There Are No Top Influencers

We need to care less about the personal aggrandizement of a few select individuals, and more about the collective success of the WordPress project.

It’s that time of year where people post their ‘top X influencers’ for whatever they happen to be blogging about. It’s not a secret I hate those lists. In fact, I ask to be left off of them entirely.

All Lists are Incomplete

No matter what, no matter if you list 100 people, you’re going to leave someone out. This is a huge problem because those people will be hurt. The common complaint you hear is that a list cannot possibly list everyone, and that’s exactly the point. You know from the start you won’t have everyone listed, so you’re just going to pick the people you like best. And this is because…

All Lists are Biased

A couple years ago I saw a top-40 list that was 97.5% male. That means there was one woman on that list. Equally bad, there was only one non-white person on the list. They were not the same person, which meant this list left off someone who should have been terribly important since she led a major WordPress core release that very year. Leaving off hugely qualified people because of your unconscious (I hope) bias means you further work against the progress to be found with representation. And really that points to the next problem….

All Lists are Personal

If I was to list the biggest influences on, say, WordPress for me, I would include my father and my wife. To his dying day, my father emailed me a PDF and asked me to upload the content to his blog. My wife constantly asks me for help remembering the rare parts of WordPress. It’s that kind of experience that drives me. They influence me every day to make things easier for the non-technical. Another major influence are my co-editors on LezWatch.TV who ask me things that I feel should be obvious but clearly are not. Which means …

All Lists are Pointless

My mother is a huge influencer in my life. But you’re not going to get anything from following her. The developers I follow are ones who speak and talk in ways my brain has no problem following. The designers have taught me how to visualize (something I’m terrible at). The political wonks aren’t just an echo chamber, they’re thoughtful and educational. I follow a Sappho bot because I like her poetry. But none of that, not one thing, will help you get better at development or WordPress or anything really other than knowing I’m a human who likes a lot of weird stuff.

We’re Solving the Wrong Problem

What’s the point of these lists anyway?

I can only come up with a couple reasons people make them:

  1. Currying favour with the people on the lists to make them feel important
  2. Lists are easier than actually writing a post with content

That’s all I’ve got. And that brings me to my point.

No One is a “Top Influencer Anyway”

The person who influences WordPress the most is probably someone you never noticed.

People tell me I should be listed and I point out that my ‘influence’ is not seen by the majority of people who use WordPress. They never see a plugin review or the work we put into making things safe and stable for them. And that? That is as it should be! How many users can name the release leads? Those names don’t matter to them, and they shouldn’t.

Dad never cared if Nacin or Helen or Mel or Matt lead a release. He didn’t even care that I know them. He cared that WordPress worked and did what he needed.

Isn’t that what we all care about? Not the personal aggrandizement of a few select individuals, but of the collective success of the WordPress project.

Make Lists Matter

If you want a list that matters, make a list of the best talks/blog posts/event-things you experienced in a year and explain how they influenced you. Tell people about what you learned and how you use it. Explain why things matter.

But lists?

Come on, we can do better.

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