Wednesday, November 26th, 2008
It’s coming up to Thanksgiving here in the US, and a thin layer of snow still sparkles on the ground in the winter sun. On Friday, (that’s the day after Thanksgiving for any of you not steeped in American tradition) we shall drive to Milwaukee for a spot of Christmas shopping and, in the case of the young ‘uns, some serious scoping out of items to be put on a list for Santa.
All of which is a long winded way of saying that it is again that time of year when lists are made, checked twice and, in the case of Now Public’s MostPublic Index, found to be rather wanting in the sense department. Yes, we have another meaningless ranking of the internet’s glitterati into top 20s for New York, Los Angeles, Silicon Valley, Vancouver and London. And yes, I’m listed on the London list, at number 11.
There was a time when I would have cared about this, especially coming from Now Public. I was one of the first people to write about Now Public, back in March 2005, and I’ve had a soft spot for them ever since, even if I never did get as involved in the community there as perhaps I would have liked. But that, I’m afraid, is not enough to make the list they’ve drawn up relevant in any way.
The list has been derived thusly:
NowPublic’s formula gauges influence and “publicness” across four categories, including:
* Online Visibility
* Presence on User-Generated Content and Social Networking Sites
* Interactivity and Accessibility
* The “R” Factor: Presence on Microblogging Platforms (Flickr, Twitter, Tumblr, etc.)
But what does that actually say about someone? Nothing more than that they will readily adopt and use social tools. In some ways, it’s just the top 20 Chatty Cathys in London (guilty as charged), but in other ways it’s not even that.
What amuses me, though, is the reaction to the list. As usual, many are doing the whole “Who they hell are these people?” thing, particularly in the comments on Iain Dale’s blog. Now I wouldn’t begin to claim to know all the UK’s political bloggers, because that’s not really my bag. But Iain’s commenters are only too happy to dismiss any names they don’t recognise on the basis that they don’t recognise them, as if somehow it’s possible to know everyone on the internet including those outside of your sphere of interest and expertise.
Many people have commented on preponderance of journalists in the list - six from the BBC, four from The Guardian, and a few independents. (Two more listees are genuinely famous outside of the internets, and two of us are social media consultants.) Given this list is more about verbosity or GoogleJuice than influence or contribution to the tech community, it should be no surprise to see a lot of (tech) journalists there. For one, it’s their job to be on top of new tools so they sign up to everything going, and secondly, loquaciousness is a prerequisite for being a journalist. If you’re not good with words and happy to talk, then you’re not likely to take a job that relies on just that.
Jess McCabe notes that there’s only one woman on the list (me). Is this a function of the manner in which the list was compiled, or a reflection of the underlying dominance of men in social media? Well, it’s impossible to tell for sure from this distance, but if you look at the Los Angeles list there are nine women in the top 20, so there doesn’t seem to be an inherent bias in the list-making process.
It is, of course, disappointing to see such a male-dominated list. And many have made suggestions as to who else “should” have been on it, but unless there was bias in the list compilation process, then “should” has no part to play in the discussion. Maybe women in the UK aren’t as digitally noisy as men. Certainly there aren’t as many of them in leading positions. But that’s a discussion separate from this one - unless there’s proof that the list compilation process is inherently biased, I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and say that they’re just reflecting an existing trend.
Some people are dissociating themselves from the list, with weary sighs and more than a little perplexity. Those of us who’ve been kicking around the blogosphere since well before the invention of the podcast have seen lists like these come and go, and every single one of them was pointless.
Yet we’re all human, and there’s no shame in feeling a little fillip to see your own name listed, even if the manner by which your name was chosen seems rather arbitrary. Despite my intellectual self understanding that the list is a waste of time, my emotional self can’t help but be at least a little happy to have been named.
But ultimately, the list has done exactly what it set out to do. It’s caused a few big name bloggers (predominantly the ones listed…) to write about NowPublic, link to them, and regardless of what is said pass some traffic their way. That is all that this list - and every other that has come before - set out to do. It’s PR. Bizarre and shallow PR perhaps, but nevertheless, the aim of the list is not to teach us something about ourselves, nor to reveal something interesting about the communities of which we are a part, but to provoke us into making some sort of comment, good or bad.
Still, to save you a click, here’s the list, republished in all its daftness:
1. Rory Cellan-Jones
2. Darren Waters
3. Iain Dale
4. Paul Bradshaw
5. Erik Huggers
6. Tom Coates
7. Ewan McIntosh
8. Stephen Fry
9. Nick Robinson
10. Neil McIntosh
11. Suw Charman-Anderson
12. Alan Connor
13. Kevin Anderson
14. Andy Murray
15. Ian Betteridge
16. Robert Peston
17. Jon Kossman
18. Euan Semple
19. Jack Schofield
20. Charles Arthur