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9 Reasons Why Listicles Are The Best Internet Communication Format

Mastering this new form of article is very necessary to the success of modern online communication for companies big and small. Listicles work because they appeal to popular culture in a way that traditional article forms do not and cannot. From advertising to news updates, a simple listicle easily counteracts the information overload of our times, conveying the important points in a far more internet-friendly, attention-getting format. How do I aim to prove this to you? Why through a listicle, of course!

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1. They originated on the internet.

aureliuszi / Via imgflip.com

A listicle is “an article consisting of a series of items presented as a list” according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. The term was first used in 2007 (Merriam-Webster n.d.). While the concept of list-like articles did exist in print media prior to the popularization of the internet, they were most often used with the intent to rank or determined an order to a specific set of items or circumstances, and were simply referred to as “lists.” Hence, one might find a list of the best movies of the year, or the most influential people in the world, ranked by popularity or such factors. What distinguishes the list from the listicle is that a listicle does not employ ranking; it simply lists circumstances or items without any judgment. Sometimes the list is numbered, while other times it is not. In addition, the range of topics covered by listicles is much broader – rather than assigning an order to specific items or circumstances, internet listicles can substitute full-length essays with their arguments and content. Therefore, the title of the listicle often becomes its ‘thesis’ – think “11 Ways Having An IUD Inserted Was Nothing Like I Expected” rather than “Canada’s Top Ten New Growth Companies” (Krantz 2015, McElgunn 2012). Popular internet culture attributes the internet listicle to BuzzFeed, a website where the listicle is the primary form of content, providing everything from news to entertainment to advertisements in listicle form. Nowadays, listicles are ubiquitous – every site from beauty blogs to science magazines produce them for a variety of purposes. Furthermore, most of the research [cite number of sources] for this listicle was done online and most of it was also presented in listicle form. Thus, the listicle is truly a born-and-bred phenomenon of the internet.

2. They combat information overload.

aureliuszi / Via imgflip.com

In the information-laden world, attention is a scarce commodity. “Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that may consume it” (Lampe 2017). Information overload is defined by this idea: the fact that there are just too many sources of information for the human brain to consume. It’s a phenomenon that you might already be familiar with in the form of endless emails and text messages, but amongst the younger generations, it is common to spend over 13 hours a day consuming information (Braincraft 2015). That’s up almost 40% from just over 20 years ago! In fact, “researchers estimate that in 2008, people consumed 60% more information than they did in 1960” (Braincraft 2015). This overwhelming amount of information has many negative side effects, creating anxiety, fear of missing out (FOMO) and “isolating people from the world around them to prevent meaningful social interaction” (Oatman-Stanford 2015). One needs a method of processing lots of information quickly to reduce these negative consequences. Our literature formats need to evolve with our demands. A “curated list” presents the perfect solution to this overload (Braincraft 2015). Audiences reading listicles have the option to “quickly skim and process all of its content”, or dig deeper into a topic by using the listicle as a starting point and thoroughly researching all of its claims (Braincraft 2015). They are given options – to read the whole or not to read? – unlike traditional essays, which demand to be thoroughly read before understanding of the topic is achieved. Though this might seem cognitively lazy, it is a perfect method of coping with the information-laden world, allowing understanding to be reached in an efficient manner. The listicle thus serves both as an effective summary and starting point of its content.

3. They allow audiences to pause while reading.

Via buzzfeed.com

Above: this fundraising email by US Senator Al Franken allows his patrons to pause between reading items. Also notice the casual, relatable tone and the simplicity of the message, which combats information overload by being less text-heavy.

This allows you to transcend the issues that arise in an age of divided attention, distraction, and multitasking, which proves problematic for the consumption of long, sustained arguments. Essays often take pages and pages of building up their paragraphs, and each one is marked with topic sentences, concluded sentences, transition words, and all the markings of traditional English writing. While all these extra words may make for good literature, they do not fit well into the scheme of internet culture. People are always multitasking while engaging with information technology – messaging friends, checking Snapchat, taking selfies – and these frequent pauses in activity renders essay-reading and related activities extremely difficult and hard to follow through. Even your internet browser actively encourages this distracted multitasking by allowing multiple tabs to be opened at once. This spells bad news for any message you’re trying to send: how does it compete with all of these other applications and tabs for your audience’s attention? Enter the listicle: when reading it, audiences can easily stop after an item to do whatever multitask is required of them, and then return to your next item without missing a thing. Distracted audience? No problem!

4. They are more direct and straightforward.

aureliuszi / Via imgflip.com

The biggest complaint to listicles is that they are merely “lazy journalism” and incomplete thoughts, allowing for half-refined arguments to slip through the cracks and become verbatim (Madrigal-Martinez 2017). However, there is a simple beauty to their nature that transcends their surficial plainness. In Too Big To Know, David Weinberger also defines a hierarchy of observations to arrive at understanding about the world: from data to information to knowledge to wisdom (DIKW) (Weinberger 2014). In each step of the hierarchy, small observations (such as data) are processed and analyzed in order to create a more coherent ‘bigger picture’. Traditional essay-crafting also relies on using smaller details, pieces of data and information, to arrive at knowledge. However, listicles also produce knowledge in the same way: they make many smaller points in support of a bigger point, which is usually the title of the listicle. The only difference lies in the presentation. Critics might argue that listicles are disjointed and incoherent, but their straightforward linguistic nature means that they get right to the point, taking the guesswork out of essay analysis and creating a straightforward read that is more succinct and hard-hitting. One supporter of the form compares the listicle to the haiku, calling it something that “tak[es] a mass of stuff and… break[s] it into pieces and lay[s] it out in a line” (Okrent 2014). Listicles are further comparable to the essence of language: “Thoughts come in layered clouds of impressions and ideas. Information is an undifferentiated pile, a mountain of facts and anecdotes” (Okrent 2014). Listicles are our thoughts in their most unembellished and genuine form. They represent a more natural use of language. This makes listicles more organic and easy to understand than other literary formats, allowing greater accessibility and nuance.

5. They are more innovative.

Above: Tweet embedded into this listicle. This adds more variety to the listicle and engages dialogue on multiple platforms.

Although you will inevitably lose some of the linguistic nuances that come with formal essays, the directness and straightforwardness of listicles allow its authors to be creative in other ways. For example, rhetorical devices still have their place in listicles (see the word “they”, which begins almost every point in this article). Persuasion and point-making are still an art form, but they must evolve to keep up with the listicle. One way in which this might happen is through the use of images and Graphics Interchange Format (GIF), allowing you to enhance your message with visual elements (GIF 2014). Simplicity with language encourages creativity and growth on other fronts: examples include embedding pieces of social media into the listicle, such as Facebook posts, Tweets, and Tumblr texts. These raw, primary sources of the internet ultimately create a more genuine view of the masses: by embedding content from other social media into listicles, one can demonstrate that other internet users think the same thing, allowing for more interactions between internet citizens who would not have otherwise met. In this way, listicles evolve as a more connected and interesting form of internet literature, with a built-in mechanism for catalyzing dialogue around certain topics.

6. They appeal to young people.

Via stackoverflow.com

Above: image of the Twitter feed, with implicit list format.

Nowadays, many of the most popular sites for millenials (in addition to BuzzFeed) have an implicit listicle-like structure. Did you see the “homepage” of reddit? Or the “newsfeed” on Facebook? Or even the layout of the Instagram browser? All of these websites’ homepages are structured like a giant, endless, listicle. In this day and age, youths have already subconsciously adjusted to the unorganized, freeform format of the listicle through these social networks. Over time, their brains become more and more optimized for consuming and understanding information in these list formats. By providing your information in listicle format, you are matching these social networks in presentation and thereby making it easier for youths to follow your ideas. Go you!

7. They sell things!

Via buzzfeed.com

Above: Native advertising on the Buzzfeed site, in listicle format, blending right into the page.

Native advertising fans, rejoice! Perhaps the most important to any company, listicles provide a great method of generating revenue. Due to its picture-heavy, text-brief structure, listicles are a very powerful form of advertising. And even better – on websites dedicated to beauty and fashion, listicles are often seen as relevant content, virtually indistinguishable from serious content on the site! “The Best Under-$15 Beauty Buys At Sephora Right Now” (Chan 2017)? Why not? First of all, that is actually a legitimate article on the Refinery 29 website, and it blends right in with the others – “8 Must Follow Beauty Brands On Instagram” and “16 Fragrances For When You Just Want To Smell Clean” (Underwood 2017, Morill 2017). Not only do these listicles have links to the products embedded right into the article, they are complete with alluring descriptions of the products themselves – “this [frangrance] by Byredo is not your grandma's scent — it manages to capture the perfect mixture of fresh, floral, and slightly spicy” (Morill 2017). And for the ultimate challenge? Why not compose a personalized listicle for your audience based on their browsing history? Advertisements are already being generated based on user’s histories, and while some critics argue that this “corrupt personalization”, or “the process by which your attention is drawn to interests that are not your own” are unethical, they fail to account for the fact that the majority of consumers “find personalized ads to be more engaging (54%), educational (52%), time-saving (49%) and memorable (45%)” (Sandvig 2014, MarketingCharts staff 2014). The people have spoken: personalized advertising is both effective and efficient.

8. They allow for more content to be appended.

Via news.nationalgeographic.com

Above: even National Geographic magazine is getting in on the listicle trend!

The norm of the internet is to be incomplete – everything is editable and can ultimately be revised if needed – and listicles embrace this property by allowing for edits and additions whenever needed. Why create several different webpages around the same topic when you can just have one that you edit as needed? Your readers will only have to go to one page to get the latest updates, saving them time and effort. National Geographic has an exceptionally well-done listicle using this property, aptly titled “A Running List of How Trump is Changing the Environment” (Greshko 2017). Eco and internet-friendly.

9. In a philosophical sense, listicles are more equitable than essays and other argumentative formats.

aureliuszi / Via imgflip.com

Listicles are democratic. They allow each and every point to stand on its own. This forces the user to evaluate each point logically, and thereby does not permit arguments to overshadow one another. Although a badly-crafted listicle might mix weak and strong points, and thereby unintentionally imply that the weight of the points are equal, a well-crafted listicle creates a coherent argument that bodes well in the age of the internet, standing up to information overload, driving internet literature innovation, appealing to young people, and even allowing the clever company to sell a few things here and there. Listicles are the new essays of the internet, if you will; they are the ultimate form of internet communication.

Works Referenced

AureliusZI. (2017, April 24). Here's a tweet for my listicle. Retrieved April 24, 2017, from https://twitter.com/aurelius_zi/status/856691037615644672

Braincraft. The Pyschology of Listicles. (2015, December 16). Retrieved April 15, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cmkNCj2pmtg

GIF. (2004, February 25). Retrieved April 16, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GIF

Greshko, M. (2017, March 31). A Running List of How Trump Is Changing the Environment. Retrieved April 16, 2017, from http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/03/how-trump-is-changing-science-environment/

[Information overload cat]. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://imgflip.com/i/1nu007

Krantz, R. (2015, May 06). What's Getting An IUD Like? 11 Ways Having An IUD Inserted Was Nothing Like I Expected. Retrieved April 15, 2017, from https://www.bustle.com/articles/80194-whats-getting-an-iud-like-11-ways-having-an-iud-inserted-was-nothing-like-i-expected

Lampe, C. (2017, January 25). Shaping Information. Lecture presented at SI 110 in Angell Hall, Ann Arbor, MI.

Listicle. (n.d.). In Merriam-Webster. Retrieved April 15, 2017, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/listicle

[Listicle cat meme]. (2017, April 24). Retrieved April 24, 2017, from https://imgflip.com/memegenerator/Cool-Cat-Stroll

[Listicle final thoughts cat]. (2017, April 24). Retrieved April 24, 2017, from https://imgflip.com/i/1nu2fr

[Listicles make knowledge]. (2017, April 24). Retrieved April 24, 2017, from https://imgflip.com/i/1nu0ki

[Listicle.co logo]. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.listicle.co/

Madrigal Martinez, N. (2017, April 15). Listicles and the college student [Interview by Z. Huang].

Marketingcharts staff. (2014, June 3 ). Consumers Say They Find Personalized Ads More Engaging and Memorable. Retrieved April 24, 2017, from http://www.marketingcharts.com/online/consumers-say-they-find-personalized-ads-more-engaging-and-memorable-43005/attachment/yahoo-attitudes-personalized-ads-june2014/

McElgunn, J. (2012, August 29). PROFIT HOT 50. Retrieved April 16, 2017, from http://www.profitguide.com/microsite/profithot50/2012

Oatman-Stanford, H. (2015, September 28). Don’t Panic: Why Technophobes Have Been Getting It Wrong Since Gutenberg. Retrieved April 16, 2017, from http://www.collectorsweekly.com/articles/why-technophobes-have-been-getting-it-wrong-since-gutenberg/

Okrent, A. (2014, Jan. & Feb.). The listicle as literary form. Retrieved April 16, 2017, from http://mag.uchicago.edu/arts-humanities/listicle-literary-form

Sandvig, C. (2014, June 27). Corrupt Personalization. Retrieved April 24, 2017, from https://socialmediacollective.org/2014/06/26/corrupt-personalization/

Shaw, D. (2012, September 27). [Al Franken's Fundraising Listicle Email].

Retrieved April 24, 2017, from https://www.buzzfeed.com/dorsey/al-frankens-latest-fundraising-e-mail-is-a-listic?utm_term=.wf1kaPbo0#.ida09jJwL

Shopping. (n.d.). Retrieved April 24, 2017, from https://www.buzzfeed.com/shopping

Screenshot for native advertising

Torgovnikov, K. (2012, August 31). ScribbleLive named one of Canada's top new growth companies. Retrieved April 16, 2017, from http://www.scribblelive.com/blog/2012/08/31/scribblelive-named-one-of-canadas-top-new-growth-companies/

[Twitter feed in list format]. (2013, July 31). Retrieved April 24, 2017, from http://stackoverflow.com/questions/17956794/display-twitter-feed-of-arbitrary-user

Weinberger, D. (2014). Too big to know: rethinking knowledge now that the facts aren't the facts, experts are everywhere, and the smartest person in the room is the room. New York, NY: Basic Books.

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