over the last year, versus the New York-based Huffington Post. In the last month, WashPo outgrew HuffPo, 23.4% to 17.8%. Hurrah, "old" media. But remember that this was the kind of month that ended with a quadrennial presidential nomination party. September should also be good for WashPo.

But, over the last year, HuffPo is up 554.7%, according to compete.com. WashPo? 21.5%.

No wonder newspapers feel like they're toast. They create news. Aggregators like Ariana ride on top of that, throwing fire on the issues they really think are important out of all the content that gets created elsewhere, and are rewarded with eyeballs. Lot of them. In fact, at these growth rates, HuffPo will have a bigger audience on the Web than the WashPo, by the new year.

The economics of course are staggering. To the content creators. The Washington Post in March announced that it was going to lay off 80 people from its editorial department. Nine percent of its editors, writers and designers. But more people than are currently employed the Huffington Post, overall.

In effect, HuffPo gets 60,000 visitors per employee. The WashPo? About 12,000 - per edit employee - or 3,250 per employee, when you figure in business and production heads (if this WashPo page is close to accurate, after four years having passed by since the last update).

But the real "secret"?

There are a lot more heads contributing to HuffPo - just not necessarily in her count of full-time employees.

There are, for instance, 30 "moderators," who actually screen incoming comments to make sure, 24 x 7, to make sure they are not vile or ad hominem attacks.

There are also, now, 2,000 bloggers contributing to HuffPo, Ariana told the Web 2.0 Expo audience.

Hmmm, 2,000 bloggers from anywhere, backed up by a 60-person head office against a 2,500-person staff largely devoted to delivering printouts in a local area?

No wonder it doesn't seem like a fair fight. The "obsessive-compulsives" want to be heard. But, it's probably safe to say, they pay their rent, elsewhere.