This past weekend, Arianna Huffington was in San Francisco for a little tech tour. On Friday, she visited Twitter’s home base, where she noshed on tacos and vegan cheese with co-founder Biz Stone. Later, she palled around with Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg at the social network’s Palo Alto headquarters and discussed HuffPo Social News, a new feature on her “Internet newspaper” that allows users to connect with Facebook friends and see which HuffPo articles they’re reading and commenting on. On Sunday, Ms. Huffington popped into the birthday soiree of Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, where ladies in LBDs kicked off their heels and danced.
Ms. Huffington made her trip around town with Jose Antonio Vargas, the former Washington Post national political reporter who recently moved to New York to edit the Huffington Post’s new technology section, set to launch on Sept. 21. After their weekend of shmoozing, Mr. Vargas wrote in a blog post on the site that the new vertical (to use Web parlance), titled HuffPostTech, will cover “technology as anthropology.”
“Facebook is no mere social networking site; with more than 250 million users, it’s a democracy of its own, with a population that rivals some of the world’s biggest countries,” he wrote. “Sure, HuffPostTech will feature the biggest stories and storied rivalries in tech, in addition to rising start-ups and new, gotta-have-’em gadgets. But it will always keep in mind that the gadgets we use, the apps we download, the social networking sites we belong to, tell us something about who we are.”
Certainly, Ms. Huffington’s plans to boot up a technology section, along with previously announced books and sports verticals, tell us something about her intentions to create the ultimate destination for every Internet user—not just the political scandal gossip mongers and celebrity news junkies addicted to the popular aggregator, but gadget-wielding tech freaks, baseball fans and book bingers as well.
“The plan was always for the site to cover all areas of interest and to cover them with a very engaged community,” Ms. Huffington told The Observer by phone, post-trip. “It’s an inevitable progression.”
Ms. Huffington isn’t the only online publisher evolving shiny new content to grab eyeballs and advertisers. New York magazine’s online home, NYMag.com, recently launched a vertical for sports, lead by former Deadspin editor Will Leitch, and a TV blog run by contributing editor Emily Nassbaum, spun out from Vulture, NYmag.com’s entertainment vertical. The New York Times has 69 blogs dispersed among 12 main verticals on NYTimes.com. Even The Observer is launching a newly designed Web site in mid-October that will have more tightly focused verticals for easy navigation.
The advantage to adding verticals ad infinitum to general-interest Web sites is simple: They make it easy for Web designers to mimic that familiar feeling of pulling out the business pages or flipping to the top sports story in traditional print newspapers. Drilling down on one topic at a time and carefully tailoring content by subject makes it easier for visitors to read what they want to and for advertisers to reach a specific, targeted audience.
“Because you’re not physically manufacturing this product, you’re just producing it electronically, over the wire, you can produce as many sections as you want,” said Jakob Nielsen, principal of the Nielsen Norman Group and top consultant on user experience design. “So not just a sports section but a baseball section, then you can break it down to teams—a Yankees section, and go down to the individual pitcher, and so people who are fans of that one particular player can go to the deepest level of understanding about that one pitcher. That’s what the Web is good for.”