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Editor's Note: Making a List...

Oct 10, 2003, 23:30 (3 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)

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By Brian Proffitt
Managing Editor

I have this thing about lists.

It's not really an obsessive thing, more along the lines of a "why do I even bother?" thing. Like many of my personality quirks, it stems from my childhood, where I grew up watching (and obsessing) about college football.

This is because I lived in a town where the local university had an almost-mythic football program, and that mythos invariably rubbed off on the rest of us in that blue-collar town, even though 95 percent of us could never afford to attend said university.

In the US, collegiate (American-style) football has an interesting ranking system to determine how teams are ranked. When I say "interesting" I really mean "time-honored, yet slightly stupid."

Because of the brevity of the college football season, there is really no time for teams to face each other in playoffs, as in other sports. So, teams are ranked by a rather arbitrary system loosely based on their win-loss record, with other factors such as who did the team play to get this record, and how hard are the other teams' rosters of opponents, and (I think) some sort of tea-leaf reading.

Watching my local team fervently, I would be frequently frustrated by these rankings, because they often did not reflect what I believed was the Truth. While I have moved on to other things in my sports-watching, I still carry a strong bias against subjective lists.

I don't screamingly object to all rankings. If they are based on real stats, I will more readily accept them. And some subjective lists, like the top 10 most geekiest hobbies list I recently found in a San Francisco Web site, are funny enough to appreciate. (Though since I participate in hobbies 10 and 3, it's a wonder I have children at all.)

But you can tell I was looking at the recent Silicon.com list of the top IT agenda setters with more than a little suspicion.

This list ranked Linus Torvalds at No. 5 which, I suppose, is pretty good, considering the huge number IT workers and players out there in the world. A number of jokes have already been made at Linus' expense about "only" being number 5, but I won't tread down that path.

Such lists are, to me, only marginally interesting, since I don't think they reflect reality very well. Or, if they do, they only reflect a snapshot, a brief moment in time.

But putting aside my bias for a moment, what made this list interesting to me was that in the top five people listed, three of them are are will be using open-source technologies to further their plans. Torvalds at number five is obvious.

The number four entry is Hu Jintao, the Presdient of China. Silicon.com placed him in this slot to reflect Hu's growing commitment to kick open the IT doors in China and welcome new, Western technologies. The bio on Hu even mentions his country's planned move to an open-source alternative to Windows.

And then there's number one, Steve Jobs. As the big driver behind Apple, past and present, Jobs has also turned to open-source to create OS X and later the Safari browser. You can agree or disagree with his top status, but there's no denying that open source is shaping the direction of Job's decisions.

Again, the rankings on this list and lists like it tend to be to arbitrary to hold up to someone and say "Look! See? It is decidedly so!" Unless you like doing that sort of thing. But I did think it was significant that the people to made it to the top are, in some way, involved with open source.

Something a lot of people have a thing about.