I first heard the term “listicle” from a writer a few years ago. According to the dictionary, a listicle is “an article consisting of a series of items presented as a list.” I guessed that was the definition from the context of the conversation with the writer, but I was amazed to learn about their popularity.

As a professional writer, he was explaining to me that listicles were the thing that got published the most. He said they were wildly popular and it was all people wanted to read anymore, an easily digestible list of summarized things. Consequently, he spent a lot of his time writing listicles rather working on more substantive articles because he needed to make a living, and that meant producing things that would get published and liked/shared by others.

When I started examining my own habits and noticing the kinds of things I sometimes clicked on, sure enough, listicles were present. There was definitely some truth to what the writer was saying. In this era of information overload, having things presented in a succinct summary in a ranked order makes it easier to digest large quantities of information, but that doesn’t mean it’s good quality content. Or substantive enough to adequately educate one about a particular topic.

Admittedly, listicles can be kind of useful sometimes. Information is laid out with bold headers and sub-headers. It’s easy to understand the main points of the content with a quick skim of the content. I often find myself clicking on listicles for reviews, especially for restaurants or technology. Occasionally I’m attracted to a listicle for a quick overview on topics related to self-help or productivity strategies. It’s just enough to satisfy my curiosity and give me a launch pad to investigate something more thoroughly if my interest is piqued.

In an effort to find ways to process the vast amounts of information thrown at us on a daily (sometimes hourly!) basis, we’ve developed a method to distill information down into digestible pieces. However, when we rely on these watered-down versions for everything, perhaps we’re also sacrificing substance and quality. I’ve blogged about this before in the “Irony of the Information Age” and “Information Distillation.”

Listicles are definitely one option for dealing with information overload, but are we compromising too much?

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