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Leaderboards Are Not Best Seller Lists

Posted by Bob Warfield on October 10, 2007

I read with interest Tim O’Reilly comparing Blog Leaderboards to Best Seller Lists

While it is tempting to view the Leaderboards as Best Seller Lists, they’re really not.  Perhaps it would be closer to call them “Most Talked About Lists”, which I see more as what you find in the Supermarket Tabloids than the NY Times.  I don’t invoke the tabloids to be nasty, but to reflect the key differences.  In this case, gossip is cheap and the tabloids are cheaper than many hardcover best sellers.

What does that comparison have to do with leaderboards?  Because it takes a greater investment from readers before a book makes it onto the Best Seller List.  It takes longer to read a book, it costs money to buy a book, you may have to visit a bookstore, you deal with whether the book is displayed prominently there, and all the rest that as a publisher you know only too well.

In other words, there is more friction involved.  This is the promise and the curse of the Internet.  It radically reduces the friction.  But in so doing, it lowers the cost of making a bad choice, which makes it harder to discern bad choices from good. 

These friction forces are at work in creating the punctuated equilibrium I suggest drives interesting memes through the web.  My reaction to punctuated equilibrium is to shun the leaderboards and look more deeply to find the interesting stuff.  I’m adding some friction back into the process in order to cull the processed and repetitive sameness that happens if you only look at the pieces of the Internet Iceberg that are above the surface and readily visible.  The water level on that iceberg represents the Moore Chasm that ideas must cross to become mainstream, and it also demarks the long tail. 

Do you simply want to deal with mainstream ideas, or is the promise in the web that it gives access and leverage below the mainstream?

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