In the spring of 2005, when asked about Arianna Huffington’s plan to launch a news-aggregating blog to compete with the Drudge Report, Matthew Drudge did not seem too impressed.
“I don’t think that need is there,” he told The Observer. “I think I fill that need.”
And while he allowed that Ms. Huffington had “tons of charm and humor,” he questioned whether she and her coterie of boldface names had the stamina to compete.
“This isn’t a dinner party, darling,” he said. “This is the beast! This is the Internet beast, which is all-consuming, as anyone knows who works in this business.”
It took a while, and surely the brighter prospects on the left side of the aisle have changed things since Mr. Drudge was acting as the steam vent for a country fed up with the Clinton White House. But, nearly three years into its existence, Huffingtonpost.com is getting there, with unique visitors logging on at three times the rate they did just six months ago.
In the 30-day period ending Feb. 18, the Huffington Post has had roughly eight million unique visitors, up from the 2.7 million that were visiting the site as late as May 2007, and up from the 1.5 million that visited the site when it launched in January 2006, according to stats provided by its chairman, Ken Lerer.
In an interview with Off the Record, Mr. Lerer said that the traffic spike has to do with the new “verticals” that the Web site has introduced—separate pages in business, living, entertainment, media and, of course, politics.
“We started out as one-page, the way our home page looks now, and then we launched the five different verticals last May,” he said. “That’s what has pushed an enormous amount of traffic.”
Mr. Lerer said that the numbers have been steadily increasing since last May, but that the biggest spike has come in the past three months. Wouldn’t that have something to do with a primary? Especially when said primary is of particular interest to people who are voting in the Democratic primary and are more likely to visit a left-leaning site?
“All news sites go up during elections,” he said. “You can look at the TV ratings for MSNBC. The Obama-Clinton primary is good news for all news sites.”
O.K., then, let’s try this: Certainly he must credit the election for being the biggest factor. “There’s no way of knowing,” he said. “There’s no way to track that. I think a good primary fight is good for news and good for the Huffington Post. I think it’s a combination of politics being a hot topic and the launch of the verticals.”
If the number of unique visitors has increased nearly threefold, then one might reasonably expect the total number of page views to follow suit. But Mr. Lerer was leery of discussing page views because, he said, the site is now using AJAX, a Web-development technique that allows pages to update without the user having to hit the “refresh” button—making them feel newsier and metabolically faster (witness the self-updating primary results that have been popping up on sites like politico.com), but which minimizes some of the page-view potential since a new page view is counted each time a user hits the “refresh” button (as he or she must do to update the home page at nytimes.com, and incidentally, the bare-bones grandpa of political home pages, the Drudge Report.)
According to a source, Huffington Post has had between 70 and 80 million page views over the last month, which is actually down from where it was before they introduced the new technology. To put that in some perspective: Gawker had just over 18 million page views last month, according to the site meter displayed on its Web site; and on Feb. 5 and Feb. 6 alone, nytimes.com brought in 73.4 million page views for its Super Tuesday coverage, according to an internal document released by Times deputy managing editor Jon Landman.
But how are they doing against Drudge?
When we asked Mr. Drudge about his traffic, he referred us to a press release prepared by Intermarkets, an “independent advertising sales management firm,” which reported that the Drudge Report recorded 560 million page views in January of this year, up from its previous record of 455 million in November 2007.
Mr. Lerer said he was only interested in talking about unique visitors, though.
So how to compare Matt Drudge’s page views to Arianna Huffington’s uniques?
We decided to find an outside measure, however flawed, and apply it to both sites.
According to the Internet media and market research firm Nielsen Online, Mr. Drudge is winning handily in page views: he got 197 million to Ms. Huffington’s 25 million.
But: The Drudge Report got 3.2 million visitors in January; Huffington Post? 2.9 million.
Close, darling. Very close.