Let this be the last list of 2008 ... please
In the last three weeks, I have read more lists listing the best, worst, weirdest, most memorable, forgettable events, feuds, quotations, blunders and triumphs of men, women, criminals, movies, albums, politicians, companies, animals and things than I have read in all my previous years combined.
Are we listed out yet?
I would consider circulating a petition to end year end listing if I thought anyone would read it (it being another list, after all). And it's too late, anyway. There are only a few hours until Jan. 1, at which point the lists magically vanish, gone for another 48 weeks into hibernation -- waiting until late in the year when the world has become just listless enough for them to strike anew.
Well with my cynic's goggles on, I see the phenomenon of prolistferation as an effective way for bloggers and news sites to score lots of easy page views. (Hey, I did one myself). All ya gotta do is come up with a conceit -- say, the awesomest rhino videos of 2008 -- Google around for an hour or so, and kaboom! Another list.
Seriously though, aren't year end lists a relic of older, slower media, anyway? Before the Web, it was nice to get a reminder of all the things that had happened throughout the year. But there's something about the Web that keeps information and images alive for much longer. Take Jesse Jackson's untoward comment about Barack Obama, which is making all kinds of political lists. It happened six months ago, sure, but has anyone really forgotten? Getting a refresher about these things seems as unexciting as being reminded of your last visit to the airport.
All that said, Techmeme's list of the 10 "objectively biggest tech stories of 2008" bucks the trend, eschewing individual judgment to pick its winners algorithmically. Techmeme decides which stories are hot based on how much coverage they're getting, and from whom. So if you click on its No. 1 story -- Microsoft's plans to buy Yahoo -- you can see the dozens of outlets that wrote about it at the time -- a solid measure of a story's impact. Calling its list "objective" is Techmeme being tongue-in-cheeky, of course, because in popular culture, popularity means something different than importance. So just because a story was covered widely doesn't always mean it was legitimately big.
Still, it's useful to know which stories the media decides to focus on, so we can figure out which ones they decide to ignore.
-- David Sarno