09/04/2012 09:08 pm ET Updated Nov 04, 2012

Disruptors Abroad: HuffPost's International Expansion

I've been with HuffPost for three years now. Before that, HuffPost was Adaptive Semantics' first client for the comment moderation system that they eventually acquired.

I've seen HuffPost grow in staff, expand its verticals, launch mobile apps, and extend internationally. I've seen staffers come in as interns and become vertical editors, our comments and traffic skyrocket, and the business itself begin to grow up.

Let's say that this amount of history with an organization and set of tools tends to make you over-familar. I take a lot of pride in what we've built, but I also take it for granted. I forget just how disruptive we've been and continue to be.

That A/B testing for headlines..."meh." This massive stats dashboard that tells you pretty much everything you need to know about content performance..."whatever." Powerful recirculation, SEO, and social modules that deliver the news faster and more compellingly than everybody else...(shrug). A real-time comment moderation service that keeps up with HP Live..."yeah, so?" HP Live...well not even I can deny how addictive it is. In fact, it's playing in the background right now.

We're the cool kids over here. Too cool.

This summer I've had the privilege of working with two new international startup teams to launch HuffPost Spain and the upcoming HuffPost Italy.

Both teams have staffers with a combination of traditional and web journalism backgrounds. That means that their comfort level with online publishing tools and practice differs on an individual basis.

I'm not implying that our international staffers aren't the cool kids too. In fact, they're pretty damned awesome. We've got one of the first female war correspondents in the world, Lucia Annunziata as our Editor in Chief at HuffPost Italy. She and her team come from multiple successful media startups including the Italy branch of AP. Spain is headed up by Montserrat Dominquez another impressive woman with a number of successful media startups under her belt. Under her, we have a staff of web journalists and media startup founders with a real understanding of the financial crisis, occupy movement, burgeoning tech scene, and pull of expatriation among young people there.

These teams are nestled in the bellies of our partner's massive headquarters--El Pais and Grupo Espresso respectively. They're barebones operations, hard to find, and a bit chaotic. It's worth noting if you're not aware, that our partners run what each of these countries' consider their 'New York Times'.

They're teams, for real. Friends that act like family. Co-workers that eat dinner at each other's houses. They remind me of first and second wave HuffPosters. They feel like startups, because that's what they are.

And like the best startups, like HuffPost at inception, their goal is to disrupt. But their ways of doing so will be different. We can bring our 'special sauce' but it's our partners that season it.

In Italy, for example, there is no culture of 'winning' the news, of being first. Social, community, and SEO as practiced by our U.S. editorial teams and enabled by our platform don't exist to anywhere near the same extent there.

Moreover, a story does not evolve in collaboration with or response to viral trends on the internet, reactions within the community, or even what other publications are doing. Each publication functions as somewhat of a walled garden where the news is delivered top-down, from the newspaper editors to their audience. To acknowledge that, on occasion, another publication's version of the story was better by linking to it would be unthinkable.

In the U.S., news is competitive and viral-aware. The Huffington Post prides itself on being up to date on the news, whether it comes from us directly or from one of our rivals. Increasingly, that awareness and use of content elsewhere is being adopted elsewhere.

You could say, quite legitimately, that HuffPost disrupted the news industry but now the substance--the philosophy--of aggregation, blogging, and community has really taken hold. Nearly every functioning U.S. news site has some take on these strategies.

Showing our Italian editors the HuffPost community, social features, and CMS was a fascinating experience because it laid bare the differences between U.S. and European coverage styles and ability for HuffPost's core philosophies and tools to disrupt the European market.

I'm personally glad to be a part of these launches because it takes me back to a time when HuffPost was small, hungry, and in full knowledge that the team and the tools they were using were about to change everything.

Watching new users who come from a different media paradigm is also extremely powerful from a product perspective. The power of the platform becomes clearer and because of that it is easy to see what to maximize for our power users and what to simplify for our new users.

Disruption is local, and because of that, our new teams in Spain, France, and Italy have the opportunity to be first in market, driving the type of change we've seen in the U.S. these last seven years. At the same time, they are disrupting any complacency we might have about our platform and mapping a path forward on the U.S. site, from abroad.