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The Greatly Exaggerated Death Of The "Who's Who" List?

Are you old enough to remember the "Who's Who" list? Actually, it's not just one list but many companies that offer these sorts of lists. Usually they are billed as professional networking groups of influential people and they actively recruit new members through flattering emails and letters talking about "exclusivity" and "rare achivements." In the past, most people used it as a sort of virtual rolodex to extend their personal networks and find leads of people to hire or partner with.

Over the past few months as I have been contacted by several of these lists to be part of their "exclusive" 2009 publication. They have names like Presidential, Continental and Marquis – and they all promise things like blasting my bio on a billboard in Times Square, and accessing a site where I can connect with all sorts of other highly influential people that I may not know yet. All in exchange for my paying a small "listing fee" to augment my "free listing" which apparently will be part of the directory anyway.

With the rise of online professional networking tools like LinkedIn and social networks like Facebook – you might have thought surely these Who's Who lists have become a forgotten relic of the past, but they seem to be alive and well. Though it may be hard to imagine people still pay for this sort of thing for someone like me who is active on social networks and publishes content to connect to more people, perhaps this Who's Who list subculture is the secret engine really driving business relationships and networks. Am I missing something here, or are these Who's Who lists a virtual ego stroke destined to join Encylopedia Brittanica as tools of a past age that our digital lives are making obsolete?

4 thoughts on “The Greatly Exaggerated Death Of The "Who's Who" List?”

  1. You are indeed missing something.

    While a few Who’s Who lists may be legit and struggling to work in its current model, the great majority of them are actually thinly veiled scams. They do as you say, stroke your ego and promise you the world for a fee of some sort. If you pay the fee, its likely that you will get your name printed in a book no one ever sees, or listed in a directory that no one cares about.

    They have relentless telemarketers even after you say ‘no thanks.’ I also suspect that there may be a network of sorts between these lists, because once you say no to one, you will get calls from several more.

    If you tell them that Linkedin, facebook, or some other site are more reliable (and free), they will launch into a spiel on how prestigious their list is. Simply asking them “do you even know who I am? and why do I deserve this?” makes it very clear from their answers that they are just telemarketers and you are a name in a list of many.

    A quick search for ‘whos who scam’ will explain it better than I.

  2. AMEN. I have long thought these things were scams and always laughed when I saw someone list their Who’s Who credential in a bio. The last one that called me lost interest VERY QUICK when I told them I wouldn’t buy their book. Somehow my free listing vanished!

  3. I honestly thought that they only did this for high school students. Random, I can’t even imagine why anyone would pay to have their names included on this Rolodex. Maybe the signal is stronger because only 5 people utilized the service?

  4. I am old enough to have heard of the Who is Who lists, but not old enough to have ever been involved in either being listed or caring who was listed.

    I think it is funny that you have to pay a listing fee for a FREE listing. I guess they can come up with some kind of excuse for charging you, whatever.

    Personally, I think it is a ploy to make money and stroking the EGOs of people to do so. I am not saying they won’t post you as a “WHO” because they probably will, but what real benefit does it provide. I am guessing NONE.


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