Sociologist Duncan Watts helped come up with the idea for the Huffington Post

Here an interesting sidelight to sociologist Duncan Watts career: he helped create the Huffington Post.

The origins of the now famous Huffington Post began at a lunch in 2003 between AOL’s Kenneth Lerer and author and sociologist Duncan Watts. The two met to discuss Watts’ book, and left with the beginnings of the Huff Post.  The Columbia  Journalism Review recently gave its own take on Watts’ book, Six Degrees, that inspired Lerer from the get-go and on the history of The Huffington Post as we now know it. According to CJR, before AOL’s purchase of HuffPost in 2011, the company was not known for revenues or breaking news stories. However, the website had managed to master social media integration and search-engine optimization.

Here are more details from the story in the Columbia Journalism Review cited above:

He brought the book with him and Watts would recall that the copy was dog-eared, the flatteringly telltale sign of a purposeful read. Lerer had a plan and he wanted Watts to help him. He had set himself an ambitious target. He wanted to take on the National Rifle Association.

He told Watts: “I know the answer to this is somewhere in these pages.”…

Ken Lerer listened, and he was not deterred. Networks did, in fact, occur—vast networks through which previously disconnected people suddenly found themselves joined together, perhaps to share an idea, a song, a sentiment, a cause. Why not then try to create a network that could challenge the vast and powerful and sustaining network of the NRA?

“I know the answers,” Watts told him. “I am confident they are not there.” Then, having deflated Lerer, Watts threw him a lifeline: “Maybe my friend Jonah can help you.”

An interesting read: in order to fight the NRA and counter the DrudgeReport, people wanted to make the Huffington Post both viral and sticky.

However, from his Twitter account, here is Watt’s Apr 18 take on the CJR piece:

Six degrees of aggregation: A fascinating (in my biased opinion) take on the origins of the Huffington Post.

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