Why the A-List Doesn’t Matter

An old familiar discussion has popped up again in the blogosphere. Every few months a debate breaks out about the blogging “A-List” and the inequities faced by those not included.

This time, Jason Calacanis (for the “A-List”) and Tony Hung (for the “blue collar” bloggers) go at it, with healthy interjection from Hugh MacLeod of Gaping Void. Tony makes good points about the fact that many A-List bloggers were already famous when they began blogging, and that they tend to be clustered in California and New York City, but other than that, I’m not sure why anyone (especially someone as talented as Tony) should dwell on this subject.

My friend Loren Feldman who, like myself, was an unknown a year or so ago, chimes in as only Loren can via a video entitled Stop Crying. While I don’t agree that “there is no A-List” in a literal sense, I do agree with Loren’s overall point—just work, and don’t worry about it, because it just doesn’t matter.

Of course there’s a blogging A-List—Technorati assures it by providing rankings and by highlighting the Top 100. It’s human nature to rank and classify, and the blogosphere is no different. But that’s not the point, because unlike with other hierarchical systems, in this case the A-List doesn’t have anything to do with your success unless you let it.

And when you look at it that way, the truth is there really is no A-List.

Jason Calacanis and Hugh MacLeod have never linked to me, and it’s likely they’ll never link to you. So what? They are not gatekeepers, because social media provides innumerable other paths to gaining an audience.

That’s why the A-List doesn’t matter, and why social media is so cool. You can succeed without those famous bloggers as long as you work at it. And it’s easier online than it’s ever been in the real world.

I think paraphrasing a wise little boy from The Matrix says it best:

Spoon boy: Do not try and make the A-List. That’s impossible. Instead… only try to realize the truth.

Blogger: What truth?

Spoon boy: There is no A-List.

Blogger: There is no A-List?

Spoon boy: Then you’ll see, that it is not the A-List that holds you back, it is only yourself.

There is no spoon
Photo by Kevin Labianco

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Reader Comments (74)

  1. says

    Great point — I would have been happy to let it alone, except that I wrote the *original* post in February.

    Lorelle picked up on it last week, which, I imagine is how Jason got wind of it.

    And I guess as well, since there was so much interest on my blog, it would have just seemed *rude* to not contribute a few thoughts on the matter 😉

    t @ dji

  2. says

    Heh, well… I’m still waiting for someone to say, “If it doesn’t matter, what the hell are *you* talking about it for?” 😉

  3. says

    Who are you? :p ;o)


    Great point there.

    Look at it a little like celebs, you KNOW you not likely to meet one often, but so what!?

    Sometime you might, but…

    If people worried about it they would never get to where they realy could because fear of “never being quite good enough” or “I’ll never be that good” it will supress them.

    It’s amazing how many people really come out of the shadows as good writers, good “conversationalist”, after all that’s what it is as you know.

    Embrace the power you have at your fingertips.
    Speak your voice!

    Any lack of success stops at the mirror.
    Just as success starts at the mirror.

    Get blogging!

    Connect, join the conversation!

    Who knows what “medium to big”
    (b , c list?.. :p ) blogger will link to you, or even blog a post about you!?

    Rob (a d list?, na a one off!) :o)

  4. says

    While I certainly enjoy the status of Official B Lister (and I got the hot pink badge to prove it), and I enjoy the process of blogging and getting to know all you swell guys & gals — there’s only one A-List I truly care about. It’s the that sez “New B2B project. Call Roberta.”

    I’m in this writer’s life for the living, not the glamour :=)

  5. says

    Spoon Boy! That was classic and too funny man. I think with the billion or so Internet users, we’ll all be able to carve ourselves a piece of the overall list. Besides there are 25 other letters to make 25 other lists that we can conquer. Even if it’s the Z list, there’s status in that.

    Movie reference: 16 Candles:

    Sam: But they’re all pretty much jerks though, aren’t they?

    Farmer Ted: Yeah, but the thing is, I’m kinda like the leader. Kind of like the King of the Dipshits.

    Sam: Well that’s pretty cool. Hey, but a lot can happen over a year.


  6. says

    Ha! I love that quote. Mix that in with another Anthony Michael Hall related social media gem from the Breakfast Club:

    Claire Standish: So academic clubs aren’t the same as other kinds of clubs.

    John Bender: Ah… but to dorks like him, they are. What do you guys do in your club?

    Brian Johnson: Well, in physics we… we talk about physics, properties of physics.

    John Bender: So it’s sorta social, demented and sad, but social.

  7. says

    It’s funny that by announcing that the list doesn’t matter and then devoting attention to it has got you the link that you don’t care about. That link however has got you a new subscriber in me…So let me ask you again, does it matter?

    The A-List is just that – a list. What it does do though is introduce blogs like this to people like me who would’ve taken a lot longer to come across it if it wasn’t for Hugh Mcleod.

  8. says

    Oh no. You didn’t take it back to the Breakfast Club did you?

    Thanks for the proper perspective Brian. I’d still like to make the top 1000 before January though. Hey, labels and statistics work for me.

  9. says

    Damn Brian, if I had been drinking a soda when I read your response, it would have exploded out of my nose in laughter.


  10. says

    See, here I thought I was a tween – definitely not a A-lister, but not on the famous Z-list either. Stuck smack dab in the middle zone somewhere.

    My 9-year old insists that’s not what a tween is. Too bad. I was thinking of making a sidebar badge for it 😉

  11. says

    Ah, but Darren Rowse is in the A-List, and his links probably had a reasonably large effect on subscriptions here 😉 (At least, that’s how I got here!)

  12. says

    Yes Peter, and I’m sure Darren will link to you as well if you have something that fits his audience.

    But you do see that this is more of a philosophical post, right? It’s not about who has linked to me or any other particular blogger, it’s about a mindset of individual empowerment. :)

  13. says


    What you said today is a vital concept to success; but what makes your words so important is that they apply to any endeavor.

    I’m a novelist, not a blogger. I read your blog to learn about marketing per se. The minute I start caring about Grisham, Rowling, or King’s status vs. mine is the minute I lose. Any sprinter or swimmer knows you never look at your competitor while racing. You concentrate on your race, your pace, your progress. In doing so, you will perform to the best of your ability that day. That’s all that matters. The instant you compare yourself to your competition, you lose the psychological and thus, physical, edge.

    With time and effort, a person will make it to the A-list. The key thing about the ones who do make it and remain is that they have the same focus while there as they had during their ascent; they couldn’t care less about whom they’re with. Those are the traits of a champ in any field.

  14. says

    Damn ! I wish I’d written that.

    That’s a helluva compliment coming from a tweener.

    And yes, Tony, I’ll take one of those badges with pride.

  15. says

    If you believe there is a finite amount of readers, interest, and traffic in the Internet…an A-list would matter.

    But there isn’t. And it doesn’t.

  16. says

    Sorry, your reasoning above has the common errors of first assuming a strawman of *global* hierarchy, knocking down the strawman, then making statements which are simply untrue.

    Attention is finite. Of course one is interested in a particular topic, and not interested in the rankings related to other topics. But per-topic, locally, exponential distribution means a very few people have a very large amount of influence. To deny this is simply at odds with the structural nature of distribution of attention.

  17. says

    Of course attention is finite. It’s that way for television programs, magazines, political ideologies, religions and fashion trends. You still have to be saying something worth paying attention to. What’s cool is that blogging allows anyone the means to create a television program, magazine, political ideology, religion or fashion trend, but it doesn’t guarantee success.

    No one is entitled to attention or success. That’s just the way the world works.

  18. says

    What may be important to those who are not A-Listers is the ability to participate in the overall conversation that is being read by the large number of A-List readers. If one individual believes that he has something important to contribute to the conversation and is not able to inject those ideas, an apparent A-List has formed in the eyes of that individual.

    If there is an A-List, how did it form? Non-A-List bloggers found non-A-List bloggers they enjoyed reading and started a conversation with them. They linked to interesting ideas, information and personalities. They chose those individuals based on their personal interests. If those bloggers were an isolated group with no outside readers, would it be an A-List? Not likely.

    What makes them appear to be A-Listers are the multitude of people outside the A-List who do read their writings but are not participating at the same level of the conversation.

    So how does one get into the A-List? My guess is that you probably have to add something valuable to the conversation, and you have to make sure it gets heard. If you don’t make the A-List, you are not likely offering quality content or making yourself known.

    Readers also take part in selecting the A-List. In the end, we all have limited bandwidth for reading blogs. So, we occasionally prune our subscriptions retaining those that meet our needs or interests.

    As we subscribe and prune, fine-tuning the blogs we want to read, we collectively select the blogs that are most read; the ones that are the center of the conversation and that direct the conversation. We all have some sort of a say in who the A-List is.

  19. says

    It’s not impossible for a blog to rise to popularity, obviously. But it’s hell of a lot easier if you’re part of the A-list circle of friends. Hard work alone won’t do it. I’ve seen too many amazing blogs languishing in obscurity because the A-listers don’t read them. Hard work and smart promotion might do it, but not hard work alone.

    I wrote a long post about this here:

  20. says

    I’m with you all the way. The whole A-list thing reminds of the cool kids in high school, who thought they had the world by the tail but later learned life doesn’t work that way!

  21. says

    Different question. How do I unsubscribe from the “each e-mail comment” feature? You guys all sound real cool but I don’t want you clogging up my inbox.

  22. says

    Martin, there should be a Manage my Subscriptions option at the bottom of each email. Click through and select the comment thread you want to unsubscribe from.

  23. says

    This is a great conversation. Everything from “f-u’s” to “you da man’s”. That’s a great sign that you’re on to something.

    From the moment I started paying attention to blogging, I’ve been pointed towards the A-list. I’ve taken it to mean anyone who’s making good money from their blog, or at least is highly influential in what they do — both of which are incredibly subjective.

    The point of the post, or at least, what I took from it, wasn’t so much to debate the existence or non-existence of the A-list, but more to not hold it as a barrier to your own actions as a blogger.

    Go, Spoon boy, go.

  24. says

    I would say that I’m definitely in the bottom section of the Alphabet List. But I’m cool with that. I put in the work that I can on my blog while simultaneously trying to build a business….I just hope that the 40 or readers that I regularly get are getting something out of what I write.

    Anyway, I made a comment earlier today on another blog that touched on the exact same thing that you talked about. You can check it out here.

  25. says

    I’m even farther down than you Frank, nowhere to go but up one letter at a time.

    I would agree, if you do and continue to work it, eventually you will succeed. Even if you do not get the aid of an A-list.

    My guess is that A could stand for a bunch of different meanings anyway.

  26. says

    Adam your right I think that it’s important to remember that most of the time Blogging is about people’s interpretation or opinion on a particular subject or facts. Although there are more influential bloggers around this should not deter newer or more part time bloggers from putting across there points and views which can also be equally as useful or interesting to read. I say “Good on the A list bloggers” but don’t be afraid to be in the Z list with me 😉 I think it sounds better anyway!

  27. says

    I like to think of myself as the Kathy Griffin of the blogosphere — a D-list blogger . . . then again, I blog for myself and nobody else, so what the eff do I know?

  28. Fiona says

    “And it’s easier online then it’s ever been in the real world.” That’s the second time in as many days that I’ve seen the word “then” used instead of “than”. I can’t help it–I’m a wannabe editor. Hey, it got me to spend more time here then I would have AND I’ve left a comment–more than I would have done otherwise.

    But to address your point, yes, it can be about not letting (perceived) limitations get in the way of your success. Life is full of stories of people who scraped their way to the top (or anywhere further up the unscalable wall) by their fingernails. Or it can be about being or not being on the A-list. It is what you decide to make it. There is a proviso to that, though. And that is, the A-list won’t matter, provided you DO THE WORK–do your homework, hone your skill, take the time (and then there’s the editing bit). And it’s about working smarter, not harder. Nothing we don’t know already, right …

  29. says

    Being in the A-List takes too much work. It’s a lot easier to be one of the D-List denizens, and use comments to wake up the A-Listers.

  30. says

    I’ve only read two posts so far and already I love this blog. Anyone who quotes the Matrix is A-Okay in my book.

    Thanks for this post. The adjustment of perspective was much needed today :)

  31. says

    I love the Matrix and I never thought of calling that kid “spoon boy”, how funny!! (and… wasn’t the character a girl? When Neo went to see the Oracle for the first time?) :)

  32. says

    Everybody always wants a piece of the top dog Brian. No matter the industry, the newbies always set their sights on the market leaders.

    While there is a great deal to be learned from studying the leaders, carving your own niche is critically important as the market is constantly evolving, making room for new leaders.

    Today’s newbie, armed with innovative ideas, good writing and an attitude of persistence, just may become tomorrow’s market leader, the new A-list!

  33. says

    Daniel, if you consider the bloggers in the Technorati Top 100 “market leaders” you might want to check again. Outside of gadgets and celebrities, there are a whole bunch of markets that are not represented, nor will they ever be. But people who hit certain niches can make more money than Robert Scoble ever will, PodTech options notwithstanding. 😉

  34. says

    As a current member of the D-List, this article gives me hope. Very well written and thanks for sharing.

    p.s. Loved the Matrix style quote at the end!

  35. Anony Mouse says

    Technorati’s top 100 blog list?

    Other than perhaps the top ten, many of the others shouldn’t even be in a top 1000 with many other great blogs found non existent. Worse, ARS Technica, a fine site no doubt, but a blog? Arguable.

    At any rate, if Technorati’s list is any measure then I wouldn’t worry about it either.

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