Sort & search
Search is powerful, essential and lucrative. Google demonstrated just how much value can be created when you let people easily find what they want.
Sort, on the other hand, is easily overlooked and something that most of us can work with.
For example, the way a restaurant sorts the wines on the wine list at will have a dramatic impact on what people order. If you list the cheap wines first, people will probably end up spending less. And when your wine list migrates to an iPad and you let the diner sort by price, popularity and other indicators, consumption patterns will instantly change.
Hotels.com, Zagats, Kayak and hundreds of other sites let you sort by quality, ranking and price. Not only does this change the way we choose, it also changes the behavior of the those being ranked! Once a metric for ranking becomes popular (or the default) then those being ranked will work to make their ranking go up. No surprise. Then how come Airbnb.com doesn't let users rank places by the quality of their reviews? It would cost them close to nothing, but it would dramatically change how hard a location works to earn good ratings.
When someone encounters what you make, you must make a choice about the order of what's on offer, and you also make the choice as to whether or not you'll let the user sort by other attributes. Typepad doesn't provide me with a way to let you sort the posts on this blog by popularity, but it would certainly change how you consumed it if they did.
Alphabetical, numerical and first-come sorts by default are primarily a copout. They imply that a simple search is what the user is after, but that's almost never the case. Users want you to build information into the order of things. When we have the guts (and tech) to provide relevant sorting, we present a point of view and train our users as well as our providers.
When we rank people, or the products we create, we have the opportunity to not only change the way people select, we can also change what we make.