by    in About Ranker, New Features

Why Ranker?

A post from Ranker CEO Clark Benson:

 I like to rank things.  I have been making lists all my life.  So do a lot of people (according to Zogby International, 80% of people make lists).

When I was in middle school I probably read The Book Of Lists and The Book Of Lists 2 5-10 times each.  But I never read them cover-to-cover.   The beauty of a list is how self-contained it is.  Lists don’t require your undivided attention for hours on end – you can digest a list in minutes and still get a lot of depth.

There’s a quote from High Fidelity “what really matters is what you like, not what you are like.” 

I empathise a lot with that.  I’ve been keeping some form of a “journal”, most of my life – but only on rare occasions have I found myself writing multiple paragraphs about my day or my feelings.  Of course, a lot of it is that I’m a dude, and dudes just don’t spend a lot of time blathering about their emotional state.

No, what I write are singular thoughts and observations, a funny gag from a college buddy, a random business idea.

Or a list. I am VERY into music.  It is safe to say that I am an utter music fanatic. For me, music is time – hearing a song – even in my head – can immediately take me back to that time frame where that song was omnipresent in my world.  I don’t look back much, so I cherish the ability of music to almost force me to look back.  For almost as long as I could write, I would jot down lists of songs (and later, albums).

When I was about 9 I would sit by the radio on a Sunday morning and write down Casey Kasem’s Top 40, eagerly trying to guess the top 3 via a Sherlock Holmes-esque deductive technique (I know that sounds like a total waste of time but I am old enough that when I was 9 we didn’t quite have video games (OK, Pong had dropped), let alone the internet).  When I was packing my stuff to move to California after college I found a “Vote for Your 10 Alltime Favorite Songs” flier from Chicago radio powerhouse WLS-AM filled out in my 5th grade handwriting.  Sadly I threw this out and only remember half – “Jet” and “Band On The Run” by Wings, “Come Sail Away” by Styx, something by Queen, and – yes – “King Tut” by Steve Martin and “Rubber Biscuit” by the Blues Brothers (If you are a U.S. male of about my age you might understand).

OK that was a bit of a tangent – hope you are still with me – but my point is that personally, a list of the songs I loved at a moment in time is as close as anything I have to a personal history.  And I don’t think I’m the only one like this – I think a lot of us find that a record of the places they visited, the movies they saw in the theatre, the concerts or ballgames they attended, the people they had a crush on – is a very relevant keepsake of the past.  I’d like to think that a tool like Ranker could be used to easily document and save some of the events/places/things in one’s life, whether that list is published or just kept privately (about half the lists on Ranker to date are private lists).

Every year I make a year-end list of my favorite albums and email it out to a bunch of people.  I do it more for myself than for others, though I spend a bit more time on “the List” because others will see it.  Typing out every artist and album name is a pain in the arse, as is remembering all the album titles. “There’s got to be a better way” thought I.  I looked on the web and there are a number of sites for people to make lists – some of them general interest, some of them for specific categories of things.  But none of them really solved the problem of making listmaking easy enough to add real value to the user.  I wanted to blog, but I wanted to blog in list form, and I wanted the items to be drawn from the same database.  I like statistics, and I like using data to make decisions.  By using a central database for everyone to use to add items to their lists, we could generate endless statistical correlations and aggregations as more and more users joined in and ranked whatever their passions were.

So I decided to build Ranker. I spent a few years honing the idea mostly in my head while I was engaged in selling my prior web startup eCRUSH/eSPIN, and after taking some time off I dove right in, investing a pile of the proceeds from that sale (when we launched our closed beta a friend said, “Congratulations, you just spent a million dollars so you could put your 500 Best Bands of All Time on the internet”).  She was just ribbing me, but the goal in my head has always been to build a tool. It would have been a lot easier to just build a site for ranking bands and albums.  I thought “If I feel this way about music, someone else feels this way about cameras, or birdwatching, or The Simpsons”.

So we spent the time to build a platform that supports all kinds of different interests and passions. I wanted to combine the drop-and-drag “rank-ordering” interface of Netflix with the playlist-organizational capabilities of iTunes.  And of course build a social aspect, and a publishing platform, around this. And I’m a data nerd, I like to filter, and sort. The dataset we use from Freebase, combined with a lot of editorial effort, gives users the ability to sort, and (soon) filter any list by all sorts of properties.

We make it easy to build a list with a lot behind it – we give you default images and metadata, and a drop-and-drag/autosuggest interface to find and add items (as an added bonus, we even throw in the numbering).  Since we provide the entire format, this frees the user up for the fun stuff- putting things in order, deciding what’s best, what’s worst, what’s funniest.  Writing blurbs.  Rating items. Making lists and sharing them.

Since we launched I have been blown away with the quality and creativity of the lists our user have been making. It’s proven to be far more than just everyones favorites albums, books, and films. Given the early stage this site is at, I can’t wait to see the future. A few fave early user lists that I should have given a shout-out to months ago:

But at the moment of publishing this post, Ranker – cool as it is – is still a lot more one-dimensional than it will be very shortly. We’ve built a system where everything is connected, and that’s not entirely clear… yet. Stay tuned – there is a lot more coming down the line in the very near future at Ranker.