Innerlogue: List Posts

by Jin, 10-23-08 // 18 comments

RamenSage: You called? What’s going on?

Jin: Hey. I unsubscribed four blogs from my RSS reader this morning… It’s been bothering me.

RamenSage: I know. I was there.

Jin: It wasn’t an easy decision. I’ve been reading those blogs for a while.

RamenSage: Why did you unsubscribe them then?

Jin: I have 70 blogs on web design subscribed in my Google Reader. Every morning my inbox is filled with new posts starting with a number. “10 Most Inspiring Sites,” “20 Cool Tools You Must See!” “50 Great Templates,” etc etc. It is increasingly harder for me to scan for original articles with well thought out content.

RamenSage: Are you saying list posts don’t have original content? Why judge an article by its title? You should to read its content first.

Jin: Well, to me there are two types of list posts. The first type being the articles with original content, the authors simply give them a list title so it’s easier for the readers to identify the subject matter and structure. Each key item is then further elaborated with author’s own thoughts and research. I find these articles useful and I have an appreciation for the authors who write them. Then there are list posts simply are made up by copy+paste+screenshot job. These posts serve no purpose except for as regurgitated meta content to draw traffic. It used to be easy to skip these posts, but there are just tons of them these days. Since they’re submitted to the same design community news sites I subscribe to, sometimes I see these same lists appearing 4 to 5 times in my reader everyday.

RamenSage: I think you’re being a bit harsh. “Serve no purpose?” I could’ve sworn that you have downloaded tons of Photoshop brushes and textures from links provided in those posts. Denouncing something you benefited from is rather ungrateful and hypocritical don’t you think? In fact, your own writings appeared on some of those list blogs. I didn’t hear you complaining back then…

Jin: Well, some showcase lists have valuable content, but most don’t.

RamenSage: The word “valuable” is relative. What’s junk to you may be valuable for other people, especially if they’re new to design. Your statement simply implies that all authors should write content catering to your own interest and standard. You may as well just walk in a book store, and complain that 99% of the books in there should have never been published, because you don’t find them interesting.

Jin: I see that. There are well designed works definitely deserve to be showcased. But in moderation, in my opinion. My point is, if a design blog site’s primary content is made up by posts that link to other sites, it may as well be a RSS2Web aggregator spam. Nowadays, whenever I see this type of posts, I have knee-jerk reaction to quickly skip them, even though at the risk of missing out on some truly good stuff. The four blogs I unsubscribed today used to have good original articles, occasionally mixed with showcase list posts. Now they’re pretty much all about links and self promotion. Everyone wants to be the next Smashing Magazine. I’m not alone on thinking this way, my friend Jeff mentioned this in his blog last year:

Lists are a great convention. They make sense, people understand them, and they’re a logical way to structure your writing. But don’t let lists become a crutch. I’m always taken aback when I see the “most popular” posts on a blog dominated by Top (n) Lists. Shortcuts are only meaningful if you know what it is, exactly, you’re cutting. If all you read is whatever Top (n) Lists have managed to float to the top of today’s Reddit or Digg homepage, then you’ve cheated yourself out of the deeper experience of reading a complete book.

If you find that the Top (n) List convention is a go-to tool in your writing toolkit, consider rebalancing your writing portfolio with longer, more in-depth pieces as well. Not everything should be a sprint; throw a few small marathons in there somewhere to complement your short distance skills.

Others have voiced their opinions more bluntly.

RamenSage: And why shouldn’t they try to be the next Smashing Magazine? You have to understand, blogging these days is different from years ago. It used to be a simple method for people to publish their own personal and professional thoughts. Now it’s becoming a business platform. People can make a good living off it, even if they write nothing but blogging about blogging. Marketing is the key to their success. If someone else has a successful business model, then others will copy. Web is the easiest place to get successful by conformity, especially within the blogsphere. It’s a proven fact that list post titles draw more attention and get promoted by page ranking sites a lot faster. Digg = Traffic = clicks = money, it’s simple capitalism. A site with original articles can still get high traffic, eventually. But they won’t get it overnight like list blog sites do. List titles long precedes blog. As early as The Ten Commandments to Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

Jin: I suppose. I just don’t like gimmicks. By the way can you imagine if Moses sensationalized the Ten Commandments?

RamenSage: Yes I can.

Moses Twits

Jin: LOL.

RamenSage: Let’s eat some ramen.

Jin: Good idea.

18 comments

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Sander 10-23-08

Agreed, there are too many “handpicked” “50 most populair…” “Must have” & “wordpress themes” lists. I believe when smashing started with these lists is was a huge experience to find so much inspiration in one single post. But the thing is that not the writer of that post created that inspiration, it was somebody elses work. I see design inspiration websites popping up and have every week a huge list of lists, it gets dugg, stumble and so on. Not a good development, when starting a blog, write about what you want to write about (and do it good). Not just populair lists.

Thanks for the article, refreshing reading for a change.

Joanna 10-23-08

You just hit the nail on the head. I have had that feeling for quite a while now – lists, and list, and lists everywhere! Although they do have one advantage if you can say so for mostly useless content – you can skim them really quickly and if there is one link interesting out of the 37 or so posted it’s easily findable. That’s why I don’t unsubscribe from places that produce content like this. I guess I would like to miss out on that one in a hundred interesting bit of information…

Great blog by the way :)

Joshua 10-23-08

You raise some good points, but I find that its really easy to skip the lists in my RSS feeds. I generally look out for interesting lists though, differing from the normal 10 top ways/designs/layouts/themes/jquery.

Lists are fine when they have a catchy title and something different to offer. The best posts that are lists aren’t even titled as lists imo.

I wouldn’t do more than 2 posts like that a week though as it definitely does turn people off.

Joe 10-23-08

Yes, yes, list posts are good or bad… But Moses brings the lols! What if God had access to the interweb…

Jin 10-23-08

Thank you for the comments. I realize the pros and cons of list blogs, and why they’re so popular.

List titles used to stand out and tend to have a lot of original content. Now they’re increasingly becoming the opposite. Undoubtedly, by intentionally skipping them, I’ll miss out on some good articles that get mixed in-between.

Dmitry 10-23-08

I hate list posts. They’re like a disease that has taken over my RSS reader and I should probably follow your lead and start unsubscribing. I think we should call this disease listitis. Bloggers have for once hit a “formula” for creating content that’s popular with social media, and now everyone is doing it… and it seems most severe in the design blogosphere.

Of course the list posts you refer to are the ones where the writer doesn’t actually need to create the content; they just aggregate it. Sure, it takes work to do, but it’s not really writing — it’s not really what blogging should be about.

Even if I do like the content in the list, they usually are too long as well. In competition to make a better list than Joe from the next blog, people make bigger and bigger lists. I mean… 50+ items on many of these? I don’t want to go through 50 items. Give me 10, but really good ones.

We really need an antidote for listitis.

adelle 10-27-08

I think you have started a great discussion here. For me personally, it depends on the topic of list posts – I usually scan through them very quickly and gain a link or two from them (if that). I think they are especially popular for people new to the field (meaning the viewer, not the blogger). It definitely has pros and cons & I do get sick of seeing 50 this and 1000 that.

That being said, I have my own blog (fuelyourcreativity.com) and I occasionally do list posts. It depends on the inspiration piece. Sometimes I take the time to write an explanation underneath the image if it’s a small list. If it’s a huge list of inspiration I don’t – probably because it would take 5 months to finish it. But I also make sure that I go out of my way to present other types of articles on my site, ones that create interest, have a goal to help others etc…or create interaction between others in the community. I think that’s especially important and if you do that – then some list posts are ok.

binocle 10-28-08

Love the arguments and tone of your post ^__^

Yeah, definitively getting sick of all these stupid “457+ most awesome grunge wood texture photoshop brushes” and “235+ kicking ass blue designs” posts…

So called “inspirational lists” are most of the time the same bunch of crappy things, seen and re-seen over and over.
“Oh cool, another sparkly-swirly-floral-neon-fluo-light-effect tutorial”. They have for only effect to increase the mediocrity on the web.

I made a similar post (a bit more angry though, and sorry its in french…) some weeks ago:
http://www.binocle.ch/blog/post/marre_des_listes/

Jin 10-28-08

@Binocle, I read your article since I’m also fluent in French(not really, but GoogleTranslate rocks). I think the anger is lost a bit in translation :)

I’m glad that I’m not the only one feeling this way. I still like reading lists if they’re high quality, and used in moderation.

ThomasP 10-28-08

I understand why people might think lists are useless or annoying. But fact is: they are often really successful! Just look at the most popular saves on delicious.
I might be a bit prejudiced due to the fact that my blog is all about links, but I really like them because you can determine wether the post is relevant to you just by reading the headline.
Still, really like this post and the way it is written!

Janko 10-28-08

Fantastic article! I must admit list post annoys me, but I still do a quick-scan through them. I often find some new stuff. You should, however, limit the number of blogs with such posts. Smashing magazine, for example…

Personally, I like to publish one post-list-article per month to share the best article I read that month.

p.s. I like “twitter screenshot”

Soh 10-28-08

Great article Jin, thanks!

Jin 10-28-08

@Adelle, Janko, Soh thank you for commenting.

@ThomasP, thanks. I don’t doubt when you say lists are successful. But I think you mean “successful” in a commercial type of way, in terms of traffic right? That’s the reason why they’re popular, because everyone wants to achieve the same success. I can’t really blame them, but I also don’t want my inbox to be spammed. Un-subscribing was the only way I can think of to solve that problem.

James De Angelis 10-28-08

Completely agree with the sentiment of the post, It’s been on my mind a lot recently when looking at the RSS reader.

I’d even hazard a guess that sites like Smashing Magazine rely on them entirely, i mean honestly – when was the last time you read an informative post there? It’s *always* Free icons/brushes/lists.
On the same token (as you’ve mentioned) it’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s great to have resources like this. It’s just sad that it’s such a “magic bullet” for traffic that it’s permeated into the entire scene.

To the contrary (for a moment) i’d love to see some list posts with some content that actually caters to designers needs. What i mean by this is that all of these sites are always designers portfolio’s or for super progressive clients that you almost never get.
It would be great to see examples of great eCommerce sites, highly useable experiences, well designed content managed sites (managed by the client) to get some real insight on things most designers do in their day to day work.

(Great site by the way, reading through the other posts now :)

Jin 10-28-08

@James, thanks! SM is still my primary resource site that I’m subscribed to. I feel even though it’s primarily showcase based, the quality is still very high.

I keep searching for design blogs that have original content all the time. But since they can’t compete with list blogs for exposure, it’s rather difficult hard to find.

[...] The pros and cons of list posts, which is widely seen within the web design blog-sphere these days. View source [...]

Graham Smith 11-25-09

I try to avoid from doing list posts myself, rather, concentrating on more editorial, opinion and advice.

If I am to do a list post, then it will be a subject that I can offer thoughts and opinions on. So its not just a empty, list post of ‘whatever’, soulless even. Adding your reasons why you pick each example helps to provide context and meaning.

The few I have done, mainly the Logo RoundUp series is not so much a basic list post as it offers commentary from each designer on the design of their logo. I feel this kind of post can still offer inspiration and interest.

Like many others, I just feel that many list posts are an easy peasy way to get a post up, with some outbound links. They are heartless and have no ‘substance’. But people will demand more in time, so I hope the tide turns.

Good post,
Graham

mahalie 11-25-09

I used to read so many list posts, saving good tuts/resources or whatever in my PIM, but there’s so many all the time now. Why bother? Just do a cursory search when you are actually taking the time to use those PS brushes or latest jQuery techniques. They don’t deserve a spot in my RSS feeds – I’m declaring today Take Back Your RSS Feeds day – swapping out list-overload feeds with more interesting content…like this blog.