Says Who?

Seth Godin talks about how easy it is to manipulate “Top” lists in Payola.

The New York Times bestseller list is even more easily manipulated than Billboard ever was. It doesn’t cost much to scam it and it’s pretty straightforward to buy your way onto the list (I know authors who have done this and consultants who sell this service.) You can hire a bunch of old ladies who will go into the ‘right’ stores and buy books on the right day. As a result of this distortion, the books on the list get more promoted, and thus sell more copies. It’s not pretty but it’s true. The Times is well aware that this is going on, that the list isn’t accurate, but they persist in publishing lists that are demonstrably wrong. (I still find this amazing, but it’s true).

There are firms dedicated to manipulating social networks and a whole industry dedicated to manipulating search engine results (Search Engine Optimization, or SEO.)

While the increasing torrent of information today makes “Best Of” and “Top N” sources more important than ever, they are all subject to manipulation to some degree.  Be skeptical.

Not too long ago, I was reading news at Yahoo.  The default view shows headlines grouped under “most recommeneded” and “most emailed”as well as several other categories of “Top”.  At one point, the actual number of recommendations or emails comprising “most” was available.  I was shocked to see that my viewing choices were seeded by three people.


And they probably all knew each other.

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