DesignLovr

The List Post: Curse or Blessing?

If you’re an active follower or member of the web design community then you have certainly seen or heard about the current debate surrounding the potential demise of the web design community.

Whether it is on Twitter, forums or on one of the many web design blogs, it seems discussions that question and criticize our community spark all over.

While I don’t want to give my opinion on this topic itself in this article, I do want to have a closer look at the scapegoat that is often argued to be one of the main reasons for the current developments in the design community: The List Post.

Before I’m getting started let’s make sure that we’re all on the same level and define what a list post is.

A list post (I’m quoting nobody, but myself here) is a post that features a list of different web sites, links, photographs or other elements all surrounding a certain, common topic or theme. They often, but not always, consist of nothing but a short intro/outro and a collection of links and/or screenshots or images.

If you disagree with my definition please leave a comment explaining why; I don’t actually think there is that much room for interpretation or arguing here.

How It All Started

Smashing Magazine was one of the first design blogs to publish lists, loads of them. Lists as a way to present a multitude of different links surrounding a topic were surely around before in the world of blogging, but Smashing Magazine were the first one in the design community to actually do it mainly and – as it turned out – very successfully.

They quickly gained popularity, traffic, exposure and countless diggs, tweets, stumbles & co and also started making money with ads.
I’m certainly not blaming Smashing Magazine for anything and if they would still be one of only few blogs that published list posts then I would actually appreciate that.

Remark

Since those days Smashing Magazine changed massively and even though they still do post the occasional list post (often helping smaller sites gain exposure) their focus switched and most of their content are in-depth and high-quality posts on various web design topics.

But…

Unfortunately success inevitably attracts copycats and in combination with easier to use blogging platforms web design blogs that focused on list posts popped up like mushrooms all over the web.

Not even this would have been a big problem, if all of these blogs had invested all of their efforts and time in finding unique topics, proper research and preparation, but quite many of them were just after a quick buck or traffic without having too much interest in actually sharing links and images designers would actually profit from.

Now

This resulted in what we have now: Hundreds (if not thousands) of design blogs that pump out one mediocre list post after another, Twitter streams filled with retweets of the “20 Best Firefox Plugins for Web Designers” or “50 Most Awesome jQuery Plugins Ever” and Designers that actually would like to share their unique opinions and knowledge, but are discouraged by the constant stream of list posts that stop people from actually checking out their sites.

What Can We Do?

So how do we get out of this mess? Bloggers should start by reducing the amount of list posts they’re publishing and publish either alternative content (how about a in-depth review of a web site, service or design rather than a list with “20 Fabulous Web Sites with Big Headers”?) or make sure that their list posts are unique, of a high-quality and have, if fitting, descriptions and explanations for each item.

Readers should stop to retweet, digg and bump every mindless list post they see just because 100 other people did the same. If you think a post is great (you can only do this after you actually read it) share it, if not don’t – it’s so very simple.

Wrapping It All Up

To get to an end here and to answer the question I asked in the title: Are list posts a curse or blessing?

They can be both. A unique list post that features some extraordinary designs or sites, adds some valuable background information and really showcases and summarizes a certain aspect of web design can be just as valuable as an in-depth, opinionated piece. A list post that, on the other hand, covers a topic that has already been covered by 100 other blogs and doesn’t add anything new is nothing but spam.

When I started DesignLovr one of my goals was to publish list posts only occasionally (besides our weekly Resource-Wednesday there were only 2 so far) and if so, to do my research, find truly stunning examples of what I want to showcase and also offer some background information on the respective topic. I think I did well so far and hope that other bloggers will rethink the way they see and approach list posts as well and start turning all list posts into blessings – if we can save the design community at the same time, even better.

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Comments so far

  1. Duane says:

    I agree with the sentiment of the post. People need to stop sharing weak content just for the sake of it. This is something that I have been quite vocal about over at my blog – which in turn has led to some great discussion.
    One of my readers suggested that if a post is not worth commenting on, it is not worth sharing. That is a great to use as a guideline in my opinion.
    Let’s take it one step further. If you are following a blog or someone on Twitter who is consistently promoting list posts (and other fluff content) UNFOLLOW them. Once we start doing that, who knows, we may see the tide turn.
    So what would I like to see more from design blogs? Well, apart from more original content I would like to see more opinion. Instead of following the crowd I would like more bloggers to actually have a soul and express what they think. Don’t be scared of people not agreeing with you all the time.

    Playing it safe is a one way ticket to mediocrity.
    Duane´s featured post: Google Doesn’t Understand Professional Logo Design

    • ximi says:

      Some great points you make there!

      I’m not totally convinced by your “only share it if it’s worth commenting” rule, just because I read great posts sometimes where I don’t have anything to add anymore (and I usually don’t leave: “Great Post!”-comments either), but we definitely should be more conscience regarding what we share and promote.

      I often have the feeling certain posts are just tweeted because a lot of others did so (without the respective tweeter even reading the post).

      However, I do completely agree with your demand for more opiniated and original content from blogs. Thanks for your comment!

  2. Lam Nguyen says:

    I totally agree with your definition about list post. Yeah, sure, it’s true. And I agree more with this respond to that Smashing Opinion which I found it’s just a blaming to new bloggers. However, I don’t think our readers are stupid that they re-tweet anything people are tweeting. Why are they our readers, just because they found our content is great and it’s helpful for them. So, they will tweet if they found it’s great. That’s why you don’t need to stop them.

    The list posts are not just about “Top…”, “Best…”. They are about something good and helpful to specific group of people.There are some blogs that are doing it stupidly by putting the terms “Best”, “Top” but they even haven’t checked them. They just organize what they think are cool and something people are paying attention to. They are doing wrong at all? No, the guy who posted that opinion was wrong. He just talked about some scrap lists that he saw recently and he thought all the list posts today are spam. Some “Best.., “Top…” are really the good list at all AT THE TIME THEY PUBLISHED, but for a while, they will become scraps because there are something better now. The author will be right if and only when he didn’t miss any of them. Furthermore, catch the list post on time, he will think it’s good. However, there are really some list posts are stupid!

    I admit there are some blogs are publishing posts of list that I can’t understand what are they listing, but I still re-tweet them. Why? Because it’s value of network. Let’s see how Smashing Network is doing? Sometime, I found some posts are really sh*ts at all. The truth is many big blogs are doing spam, too. They are posting not-unique, not-original, but why they got many of re-tweet, diggs? So, who will stop them? It’s a value of network. They are promoting each others. With small blogs, is it worth for blaming when their subscribers are very tiny? Readers will score and vote for it. We dont need to mind for such thing! If we care, that means we are jealous with them. They are building their network, just like big boys.

    I don’t like to be hated, so that’s why I didn’t post reply to that opinion. When you are small, you are growing, but big boys hate you, you won’t have any place in the community. Big boys like to make small boy goes slowly by burying, reporting spam the links of small guys on some social networks. Because they just scare.
    Lam Nguyen´s featured post: Important Elements to Consider at Developing SEO Strategy

    • ximi says:

      What a long comment, thanks a lot Nguyen!

      Let me clarify some things: I don’t want people to stop tweeting or sharing great content, I want them to select a little bit more consciously and careful what they tweet and share. I often see a lot of twitter-links to relatively mundane posts that I personally find everything else but useful (but that’s just my personal opinion).

      Another thing I need to make clear is that this wasn’t a post against list posts, not at all. It was a post against list posts that feature the same content that has already been featured on a hundred other lists and don’t add any value to the community.

      I agree with you that there is as well a time-factor. A list post that features the 30 best jquery plugins certainly won’t be that relevant anymore in a year or two, but isn’t that the case with many posts (including this one)?

      On the other hand, I completely disagree with your opinion on retweeting posts you don’t understand or that aren’t of any use for you for the sake of the network or community. Imagine everybody would do this, then we would end up with a post that was tweeted 100 times and nobody actually found it useful or understood it. I see tweeting or sharing something as a recommendation to my followers and colleagues and I wouldn’t wanna recommend something I don’t understand and like.

      I can’t really say anything regarding the suppression of small design blogs and communities by bigger ones – I personally didn’t experience or notice this, rather the contrary, but those are just my personal experiences and I’d encourage you to share your opinions and not be afraid to be punished by the big boys.

      Thanks again for your comment, I really appreciate it!

    • Lam Nguyen says:

      I didn’t even say you were trying to against all list posts! By the way, you can call me Lam!
      Lam Nguyen´s featured post: Kick-ass CSS3 Support in IE6, 7, and 8

    • Mike S says:

      I think a large majority of folks who tweet this stuff simply need content to fill their auto-tweet so while they’re away their twitter account is doing it’s job. When you look at the people who digg and retweet, half of them aren’t even in the related field and have no reason to take an interest in your material.

      A network ceases to become useful when everyone simply gives kudos, diggs, pats on the back simply because you’re networked. That’s not what a network is about. You re-tweeting because you’re in the same network does no one any favors unless you read the content and actually believe it’s worthy of your time and of course of your readers time.

  3. Richie says:

    I think list posts are a valuable set of resources for any blogger/designer, provided it is written reasonably, with a good intention and with some helpful content in it.

    List posts like “100 free awesome wordpress themes” are very annoying because I would have seen the same themes, a million times in many other blogs. These kinds of redundant posts remove the flair of what List posts actually are.

    But, if you search your @$$ off to collect and compile some really useful lists such as Brushes, stock images, textures, plugins like what you do with the ‘Resource-Wednesday’, that is truly commendable because you do that with the intention of helping the design community grow and not just because someone else with a better ad revenue has done it before and you want to attract traffic.

    Well, as long as the design community is young and emerging, which we are.. list posts will continue to grow and help us with the resources we need, AMEN!!
    Richie´s featured post: Create a slick glowing button in Photoshop

    • ximi says:

      I agree Richie, if a list post has a unique topic and is well-prepared and researched it’s a great asset.

      You know most probably as well as I do that preparing a good list post can be just as time-consuming as writing a great article or tutorial.

      I wanted to speak up against those mindless list post (you mentioned xxx free wordpress themes) that have the same links that you’ll find all over the web.

  4. Aidan says:

    List post maybe just like one man’s meat or another man’s poison but they are reasons why they existed and even popular. I realized that in order to appeal to everyone and not be too philosopher or dull in the contents, we should have a variety of good list article.

    So what make a good list post? An in-depth analysis of the trends, followed by the pros and cons with tutorials, and finally showcases with various examples to support it. Well, this is a list post too but it’s a worthy one.

    I agreed with Lam on the important and “unfairness” of network support. Some blog may post great content but they don’t get the deserved attention and recognition just because they are small. While others big blogs just published “stand-by” list post.

    It’s not their fault, it’s the trends and we have to play by the rules.
    Aidan´s featured post: The 5Cs of Choosing the Right Client

    • ximi says:

      Good point Aiden!

      A good design blog should have a good mixture of content and list posts are definitely are part of that.

      I know very well how frustrating it can be to publish great content that never reaches a big audience and to see other big blogs get thousands of visitors by publishing mediocre content on a daily basis at the same time, but I believe that by being committed and constantly publishing great content success will finds its way to you eventually.

  5. ozd says:

    definitely agree with you.
    ozd´s featured post: Haftalık OZD #8

  6. Mike S says:

    The reason people post these lists, are because they’re generally not great at authoring original content and they see it as important to gaining visibility and notoriety to post *something*. Enter, the list!

    Here’s how it works:

    Come up with a list of really amazing somethings. Quickly author a blurb about each pseudo-amazing something or other on your list. Then, go to Twitter, Dig, Delicious, and every other social (viral) media outlet and spread your garbage across the internet! If you have your faithful 10,000 followers, chances are a few hundred to a few thousand of those folks will ALSO have zero content writing abilities and repost for you. Before you know it, your list (which may not actually be any good or very useful at all) is viewed by millions of folks who aren’t even aware they have any use for such nonsense. Google will hail you as an expert on the subject and everyone will know you’re a master list maker.

    Hehe. Can you taste my sarcasm?

  7. Many people are actually copying other people’s work because they can see that that something is worth hundreds of people’s attention. Of course, on our end (as the copywriter or people not agreeing with copycats), we get pissed off. But look on the bright side, people copy our original posts because they think it is worth it. That is how powerful the post is.

    I definitely agree with you that people must filter their post to only what is credible enough.

    But then, TO QOUTE AIDAN in his comment: “It’s not their fault, it’s the trends and we have to play by the rules.” – It is a great insight, Aidan. :)

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