Who's Who (or "Who is Who") is the title of a number of reference publications, generally containing concise biographical information on the prominent people of a country. The title has been adopted as an expression meaning a group of notable persons.
The oldest and best-known is the annual publication Who's Who, a reference work on contemporary prominent people in Britain published annually since 1849.
The title "Who's Who" is in the public domain, and thousands of Who's Who compilations of varying scope and quality (and similar publications without the words "Who's Who") have been published by various authors and publishers. Many such publications can be described as Who's Who scams; they list any people likely to buy the book, or to pay for inclusion, with no criterion of genuine notability. In some cases the publisher also sells its list of biographees, optionally broken down by profession, sex, political affiliation or religion, to direct mail marketers.
Some Who's Who books have a title in the language of the country concerned:
Who's Who scams involve the selling of "memberships" in fraudulent directories that are created online or through instant publishing services. These fraudulent directories represent thinly veiled moneymaking scams.
A scam may begin with a telephone interview or online questionnaire to validate a potential target's personal information. This information can be included in the fraudulent directory, sold to other marketing firms, or used in future attacks such as phishing emails. Once the personal information has been gathered, the target is congratulated as having passed the interview and is asked to provide a credit card number to finalize the process. Upon further inquiry, the target may be told that a credit card payment is required to receive a certificate and copy of the directory.
Often these scams are promoted by recently incorporated companies. The few individuals listed in such directories often have themselves included as a marketing tactic. The result is that these directories become a simple form of vanity publishing. One known problem is that people's credentials sometimes list their online directory memberships long after such fraudulent directories disappear from the web.
There are numerous variations of these practices. In former European monarchies, publishers compile volumes listing "noblemen" (such as dukes, counts and barons) who are often little more than fantasists who paid large sums to have their names inscribed in these books. Even high school students are not immune to such ploys; for many years a now-defunct company published a Who's Who Among American High School Students which justified its activities by offering (at random) a few scholarships, usually for $200.
Who's Who publications are not all of questionable value, but publishers that select truly notable people and provide trustworthy information on them are hard to identify. A & C Black's Who's Who is the canonical example of a legitimate Who's Who reference work, being the first to use the name and establish the approach in print, publishing annually since 1849. However, the longevity of a publication is not in itself a guarantee. In 1999 Tucker Carlson said in Forbes magazine that Marquis Who's Who, founded in 1898 but no longer an independent company, had adopted practices of address harvesting as a revenue stream, undermining its claim to legitimacy as a reference work listing people of merit. For a time, Forbes based 10 percent of the methodology for its America's Best Colleges list on alumni listings in Who's Who in America, the flagship title of Marquis Who's Who. However, they ceased to do so by 2013, instead relying upon other lists to identify successful alumni. According to Forbes, Marquis Who's Who sells its list of biographee, optionally broken down by profession, sex, political affiliation or religion, to direct mail marketers.
Who's Who in America ... appears to contain a lot of relatively unaccomplished people who simply nominated themselves. To make the process of self-promotion easier, Reed Elsevier, the publication's parent company and the owner of Lexis-Nexis, now has a site on the Internet where would-be biographees can complete a 'biographical data form.'
There are cases--relatively few in our judgment--of individuals with decidedly modest vocational achievement being included in the Who's Who volumes.CS1 maint: others (link)