Do We Need Rankings For Everything?

I started this post late last week after PostRank was launched as an API. Conveniently enough, Alltop launched Frienderati today, which caused some interesting discussions on FriendFeed and gave my post a little more relevance.

Why is it that people feel the need to rank things? Is it the simplicity of looking at things in a list? Is it the desire to know what is going on? Or is it the desire to be popular? Disappointingly, I think popularity is the answer. Bloggers want to have a blog post become popular because it drives traffic to their site. Once they get traffic, they typically get more subscribers, which generally will give them more exposure to others and thus driving the traffic up more.

On sites like Twitter and FriendFeed, they do not provide “leaderboards”. However, both sites provide an API. Of course, someone developed rankings for both of these sites. This is rather ironic because both sites are meant to help with “discovery”. On Twitter, you are trying to find out what various people are doing or talking about. Most people are not on Twitter to hear more from the “A-Listers”. FriendFeed is about finding out what your “friends” are reading. Do you really care what stories are popular?

I understand that news sites may want to show stories that are popular. TechMeme does exactly that, find the stories most talked about recently. This is perfectly reasonable, but people have even complained that TechMeme just covers the same sites all the time. So, people go to FriendFeed to find out what people are talking about. One of the first complaints is that it is an “echo chamber”. Many blogs seem to talk about the same thing.

Duh. Bloggers have blogs because sometimes their opinion needs more detail than a simple comment on another blog. Again, I thought that was the point of blogging, everyone gets their own voice. So, by now you are wondering what the point of this is. This week, PostRank was launched as a separately available API from the people giving us AideRSS. Wonderful, another “how many times your article has been shared by people” tool. I have nothing against AideRSS or PostRank, but do we really need another one? We have Technorati, which people say is irrelevant anymore. We also have the Google Reader tools of RSSmeme and ReadBurner. Both of these tools present the most popular users and the most popular stories.

The interesting part of the Frienderati announcement was the conversation. The main complaint was that the list seemed to be those people most follow, most likely the “A-List”. This is probably true, but there were some names included that were not in the top 100, myself in particular. I am not going to be confused for an A-Lister an time soon. I am not sure what the “formula” was to generate the list, but that is not the concern. I understand that people dislike yet another list of the top 100 anything. I also feel the same way about a lot of these ranking lists.

I guess my problem is that we probably have enough rankings to follow already. Do we really need an API for one? People are always going to be creating these lists, do we need to try and deconstruct them or even invalidate them? Can we just talk about good content?

5 thoughts on “Do We Need Rankings For Everything?

  1. Hi Rob,

    Yup, for those who have no use for rankings, there certainly is a surfeit of options. And I freely admit to some folks who tell me they don’t get it that what we do is not universally applicable. Some people’s processing style requires a high level of manual interaction to maintain a comfort level, and some people don’t buy in to the pre-set parameters of a lot of rankings.

    And a “so what?” argument can certainly be made for bloggers if their reason for wanting rankings is nothing more than a barometer for popularity, or, as Steve noted in his rebuttal, human nature.

    However, on a bigger scale, one that pays the rent, it’s business. Business demands metrics. It requires parameters of measurement and then rankings of relevant entities within those parameters. Works for sales targets, marketing campaigns, balance sheets, manufacturing efficiencies — you name it.

    It’s business for some of those bloggers whose rankings help them get advertisers or new consulting clients, which means income for supporting their families.

    It’s business for companies who want to know what their customers and potential customers think, or how they’re doing in the marketplace and with customer service. It’s hard to know what to improve if you don’t even know you suck. Just like it’s good to know to keep doing what you’re doing and work even harder to be great if you’re consistently ranked #1. The better companies do, the more they grow, the more people they can employ who can pay their rent.

    If you have no need for rankings, cool. You’re fortunate and you have a lot of freedom. You can write about what you like, whenever you like, and it won’t affect your income stream or whether or not your mom likes you best. However, Steve is right — rankings (likely to become ever more complex and interwoven) are here to stay.

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  2. @Melanie
    First, let me say that I am a fan of aideRSS. So I do not have anything against that or the fact that you opened up PostRank. My rant was not from the business perspective, and I totally understand why aideRSS would open PostRank and why some bloggers would want to know more about rankings.

    The rant almost went unpublished until yesterday with the Frienderati launch on Alltop. The problem I have is that once a ranking gets published, people can’t stop talking about them. It happened with the Twitterati launch on Alltop as well.

    In any case, thanks for reading and presenting your position. I appreciate any readers I get, even if you aren’t very happy with me 🙂 You may have also sparked an idea for a post with a slightly different angle.

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  3. Tried to email you back, didn’t work. So…

    Quite the contrary – I love commentary like yours! It’s great to see positive “I love you” feedback from people, but that just tells you what you’re doing right and who already is a fan. There’s always a group of people who don’t get it, aren’t interested, or who want/need something else entirely. It’s those people who get my brain going and get me bugging the devs with “what if?” questions.

    As for the ever-flogged coverage, I’m so on board with you there. It wouldn’t even be so bad if there was variety, or new blood, but so much of it is just the same thing over and over – both the same people talking and referencing each other, and referencing the same well-trodden news.

    Good impetus for companies like us to come up with unbelievably cool, wild stuff to give folks new things to talk about. 🙂

    Or you and I can just keep having smarty arguments… 😉

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