The Huffington Post – Opening Day Review

Arianna Huffington’s much ballyhooed The Huffington Post (to be know hereafter as THP) opened its doors today to great fanfare, (front page of the Style section in The Washington Post) and scads of accumulated posts from the hundreds of contributors. There’s a lot to wade through, so let’s have at it.

The Decor

Overall the site is very inviting to the casual reader. The layout is tight and makes good use of excepts. Selected blog posts down the left side of the front page, headlines and splashy tabloid-ish stuff on the right. Compared to sites like The Nation, Slate, or National Review Online it’s much more blog-like. It does got to show that you can extend the generic blog layout into something appealing with the judicious use of design.

The Plumbing

The Huffington Post (THP) is powered by Movable Type software so it’s able to offer the kind of features (permalinks, comments, trackbacks, etc.) blog readers have come to expect, rather than having a subset of these functions bolted onto a content management system like the previously mentioned news magazines. Comments are allowed only in the news section, not the blog section where the “celebrity” bloggers post, and they’re moderated throughout. Whether this will create an echo chamber remains to be seen, but even if it doesn’t it will be interesting to see how long comments remain a feature.

The Lawyers Chime In

THP has an extended Terms of Service which can be summarized as follows: Don’t rely on THP for anything; THP owes you nothing; nothing here should be relied on in your decision making; and THP content is copyrighted 5 ways to Sunday. Actually the THP terms of service are fairly standard, but they do contain wording in Section 4 and Section 5 which would seem to prohibit services like Bloglines from displaying THP content.

The Good

THP’s most notable contributions (in terms of quality) come from those who are already regulars (or semi-regulars) in the online world like humorists, columnists, reporters, analysts, etc. For example, Harry Shearer looks to be bringing his quirky media analysis (Found Objects) from his own website to a column called Eat the Press.

The Newswire section is where the professionals ply their trade. Former Drudge Report collaborator Andrew Brietbart helms The Newswire. Brietbart and other staffers post without attribution [example] (as opposed to everyone else at THP), but it’s these uncredited contributors who brings more to the mix than anyone else at THP. If the celebrities are THP’s sizzle, Brietbart and crew are THP’s steak and potatoes. Open for moderated comments and trackbacks from the beginning, The Newswire is the portion of the site that garnered pre-release speculation of a battle with Drudge. Given the lack of annoying popups, the dedicated RSS and Atom feed, the comments/trackbacks, and Brietbart’s history at Drudge, The Newswire might actually be worth watching closely.

The Bad

The celebrity bloggers. Whether there’s 300, 250, or 10 of them who really cares? For example, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Brad Hall write three short paragraphs on gay marriage that are as memorable as Hall’s post-SNL career. That single entry is a metaphor for the problem with the celebrity section as a whole, it’s a cacophony of voices popping in and out and random intervals. There’s no sense of community or even continuity. I rarely find myself wondering what THP contributor John Cusack has to say about a particular topic, but unless it’s freshly posted at THP (within the last few hours), chances are I’d never find it – even if I were looking. Contrast that with the few celebrities that have actually settled down in the blogosphere; Wil Wheaton, for example, I always know where to find them.

The Ugly

On the first day I’ve seen several posts such as, Foxman Responds to Hip Hop Impresario Simmons, that fail to link to the THP story to which they are responding. From a readability perspective, this is an unforgivable sin. It’s also a bit comical that THP has fallen hard in to self-reverence on only their first day of operation.

Conclusion

Overall the right side of the page at THP (The Newswire) looks to be worth monitoring, while the left side of the page (The Blog) looks to be worth gawking at. It’s worth noting that their blogroll includes most of the Technorati Top 100, with a few notable (**cough**, #75, **cough**) exceptions, so they could make just a little improvement in that regard.

Other Reviews

Howard Kurtz
Michelle Malkin
Outside The Beltway
MediaGirl
Matt Welch
Nikki Finke – LA Weekly

Update: The Great Satan (also at Huffington Is Full Of Crap) has compiled a detailed statistical analysis of day one of THP, featuring such statistics as:

Number of posts by Technnophobe and or Technical Illiterates: 3
Number of posts by history rewriting megalomaniacs: 4
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Fake Quote Of The Day - Animal House Edition

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