Thursday, 28 June 2012

8 Reasons Why People Love Numbered Blog Posts

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There's something about Top 10 Lists or Top Insert-Your-Own-Number Lists that seem to never fail to captivate. We all love lists, and from David Letterman's Top Tens to the never-ending music-related top tens in the famous 2000 music-geek dramatic comedy High Fidelity, Top-Whatever lists seem to be hardwired into our DNA.

In the blogging world, numbered posts are known as 'link bait' as they seem to unerringly draw traffic. It has become a universal format across the blogosphere, employed by blogs ranging from Foreign Policy Magazine online to Unlike Letterman and John Cusack's melancholy vinyl peddler, numbered blogs more often than not don't stick to the Top Ten format (to me ten seems a bit contrived and inherently less credible), but any number in the Top X format seems to do the trick just fine. In my own experience, these posts always draw the most traffic.

Why is this? Here is my own highly speculative and unscientific explanation.

1) People like small tidbits of information.

The average netizen has the attention span of a goldfish. Moreover, as people read twice as slow on a screen as they do on a printed page, this small chunk-like paragraph format works very well. Dive into the page, gobble up a few tidbits, and then head off somewhere else - that's how the Internet rolls.

2) People don't like to commit to reading an entire article.

Did I mention that people on the Internet are decidedly lacking in attention span? Reading an article with a daunting title like 'After The Wave - The Communications Lessons of 3.11' seems like a tall order after a long day at the office, and with an essayistic piece like that you feel committed to reading it in its entirety. With a list, you feel free to read a few and then leave - or keep reading if you're feeling sufficiently intrigued.

3) Lists are inherently suspenseful.

While the opt-out option of a Top-Whatever list is a definitely psychological draw, human beings tend to want to know how things end. If it's a well-written list, chances are your reader is in fact going to stick around to the end - unless they have to run off somewhere.

4) The list format is hardwired into our culture.

Thanks to Letterman, Cracked, High Fidelity and pop culture in general, lists are an integral part of how we interpret the world. And this is not new - this format dates back at least as far as Moses, who really owned the Top Ten format like nobody else in history, and the US Constitution, which modernized the format in the Enlightenment era.

5) It's appealingly irreverent.

Taking a serious topic and distilling it through the Top-Whatever format is appealingly disarming. Former Discovery magazine editor Stephen Petranek exemplifies this in his 2002 TED talk on 'the 10 most likely ways that life on the Earth could end'. It's a disarming way of tackling a serious topic that grabs your attention - and then holds on to it.

6) It's a natural lightning rod for debate.

If it's an interesting topic, people are bound to have their own opinions on what should be on said list, and people are going to want to compare and contrast with their own Top-Whatever. And people love to fill you in on all your egregious omissions.

7) It's a friendly and approachable format.

We all make lists. We've been making lists since the dawn of time. And blog posts in the form of a list feel real, genuine, not-at-all haughty. Had Fyodor Dostoyevsky rewritten Crime and Punishment as 'Top 20 Occasions When Cold-Blooded Murder Is Probably Beneficial to Society', he invariably would have had a far greater readership.

8) I guess people just like to count.

And we can all thank own favourite arithmomaniacal ex-pat Transylvanian muppet for that.

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