“Content is king!” has been a blogger battle cry for some time now. With so much information flying from every corner at audiences, attention has become a precious commodity and a powerful currency.* All bloggers and online info provider (myself included) like to think that our content is high value, high impact, unique, or otherwise special in some way. After all, we’re smart people – we know that content is king.
So why, pray tell, do so many bloggers fall back on the ultimate excuse for lazy content provision, namely The List?
You know what I’m referring to: the internet list. The piece of pithy work that will tell you the ten best, the eight reasons, the twenty most wanted, the five hottest XYZs. These “articles” promise to shed light on matters complex and mundane. They will give us direction and the ability to make better decisions. They will boil down our questions and dilemmas into a series of bullet points summarizing the good, the bad, and the ugly of just about any conceivable topic. We info consumers reflexively click on the promising link, reading list after list and taking in drivel that, despite its repetition and homogeneity, continues to sucker us in. I’m as guilty of this as the next person.
Here’s the rub: what lists provide in terms of readability and ease of creation, they almost always lack in actual content. When was the last time an internet list promising you “10 ways to lose weight for good” actually gave you any substantial information in terms of current research? Has the “Top 20 Tech Trends” list introduced you to some truly innovative products that are not quite market ready? I’m willing to bet that the greatest degree of development presented on that one was the latest iPhone iteration and its main Android competitor. You think of the topic, there is an internet list about it masquerading as a valuable article.
This trend has been brutally evident on the LinkedIn groups I am subscribed to. These groups, which are aimed at communications professionals, are frequently used to promote members’ blogs. Many LI discussions are actually links to blog posts. The number of blog posts that present god-awful lists like “25 Things to do in a Job Interview” containing drivel such as “Be 10 minutes early for the interview” is staggering. What I find more extraordinary is that these lists are populating the daily discussion boards of groups dedicated to communication. Surely we can find more interesting things to write about!
Unfortunately, The List is a rather popular type of online article. They contain information that is comforting in its simplicity and familiarity and they don’t tax our ever-shortening attention spans. I’ve come across many advice articles on blogging and freelance writing that openly advocate generating List-type posts when you can’t think of anything good to say, when you are pressed for time, or when you want to crank out content stat. Apparently these articles are such an easy sell in terms of freelance website content generation that they are considered one of the better types of articles to shop around. But when audience attention is the highest form of payment, what statement does generating fluffy List articles say about our opinion of the value of our audience’s attention? That it isn’t worth generating content with real value? That our garbage, I-don’t-know-what-to-write work on which we spent a minimal amount of effort is worth our audience’s time? I think that it doesn’t say much for the writer’s opinion of their readers.
This rant does make some very generalized statements and certainly cannot be applied to every List type article out there. There are some that are highly entertaining and have great comedic value. I will also admit that I have seen some that provide excellent content, well written with valuable information. But for every one good List article, there are fifteen dreadful ones.
Don’t fall into the trap of using lists as an easy way to generate content. If you have something good or important to say and a list is the best structure to present it, then go ahead, but make sure you take the time to create something of substance. If content is indeed king, make damn sure your emperor is actually wearing clothes.
*Hat tip to Seth Godin