Transcript: Arianna Huffington on We Are Drowning in Data and Starved for Wisdom

Interviewer: Good luck getting sleep after 500, 600 people email you their blogs. But before we move on, just on the point of the platform, given that it was always meant as this medium for anyone to share their opinion and voice pretty much unfiltered. What led to the decision to share your name with it, knowing that your personal reputation will be associated with the material posted on the website, and how, if at all, has that affected the curation process?

Arianna Huffington: Well, I was always, like all in. There was never any question of separating myself from the Huffington Post. I have to say that my daughters begged me not to call it the Huffington Post, because they thought it was just going to be an embarrassing failure and they would not be able to show their faces at school. So I remember tearful moments with Christina and Isabella saying you can’t call it the Huffington Post, that’s so embarrassing. And Isabella, my younger daughter, announced that she will never blog, and she hasn’t. And so that, for me, it was all like saying, I’m all in. This is it. And curation though has always been a very important part of it, like from the beginning even though the platform was open we have ground rules, like we will not publish conspiracy theories. Like if you think 9/11 was an inside job, we’re not going to publish it on the Huffington Post. We’re not going to publish cookie medical theory. So we create a set of boundaries, that you may disagree with people who are writing but it’s not going to be because they are insane.

Interviewer: It’s always helpful, a good boundary to have in life in general. So, some of your recent books lament the lack of surprise in the modern world and yet, I know that this is a reason from the fact that an online content is filtered based on preexisting preferences. So how would you think through the fact that some platforms similar to Huff Post are responsible for creating this bubble effect and kind of narrowing our preferences? And are you thinking of ways to introduce serendipity again online as browsing once did?

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Arianna Huffington: Well, right now actually, what is happening is that the majority of people don’t receive that information by going to a destination but through social. Even the Huffington Post, which is probably the last big destination site, gets now the majority of our traffic through social, through people posting something that they’ve read on the Huffington Post, on Facebook, or tagging their friends. So this is kind of a revolution in how we create a site. I tried to convince friends of mine, for example, who are starting a new business and are investing a lot of money in their website, how useless that is.

I actually say to them that if I was launching the Huffington Post today there would be no website because it’s all social. And I think one of the reasons why we succeeded at remaining at the forefront of this business is because we changed our strategy. So three years ago, because I woke up after eight hours sleep feeling completely recharged, I could see the iceberg that was about to hit the Titanic. And the iceberg was that people were not going to be coming to the Huffington Post directly in the large numbers they were coming to the Huffington Post directly. We had — our operation was being driven very much around our Splashes.

We launched the idea of the Splash early on in the life of the Huffington Post, which was again very radical and controversial at the time because the idea was that you needed to put as many stories as possible at the top, kind of above the fall, to drive traffic to them. And we said, no. We are going to announce what we consider is the most important story of the moment. We may change it ten times in the course of the day, but it created a sense of drama. It made people keep wanting to come back to see what’s the big story now. And we hired editors who really knew how to create amazing headlines that were a little playful and not conventional. One of my favorites was when Dominique Strauss-Kahn was arrested. Our headline was OMG, IMF.

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And so the point, though, was as things changed, we decided to stop prioritizing our other front pages. We still prioritize the front page because we’re still getting enough traffic to it. But we stop prioritizing the splashes of what by then we had 70 sections at the Huffington Post covering everything from, colleges to wellness, to business. And editors would spend a lot of time creating beautiful splashes which would be seen by fewer and fewer people. So we made different teams that instead worked on how to make content be social and be viral.

But here is another thing we discovered. Normally we think of content going viral as being cats on skateboards or cute animals. And we discovered that the content that goes most viral is content around solutions. Things that people want to share.

Interviewer: Positive stories.