Culturalist, a social network that lets you create and share Top 10 lists, is launching into public beta mode today. If you’re interested in participating, go to https://www.culturalist.com/invitations/new to receive an invite to be granted access.
I recently caught up with the company’s founder, Jordan Roth, who is also president of Jujamcyn Theaters, which owns five Broadway theaters (The St. James, Al Hirschfeld, August Wilson, Eugene O’Neill and Walter Kerr theaters), to discuss why he created Culturalist, why lists draw so much engagement online, and what the most popular lists have been while in private beta.
Here are excerpts:
Question: How and when did you come up with the idea for Culturalist?
Roth: In all of my work, I am focused on broadening and deepening the cultural conversation — creating ways for more people to talk more substantively about their passions and opinions. In observing how we talk about culture, both online and off, you can see that we all have a strong need to share what we know, what we love and what we don’t. For several years, I’ve wanted to create a way to convene those conversations that would be fun and engaging and shareable, and that would also drive towards a collective wisdom. Top 10 lists, a universal way of talking culture, became the perfect vocabulary for those conversations.
Q: Talk about the Culturalist social network and its features. Why do you focus on Top 10 lists?
Roth: When you think about what’s popular online, Top 10 lists really stand out. They’re sticky, drive high engagement and are easily read, displayed and shared. But at the same time, 10 items is a pretty deep dive into a topic. Most Top 10 lists that you see are perceived as fact but when you notice they’re created by an editor or writer, they’re actually subjective opinions of the people publishing content. By creating your own Top 10 lists on your favorite topics, you’re curating a magazine spread of your passion. We want to let people be the editors of their own cultural discussions.
Another aspect of the Top 10 lists is the ability to make your list beautiful. Our users pair each entry on a list with rich media – videos, GIFs, photos – which creates a really beautiful presentation of the conversation.
Once you create a list, it becomes part of a conversation. Culturalist takes every list in a conversation and produces the Aggregate, distilling all the lists into a single new list reflecting the opinions of the Culturalist community on that topic. This feature provides a more representative understanding of popular opinion because of our ranking algorithm, which recognizes where items rank in users’ lists. Over time, the Aggregate will learn to weigh different users’ lists based on the popularity and expertise of individual lists and users on the site.
Users can also follow other people on the site, ‘like’ lists and subscribe to conversations which will alert you when more lists are contributed to a particular topic.
Q: What makes your social network unique?
Roth: Culturalist is where the culture conversation is happening. The network is unique in a few ways. We’re talking about the full range of culture – from popular to niche, from silly to serious, from lowbrow to highbrow – in the most appealing medium online: Top 10 lists.
Culturalist makes preference data contextualized. Rather than just liking ‘Breaking Bad’ and ‘The West Wing,’ I can list Breaking Bad No. 1 and The West Wing No. 3 on my Best TV Dramas of All-Time list. By putting these into a list, I’m telling my friends something more specific and contextual about what I like. People who follow me understand where these items rank in my personality.
Q: Why do you think lists draw so much engagement online? BuzzFeed is famous for its listicles, and according to an article in The Guardian, Buzzfeed “had record traffic of 85 million unique visitors in August, triple what it was 12 months ago and eight times the traffic it had two years previously.”
Roth: Lists are popular for a few reasons. The first and most important is that they’re definitive and thus serve as a starting point for a debate. If I list Madonna No. 1 and Lady Gaga No. 5 on my Best Female Pop Stars of All-Time list, you might vociferously disagree, which will spur you to tell me I’m wrong by making your own list. So much of our conversations about culture come down to debates about the merits of different aspects of culture, so Top 10 lists make a compelling way to engage in these conversations.
Also, lists are highly consumable. I can more easily know what your favorite songs are if told through a Top 10 list rather than a 500-word prose blog post.
Finally, we have an innate desire to rank things. If you go to a new restaurant, I’d bet you compare that restaurant with previous ones you’ve been to. You might even start to compile a list of the Best Italian Restaurants in New York City in your mind without even thinking about it.
Q: What is your business model for making money? Is Culturalist free? Do you sell ads, etc…?
Roth: Culturalist is free to join and make lists. We do have revenue plans, but as we’re just launching into public beta, we’re most focused on making the site a fun, engaging and beautiful experience for people and building up our community.
Q: While in private beta, what has been the most popular Top 10 list on Culturalist, and why do you think that is?
Roth: Two of the most popular lists on Culturalist so far have been “Worst Things That I Don’t Like that Everyone Else Seems To Love” and “Best TV Women I Want to Be Friends With.” They have been so popular because they’re highly personal, so people have lots of opinions, and they invoke specific emotions. “The Worst Things That I Don’t Like That Everyone Else Seems to Love” touches a nerve with people because they’re disagreeing with things that are – or are supposedly – very popular. In that way, it’s a very meta Culturalist.
“The Best TV Women I Want to Be Friends With” is similar in that it evokes a happy emotion. People feel a connection to the women on these lists because they’ve followed them on their shows, understood their personalities and developed a deep fondness for them. Also, there are so many great women on TV shows through the years that the list sparks some great debate.