Your ‘Top Ten’ Lists Need to Go

Your list was neither comprehensive nor particularly flattering.

There are a few conclusions I draw whenever I see a list of ten ‘influential’ whatevers about whatever.

  1. You only knew 10 people that fit the criteria
  2. You fit the criteria around 10 people you liked

That’s really it. So when I see a list like the ‘Comprehensive’ list of Women in WordPress and only saw ten names, my first thought was “Bullshit.”

First I was annoyed about the use of the term ‘comprehensive.’ Ten is not comprehensive. Ten barely touches the surface. Ten is an arbitrary number of important and influential people in anything. In fact, I made this face:

"Comprehensive" list of ten

So that should tell you what I think.

Before someone gets all uppity that I’m getting uppity because I wasn’t listed, I really don’t care. Yes, I’m vain enough to wonder “Why not me?” but at the same time, I am so used to being misattributed as male (or Mike) that I dismiss any intentional omissions as either that or people not thinking ‘support’ is influential. Both reasons are understandable though ill informed.

I’m not an egotist. I just happen to know that I am influential. I try to be, I try to inspire and help and educate, and I do a pretty decent job. I’m not always perfect at it, but it’s one of my goals because I want to make WordPress better and part of that means inspiring other people to do things. I can’t do it all, and teamwork and community make Open Source what it is.

*deep breath*

Anyway. Believe it or not. But that brings up the other reason I hate these lists. See, the people who influence me aren’t going to be the people who influence you. For example, Andrea Middleton is massively influential and inspiring to many people. To me, she’s my friend. I was already a player in WordPress by the time I got to know who she really was and why she should impress me. Ditto Helen Hou-Sandi. She was ‘my friend Helen’ before she was ’10up’s Helen’ or even listed on that fancy Contributing Developers credit page. Neither of those facts makes these women any less influential, but they just didn’t happen to be influential to me when I was starting in WP by circumstance. Do they influence the way I act today? Certainly!

So who was influential when I was starting out? Here are four people picked at random: Andrew Nacin was a scary influential (sorry) as his personality was a little daunting to me when I started. Otto, on the other hand, I know many people find his curmudgeonry ways to be off-putting, but he felt like a friend I’d always had. Jen Mylo was massively impressive in this ‘She’s the kind of person I love working for’ way I have trouble explaining, but she was and still is that way. Andrea Rennick was inspirational in that ‘Mommy Blogger to Multisite Mastery’ way, and felt like I’d always known her. Even today, Andrea’s work/life balance is something I took to heart, and why I take the time to do the SCA again.

Angry OwlPeople draw inspiration from many sources. So while I understand listing ten people, if I wanted to really sit down and explain to you why Nacin, Otto, Jen, Andrea, and a mess of other people were ‘influential’ to me, I’d have to give each of them a post of their own, around 400 words, and really dig into the why of things, in order to really make it useful to anyone except as a random list of people. And that’s what my four were. My list is pretty much everyone listed on the credits page of WordPress, plus everyone who’s written a blog post I read, or tweeted. You get the idea.

But what if the brunt of my WordPress inspiration came from people not related to the community at all? Does being influenced by an actor make my decisions more or less impressive, or does it not matter? Is it a cop-out to say my grandmother/aunt/mother/father/cousin is the influence? It’s certainly true.

The idea of a ‘top ten’ or a list people can vote on to order creates a false impression that we are ranked in the world. That if I’m not on your top ten list, or not ranked top on your other list, I’ve somehow failed in my existence. Worse, when you get down to listing people of a minority group (and yes, women in WordPress is still a minority) then you’ve seemingly done your token appreciation of the group and can move on with your life.

Stop making lists like that. Pick a person, any person, who was influential and explain why. Make a long post about it, detailing things they’ve done that impress you, or inspired you, or influenced how you work. If you feel like you have to do a disclaimer to explain why you picked that one person, make it a part of your post. “This post is about Laura Legendary, the woman who brought to light a glaring lack of accessibility in my work, and caused me to change the way I gave presentations. She’s not the only important person in the world of accessibility, but this is the story about how she changed me.”

Lookit that. It was easy.

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