Ranking The Root 100: Substance Matters

Tech guru Omar Wasow explains how we improved the formula to diversify the 2012 list.

Omar Wasow
Omar Wasow

(The Root) — In 2011, thanks to tech guru Omar Wasow, we ranked honorees on The Root 100 for the first time using an influence score — the result of a mathematical formula that he developed. The formula combines reach (media and Internet mentions, plus Twitter followers) and substance (a score determined by our editorial team and based on a person’s contributions to his or her field or community) to establish an influence score.

For this year’s list, Wasow, an adviser to The Root, kept the influence rankings but tweaked the formula to give lower-profile, but no less accomplished, nominees a chance to make the list, alongside celebrities with large reach scores, like Tyler Perry and Beyoncé. Compare the 2011 list with the 2012 list, and it’s clear how the new formula has shaken up the group: There are 42 honorees this year who are new to The Root 100. Lower-profile people doing powerful things, like civil rights lawyer Debo P. Adegbile, neurologist Olajide Williams and TV producer Erica Shelton, made the list this year.

We talked to Wasow, an Internet pioneer who co-founded BlackPlanet, about how the formula changed this year and why.

The Root: What are the elements that go into measuring a person’s influence score for The Root 100?

Omar Wasow: We define influence as the combination of two qualities. One is reach — how large is the audience of people who are aware of your work? And then the other quality is substance. The way we define substance is really to what degree in the last year you have done breakthrough work that’s helped redefine your field. How much have you been pushing the limit in your field? It could be in art, sports, business or entertainment — but we’re looking to score people on a scale of zero to 10 based on how substantive the work they’re doing is.

TR: How is this year’s formula different from last year’s?

OW: In the simplest terms, we now put more weight on substance and less weight on reach. They both still matter — and they matter a lot — but we have given substance relatively more weight in the way we’re ranking people this year.

TR: Why the change?

OW: We liked last year’s list a lot, but we wanted to make sure that people who might be reaching a smaller audience but doing really important work also could make it into the top 100. There are a lot of people who do really important work that’s less visible, and so someone might be an influential business leader who does a lot of deal-making but doesn’t get written up in the newspaper a lot. Or someone might be a deputy to an enormously important person — that person may be doing really vital, breakthrough work that doesn’t get a lot of press. For a person who was less of a public figure, it was nearly impossible to make the list in last year’s model. That wasn’t the case this year.