The Huffington Post is creating a "digital water cooler," expanding its social-networking capabilities through a collaboration with Facebook.
The online newspaper on Monday launched HuffPost Social News, which finds a person's Facebook contacts who are also reading articles on The Huffington Post and then links everyone together on the site for discussions. Users maintain control over the stories and comments shared with contacts, as well as what gets posted on Facebook.
In offering the application, the HuffPost is following what it sees as the trend in how people consume news.
"It's no longer something we passively take in," co-founder and Editor-in-Chief Arianna Huffington said in her blog."We now engage with news, react to news, and share news. News has become an important element of community -- something around which we gather, connect, and converse."
The site is hoping the service will provide a more personal way for people to discuss articles, given that 1.7 million comments were posted on the site last month alone, with many stories attracting more than 10,000 comments, according to the Post.
"With HuffPost Social News, you can be sure that your comments won't get lost in the mix -- and that the people you care most about will see what you have to say about the stories you love or are angered by, delivered in real time," Huffington said.
Social News also creates for each user a personalized profile page on The Huffington Post that tracks comments and stories read by the user and friends. "Think of it as HuffPost's new digital water cooler," Huffington said.
Newspapers have been hit hard by falling profits as advertisers and readers, particular young adults, turn to the Web. While newspapers also have a strong presence online, engaging readers to build loyalty and present higher value to advertisers remains a work in progress.
Sites like The Huffington Post are in the forefront of the ongoing experimentation to reach readers and build a successful business model on the Web. However, the site also has been criticized for relying too much on the reporting of other organizations by linking to their articles.
For example, the Associated Press board in April warned that it would take legal action if necessary to stop online news aggregators from using its content and that of member newspapers without permission.
News aggregators have long argued that links on their sites have benefited content owners by directing traffic to their sites.
InformationWeek has published an in-depth report on managing risk. Download the report here (registration required).