When Arianna Huffington started the Post in 2005, she was known for very little other than her marriage to Republican congressman Michael Huffington, some political aspirations, and her web of social connections to a wide variety of people in the media, politics and business communities. When she started the website, as media consultant Jeff Jarvis noted in a blog post, it was widely ridiculed as a lightweight plaything for a rich socialite. It certainly didn’t look like much, and the content that appeared there — a strange and eclectic mix of commentary from film-makers, actors, bureaucrats and left-leaning intellectuals — didn’t appear to be much of a competitor for anything, let alone an established and dominant media player like the New York Times.

But thanks to some funding from Softbank and Greycroft Partners, and the web savvy of people like Jonah Peretti and CTO Paul Berry, The Huffington Post just kept growing and growing, and made use of all the social tools at its disposal, from comments and Twitter to Facebook’s social graph plugins. As more prominent writers started to post their thoughts on the site, that attracted others — even though the network didn’t pay any of them anything, something that has been a source of much controversy. But as some have pointed out, The Huffington Post didn’t have to pay anyone; thousands of people have been more than happy to write for nothing, the same kind of phenomenon that has helped other sites like Talking Points Memo grow from single blogs into new-media powerhouses.

GigaOm’s Mattew Ingram on why a newspaper didn’t start—or couldn’t—start an operation like the Huffington Post, in spite of their experience in publishing, and deep pockets. Ingram posits that Huffington had nothing to lose if she failed, which she clearly did not do. 

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