Almost from the moment Arianna Huffington's blog (huffingtonpost.com) went live last week, it became the epicenter of digital snarkiness. Seemingly everyone with access to the Web--and more than a few spitballers from mainstream media--took a shot at the socialite pundit's site, a compendium of the views, opinions and random remarks of 350 actors, pundits, writers and politicos, ranging from genuine celebrities (Gwyneth Paltrow, Larry David, Walter Cronkite) to the niche-famous (wonky speechwriters, people cranking out television scripts for "Alias," Jon Corzine). Bloggers complained about its cluenessness, lack of focus and self-aggrandizement. One writer called it "the box-office equivalent of Gigli, Ishtar and Heaven's Gate rolled into one." Someone even created an anti-Arianna blog, with the Web address huffington.isfullofcrap.com.
None of this seems to bother the senatorial spouse turned author turned entrepreneur. "Give us a few months to evaluate what it will become," she says cheerily. "It's not like a movie opening." If her blog were a movie, the bad reviews would be mitigated by the lines outside the theater, as her site garnered tens of millions of hits.
To be sure, The Huffington Post offers plenty of fodder for mockery. Playwright David Mamet's first effort centers on his astonishment that one can communicate on a computer. (And no curse words!) Also, confirming the worst fears of pre-launch critics, there are Hollywood liberals lecturing on What's Bad for Us (George W. Bush, SUVs, white supremacists).
But a lot of the daggers tossed at Huffington seemed either misguided or guided by animus. Plenty of the contributions were interesting or provocative. But even some of those got whacked. For instance, the Gawker blog sniped that Arthur Schlesinger's comment about the Yalta conference was 60 years too late. Actually, since President Bush had just claimed that he would have done a better job at Yalta, the subject was timely. Who's more likely to provide some wisdom on this topic--Schlesinger or the Wonkette?
So why the passionate putdowns? Besides the irresistible temptation to tweak celebrities on soapboxes, there's an understandable fear among bloggers that Huffington represents an unwelcome evolution in their world. Till now, the canonical blogger has been an outsider in pajamas who takes down giants. This new entrant gives already empowered insiders the immediacy and intimacy of blogging to further boost their agendas and egos. What's more, if Huffington's business model succeeds (she plans to sell advertising, and next month will begin daily newspaper syndication), from now on we might see celebrities and professionals sucking up the blogosphere oxygen and, eventually, the dough.
Arianna plans to invite even more to her elite roster; the voluminous posts will be organized by tags that let readers view them by subject. Spats between her bloggers will undoubtedly add some drama to the mix. But the biggest attention-getter may come by accident. As with any other blog, contributions are unedited--each celebrity and pundit is given a password that allows him or her to post directly from office, bedroom or BlackBerry. As anyone familiar with e-mail knows, the ability to send one's words into cyberspace with a single click often has disastrous--or hilarious--consequences. Considering that some of the Huffington Posters are digital novices unaccustomed to dashing off sentences without a publicist's scrutiny, the potential exists for a volcanic faux pas. Great for Arianna's traffic. Humiliating for the celebrity blogger.
Be careful, Gwyneth.