Not the origination of the content, but the dissemination. Huffington Post, they understood, was not an enterprise whose core purpose was the creation of works of journalism—as significant or mundane as that can be. It was in the content business, which created all sorts of possibilities of what it could gather and, with a new headline and assorted tags, send back out, HuffPost’s logo affixed. Content would come to mean original reporting by Sam Stein or Ryan Grim from Washington, as well as Alec Baldwin’s blog, Robert Reich’s rants about the forsaking of the American worker, a “Best Retro Bathing Suits” slide show, “Why Women Gladly Date Ugly Men,” David Wood’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 10-part series on wounded veterans, “Nine Year Old Girl’s Twin Found Inside Her Stomach,” campaign dispatches from the Off The Bus citizen journalists, “Angelina and Brad Wow at Cannes,” and “Multitasking Wilts Your Results and Relationships”—as well as Nico Pitney’s blogging on the violence after the disputed 2009 Iranian presidential elections and the 111,000 comments it generated. Because comment was content, too. Comment was like blogging, but at scale. Thousands of comments began to pile up alongside the posts that had generated the commentary. It was as if the posts and blogs were spawning subsidiary posts, the contagious media world’s version of a virtuous circle.

Traffic-counting metrics were at once impossibly complex and elegantly simple: If it’s moving, push it; if it’s not, change it or bury it. There were also surprises that the nimble HuffPost could leap upon, giving it wins over its competitors. On the afternoon that Heath Ledger died in 2008, for instance, the folks at HuffPost discovered that people were entering not his given first name as a search term, but the more familiar-sounding “Keith.” The name Keith was added to the tags, and all that Keith-generated traffic belonged to HuffPost.

Still, there was one caveat to the traffic hunt of which Berry was keenly aware: “The brand still mattered to us.” Which meant that there was a limit to the number of best-starlet-nipple slide shows the site could, or should, run. The blogs could not be HuffPost’s sole purveyor of depth. Nor could the business continue to grow if it was perceived to be yet another political site. Even as traffic climbed in 2007, there was a sense that HuffPost might face a dramatic drop after the presidential election, then still a year and a half away. Looking ahead, Peretti installed traffic-measurement widgets—and discovered that fully half of the site’s traffic came from non-political stories. So in the spring of 2007, HuffPost launched new verticals for media, business, entertainment, and, reflecting Arianna’s mission to spread the virtues of health and spirituality, Living Now.

The 2008 presidential election was indeed a bonanza for politics sites, HuffPost especially. Four years after the re-election of George W. Bush, a Democrat would be elected president and Huffington Post had almost doubled Drudge’s traffic, eclipsing The Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times. By September 2008, the site had become the traffic leader among its competitors, with 4.5 million monthly unique visitors—an increase of 474 percent over the previous September.

A few weeks after the election, Huffington Post announced that it had secured another $25 million in funding, this time from Oak Investment Partners, whose president, Fredric Harman, joined the HuffPost board. That brought total investment to $37 million, which had analysts estimating HuffPost’s worth at over $100 million. The money, announced the company’s new ceo, Eric Hippeau, would go toward acquisitions and hiring. Within a year, the company added local verticals in several American cities, launched the 23/6 comedy site—with its 2 million monthly uniques—and, perhaps most significant, entered into a news-sharing partnership with Facebook, to be called HuffPost Social News.

Michael Shapiro is a contributing editor to CJR and teaches at Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism. His most recent book is Bottom of the Ninth: Branch Rickey, Casey Stengel, and the Daring Scheme to Save Baseball From Itself.