There are so many lists. Top 100 this, top 50 that, top 150 must-read blogs in this sector. How can there be this many people that I “must” pay attention to? Truth is, there aren’t.
People are so afraid to take a stand, to have a strong opinion, to leave someone “important” out, that they put anyone and everyone on their lists. And large organizations are afraid, too. For example, some blogs on the AdAge Power 150 are pathetic choices – they are frequently off topic, or have no real influence (of course, they are mainly designated without human interference, automatically). I’ll consider them important when the pigs eat my brother (thanks, Brando). Or how about the Foreign Policy’s Twitterati 100? I cannot sum this one up better than NYU professor Jay Rosen: “The 100 most famous foreign policy names we could find who have [Twitter] accounts.” It’s frankly amazing that well-respected brands put their reputations behind such pathetic lists.
Here’s one good, haphazardly chosen example. I hate to critique just one person making one list, but this one was on my radar, and this isn’t an academic study. It is a new list of “Top 50 PR Professionals You Should Be Following on Twitter.” Let’s break this down. First, some of them are simply not PR professionals (interesting though they may be), or if they are, the definition has been fairly diluted. Second, on Twitter, many of the actual PR professionals are tweeting very similar things, so it’s complete overkill if one follows all 50. Third, many of the people on the list are obvious follows (so having them on the list adds nothing), and many have such bland descriptions of why you should follow them as to be useless (so having them on the list adds nothing). And finally, blog comments like this and this suggest that some very obvious people were far down the list, or entirely left off [a list of 50], and it’s not clear why that reasoning was, either.
Moreover, perhaps the most important point is that all the (1) obvious and (2) bland choices serve to drown out anyone on the list who may be truly undiscovered and interesting! I know they exist to some degree, but more lists of “Top 10 People You’re Not Watching” would be very useful, in all topics of interest.
I’m really happy for everyone living in the Web 2.0 world who thinks that they can make sloppy lists and do incomplete research for blog articles and that everything will just get “sorted out” in the comments section (the author of the above Top 50 list suggested that there were so many comments after the post that she might make a Top 500 list! Thanks!). Thoughtful comments are nice, but are they nice enough to reward sloppy writing with the hopes of getting thoughtful comments to round out their own incomplete thought process? I don’t think so. I write everything pretending that there will be no comments. Then, if there are useful comments, it’s a pleasant surprise – not a recipe for completeness.
When I made a list of the 10 most “influential” people using Twitter in Washington, DC, I kept it simple. I used somewhat unique criteria. I listed 10 people and explained in detail why I chose each of them. And largely, they were different than people on similar lists. So different, in fact, that NationalJournal.com ran a story about how my list differed from others in the LA Times and other publications, with a Twitalyzer quantification chart. Turns out my list has certain qualities, and theirs had certain other qualities – mine was unique if you were looking for this sort of thing, and theirs for a different sort of thing. Great, we can all reasonably coexist. It’s not about right or wrong – It’s about having a strong opinion, arguing for it, and sticking with it.
If you’re going to make a list, of anything, make it short and to the point. Make it stand out from other similar lists. Have some reasons for choosing what is on your list. Have some guts. Be willing to be different. And take a stand when people disagree. Otherwise your list is meaningless – to you, and to anyone that comes across it.