Oh I know I'm going to hear something for posting this: a list of the reasons you should be wary of lists in the year 2009. I don't hate lists and they're certainly appropriate, helpful, and even refreshing at times (and when done well), but when you can find 1200 "lists" after a quick google search of the last MONTH... I just can't believe I'm the only one feeling a little tired of it. And that is why I present to all of you a list of reasons to be cautious when posting or reading lists; I know it's incredibly cheesy and I'm sure it's been done before, and that exact point brings me to:
Reason #1: It's all been done. As the always lovely Carrie Kerpen pointed out in her post on the topic yesterday, a list typically draws from and links out to other content sources by default. There's a lot of good to be said for this practice in terms of supporting and connecting with fellow bloggers and just plain sharing valuable content, but the flip side is the potential to lose your focus on supplying original content to add to the conversation. Whenever I write a list, I worry about it being seen as a "cop-out," and as such, do my best to at least add my own two cents even when I link out. I'm reading your blog because I care about your opinion, so please don't forget to mention your own reasons while paying homage to someone else's.
Reason #2: Lists establish authority - whether deserved or not. Don't misunderstand me - I think the fact that anyone with a blog automatically has the power to be an authority in his or her own right is the best thing about the blogosphere! But authority isn't absolute, and lists, to me, give an entirely different impression of authority than your argumentative essays about the state of the world. All I'm saying is: DON'T FALL FOR IT. Just because somebody makes a fancy list doesn't imply that they know any more than you do. Don't be afraid to offer up additions or even challenges to a few bullets.
Reason #3: The last few items are almost invariably LAME. We have a tendency to try to make order from chaos, to make everything neat and symmetrical. At least, that's my theory as to why you'll run into a lot of "top 10" and "top 20" lists that probably should have been "top 6" or "top 19" lists instead. We like to shoot for those nice, even numbers, even if it means reaching for those last few points. I'm also sure that the converse occurs, too, where people intentionally cut off before they've squeezed in every point - avoiding the dreaded "filler" bullets, but depriving readers of a few more valid points for the sake of achieving a round number. Don't fear multiples of not-5, people! It's okay, I promise!
Reason #4: Lists can stifle your creativity. Yes, "can" is the operative word here. It is certainly possible to write a deliciously witty, creative list... in list form, at least. Lists automatically give you a set format, and while you can play around with that format to a certain extent, in the end, a list is a list. Please, please, please, never give up a beautifully written piece of work in exchange for a list. If you find yourself writing huge paragraphs about 4 of your Top 10, but mere 1-2 sentence blurbs about the other 6, it might behoove you to just dedicate a free-written blog post elaborating on those topics. Most of us who prefer blogs love them for the snark and sometimes rambles anyway.
There is no reason #5. I just said that to get you to read it. See? Four perfectly good reasons to be wary of lists in the new year - you didn't really need that filler point to add up to a multiple of 5 now, did you?
Happy New Year, everyone! See you in 2009!