What was forwarded, of course, reflected something about the sender, which, as Watts pointed out, was why few ever send pornography—not cool. And while a good deal of these bits of content had all the permanence of footprints in sand, every so often the Bored At Work Network would light up, and weak links were instantly transformed into strong ones. A vast network sprang to life.

“It’s hard to reproduce,” Peretti would later say. “It’s hard to understand.” But when it happened, its power was palpable.

Which was why Lerer remained undeterred. the 2004 presidential campaign had begun, and for Democrats there was the growing sense that President Bush, saddled by the increasingly unpopular war in Iraq, could be defeated. Peretti was still experimenting with contagious projects and teaching at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP) when Lerer called with an idea: He wanted Peretti to fly to Los Angeles to meet Arianna Huffington.

Lerer had met her that year, at a dinner on the Upper East Side. His wife had declined the invitation and Lerer went reluctantly, only to find himself succumbing to the charm that had worked so well for so long on so many people. Lerer thought it might be a good idea for Huffington to meet his young collaborator. At that moment, Peretti represented that small sliver of American society who had no idea who Lerer was talking about.

In the fall of 2004, Arianna Huffington was well along in yet another iteration of what her many critics and perhaps even some of her many friends might call the Saga of Arianna.

Very long story short: Huffington, née Stassinopoulos, child of a Greek newspaper owner of inconsistent success, escapes a relatively friendless adolescence in Athens for England, where in short order she joins and becomes a featured member of the Cambridge debating Union and thereby a) discovers the power of words b) meets lots of people and, as a result, c) starts to appear on television d) writes a best-selling book on feminism and e) meets and falls in love with the cultural critic Bernard Levin who, she jokes in what becomes a familiar refrain is twice her age and half her size. She is 5’10”. She breaks off with Levin after seven years; she wants children, he does not. She writes two more books (the second a biography of Maria Callas that results in a plagiarism suit that ends in a settlement with an author that she would later consider a friend) and relocates to New York, where, with the help of such social luminaries as Ann Getty and Barbara Walters becomes so ubiquitous a fixture on the Upper East Side party circuit that in 1983 she is anointed with a profile in New York magazine: “The Rise and Rise of Arianna Stassinopoulos.” Three years later, she marries, seemingly well, the Texas gas and oil heir Michael Huffington, a Republican whose political career she helps guide through his election to Congress in 1992. Then comes Huffington’s unsuccessful 1994 run for the Senate, during which the glowing picture of Arianna as the eager young woman about town devolves into a portrait so calculating that she calls to mind Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate. The marriage ends in 1997—Michael Huffington later reveals that he is bisexual—leaving Arianna with a house in Brentwood she shares with her sister and two daughters, and with a lingering reputation as a woman of somewhat curious opinions on alternative lifestyles and healthy living (she is a fiend about sleep), fueled by her association with one John-Roger, the leader of the cultlike Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness. Arianna, contributor to the National Review, evolves into a “progressive.” She runs for governor. She gets less than 1 percent of the vote. She returns to writing books—there will be 13 in all—as well as a blog, Ariannaonline, when one morning in the fall of 2004, Jonah Peretti, who had flown in the night before and who had spent the night in the guestroom, comes into the dining room at 7 a.m. to discover that he is her second breakfast meeting of the day.

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.