Overrated: Five Things We’d Like a Little Less of in 2012

Well, it’s time again for our semi-annual “overrated” list, a completely subjective analysis of things that we (I) could have stood to read a little less about in 2011 — not because the persons or companies included did too much in the way of self-promotion as received an inordinate amount of attention.

I’m guessing I’ll find more consensus than writer-firebrand Christopher Hitchens, who once called out lobsters, champagne, and picnics as among life’s most overrated pleasures. But if you vehemently disagree with me or have other ideas about what the world could use less of in 2012, please let us know in the comments section, or else send me an email flame.


[slide title=”Lists of Power Players”]

Lists have always been an inescapable part of the publishing business. Readers love them; so do advertisers, who love readers. I’m creating this slideshow right now to drive eyeballs.

Still, if I see another list of People to Know Now before the end of this year, I’m going to pull out my hair. It’s not that the lists provide zero value, but many of them feature an aggravating amount of herd mentality.

Consider how often we’ve seen or read about Gina Bianchini, the former CEO of Ning. Bianchini is unquestionably smart and driven. But Ning was not a runaway success. It sold for $150 million in mostly stock to Glam Media in September. And Bianchini was replaced as CEO in March 2010. Still, while leading the company, she graced the covers of Fortune and Fast Company, was featured on the Charlie Rose Show, and appeared on countless tech-superstar-type lists.

Now that Bianchini is back with a months-old startup called Mightybell, expect more of the same. Bianchini herself has said that the verdict is still out regarding how people are going to use Mightybell, which aims to help people accomplish goals by providing the guidance to get there in incremental steps. But that didn’t stop Forbes from gushing at Mightybell’s launch: “Will Mightybell Be The Next Facebook? Or The Next Foursquare?” And just last week, Business Insider put her on its “23 Tech Superstars Poised to Own 2012” list.

It isn’t Bianchini’s fault that she’s everywhere. Blame the media. Actually, I’ll do it for you in the next slide…

[slide title=”Modern-Day News”]

Journalism is in a pretty troubling state, as most reporters will readily concede. I wrote a bit about the “echo chamber” in which reporters now operate back in March. But Pablo Boczkowski, a communications studies professor at Northwestern, does a much better job of explaining why the increased volume of information available in the world is actually creating less diverse content. In a nutshell, because of social media, organizations are so aware of what their competitors are writing at nearly every moment that they can’t help but imitate them.

It’s the practical thing to do. If someone has “the story,” a reporter’s editor wants the reporter to jump on it, too. Still, the public gets stiffed as a result, and that much is plain in political news coverage. It was just as easy to see in 2011’s coverage of startups, investors, and entrepreneurs. (See the 500-plus stories about Gowalla’s shutdown last week, as just one example. And yes, I wrote about Gowalla, too.)

[slide title=”Twitter Fights”]

Hey, we like a good Twitter fight as much as the next guy. In fact, we’ve covered a couple of them this year, including a skirmish last March between Business Insider editor Henry Blodget and the person or persons behind @gepublicaffairs, the Twitter account of General Electric’s public relations department. It erupted one week after the New York Times reported that GE paid nothing in U.S. taxes for 2010. After GE called the report “misleading” on Twitter – it later said it had a “small U.S. income tax liability” —  Blodget posted a fusillade of related questions, most of which GE managed to trip over.

Unfortunately, not all Twitter fights are as interesting to witness. In fact, we’re often reminded instead of the argument sketch from “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.”


[slide title=”Celebrity Investors”]

Celebrities didn’t break into the world of startup investing this year, but they definitely made a stronger showing than in past years.

It’s fine if they or their money managers want to get them in on the occasional deal, too. I’m just unclear why we have to hear about it afterward from the companies. I can’t think of a startup that will go further in this world because of the involvement of non-executive celebrity investors, and that goes for Foursquare, Airbnb, and Chegg, backed by Ashton Kutcher. If anyone’s reputation has gotten a boost as the result of Kutcher’s investments, it’s Kutcher, who’s now widely considered a savvy investor despite his on-screen persona as a dopey hot guy.

[slide title=”Klout”]

If Goldman Sachs has its eye on a short list of startups that may eventually go public, it makes sense that Klout be on it. Though the company was founded in 2008, it began transforming the lives of social media users on a broad scale this year, establishing itself as the arbiter of how influential (or not) people are online. For example, for the first time this year, many media outlets, including ours, began encouraging reporters to be mindful of their Klout scores and to make reasonable efforts to improve them.

The company is doing plenty to impact the lives of advertising clients and event organizers, too. From a recent New York Times story: “When the Gansevoort Park Avenue in Manhattan held a series of Sunday rooftop parties this summer, some of the hotel’s attendees were culled from Klout’s highest rankers; the entrepreneur Peter Shankman turned to Klout for a party he held at the Hudson Hotel with JetBlue; and the fashion stylist Lauren Rae Levy demanded a score of 50 or above for bloggers on her invitation list to the Malan Breton show at Lincoln Center.”

No wonder the company is reportedly sealing up a giant new round of funding, less than a year after raising its first institutional round of $8.5 million, including from Kleiner Perkins and Greycroft Partners.

Still, I’m with TechCrunch’s Alexia Tsotis when she says that no one whose job doesn’t entail social media marketing “gives a damn about your Klout score.” I certainly don’t judge who I interview, consult, or befriend based on Klout’s estimate of their online influence.

I don’t care about my own Klout score. I’m already connected to a number assigned to me by a company that’s helping to “manage” my future by selling that number for its own gain. It’s called Equifax, and if I could function in this world without it, I might care a little less about that one, too.