The Unholy Trinity Of Bad Internet Lists

MikeachimThe Everyday43 Comments

the list

(After my Twitter rant of last week, I needed a walk on the North York Moors to chill out. This I did. Did it work? Well, I’m now ranting about something else. I think this shows Progress.)

So, you want your post to get lots of page-hits? Want traffic roaring like a scene from Days of Thunder? (Apologies for choice of movie and hyperlink. I’ll try harder next time.) Want people to thumb-up, retweet and generally daub it in all the colors of online approval?

You’ll want a list, then.

This is what is known as Conventional Wisdom – and it’s ruining the Internet.

We can’t blame the theory. It’s correct – lists are a great way quickly and efficiently convey a lot of interesting information in a structured way. I’ve written loads of ’em, and I am Unashamed (well, Unapologetic). We get rid of lists, we start pulling a thread that makes most of civilization unravel, probably ending with Socrates’s toga.

And we shouldn’t trash lists, because lists are readable and fun and commendable if done well. Are they always? Well, not so much – and it’s getting worse every year. Cut a cross-section across the Web and you’ll find it marbled right through with the worst kind of list. Tech & gizmo news, celeb fluff, travel blogging…they’re all listing wildly, in every sense. And sooner or later, we’re all going to sink.

Here are the 3 major offenders.


 1. The Best Of.

Top Ten Types of Cheese. 15 Most Beautiful Houses With Verandas. OMG 85 Best New Susan Boyles You’ll Ever See! 158 Places You Have To Go To Before They’re Destroyed By Sarah Palin. 26 Top Things To Do When You’re on Holiday Or At Home. 183 Best Things Involving Other Things – Ever! On and on, eroding the sanity of our newly collective consciousness in tiny but distinct increments. If we’re doomed, it’s this way. (Top Ten Ways We’re Totally Doomed! Please RT.)

I hate these. (I’m not alone). But the way to respond to such a list is simple and logical: you say “OK – prove it.” Yet in a way, the reason it can’t be proved is also its best defence against criticism. It’s entirely subjective. The problem is that somewhere in the last few years, the Internet has collectively forgotten to include the words “in my humble opinion.” Probably because it was shortened to IMHO, which is smaller and therefore easier to lose.

There is no Best, or Top, or Must See Before the World Explodes/Melts. This is because no experience is repeatable, ever. The saying that you can’t cross the same stream twice? The saying that life is like a stream? Put them together and you’ve nailed it.


2. The Ones With Nothing But The Facts

If there’s one thing less enthralling than a Best Of list, it’s a Best Of list that doesn’t bother to explain why the items therein are the alleged cream of the crop.

Best Top Holiday Destinations in Spain

 1.Malaga. Malaga (Mah-lah-gah) is a city in Andalucia. It is Spain’s sixth most populous city. (That doesn’t mean it is popular although it is LOL).
2.Madrid. (Mah-dridd). Madrid is Spain’s capital, and is where most Spanish people who live in Spanish cities (“Spaniards”) live. It is big. There are several theories regarding the name “Madrid”.

So this list, already floundering in the shallow end of the gene pool, now has the further burden of failing to convey anything you couldn’t find in 5-10 seconds of lacklustre Googling. It’s a subjective list that says nothing about the reasons for the author’s choices…suggesting it was constructed on the fly, sans brain. That’s not a vibe that will have World Hum banging on your door.

Listers: take the time to say what you think, unashamed of exposing your bias. (Hey, people want bias. That’s the whole point of You). And if you really feel editorial policy is clipping your wings – don’t be brief, be more succinct.



3. The Ones That Forget We’re  Human

I’ll be honest with you – my life is kinda full right now. As fun as it is finding Cool New Stuff, there’s a real limit with how much free time I can shoehorn into my day without my sleep patterns bursting at either end. Be gentle. Be kind, internet. Show me things I can actually achieve. Please?

48 Places You Must Visit By The End of Tomorrow
900 Things You Have To Have Done To Not Be An Utter Loser

 Pretty pretty please? With…with sprinkles?

4,812 Habits That Will Make You Barely Adequate
18,449 Books That Will Solve All Your Problems (If You Read Them All: Individually, They’re Useless)

Come on, guys. Make your lists even faintly achievable (here, try this one). And don’t play that “we’re only providing variety of choice” card. Pick the best and arrange them in a list, make sure you dig deep into why they’re the best and make your line-up pithy enough give us a hope in hell of following in your footsteps…and if you do that, we’ll be happy to have you around.

Just don’t give us that sinking feeling. Please?

Further reading: List Hysteria: Digital vs. Handwritten – Candice Walsh, Matador Network.
Images: sunshinecity, samchurchill, Stewart and joshjanssen.