a list of lists

the 7 reasons why lists are catchy

1 September 2005
In the modern world of links and bookmarks, a list is something that automatically comes with a catchy title – catchy enough to make the reader want to see what's in the list.
1. Lists Are A Well-Understood Idiom So many books and websites are described in terms of a list. On the one hand we may all be heading towards list-fatigue, but on the other hand the reader quickly understands what sort of thing to expect, so it's still a good way of explaining what you have to offer.
2. A List Description Fits Into A Title In these days of RSS and social bookmarking, your website needs to be able to tell everyone what it is about entirely within a title. One difference between books and websites is that website readers have a much greater tendency to scan. And the website they are scanning isn't even your website, it's some kind of links page, and each link has to describe itself in a title, with perhaps an additional short description. So whatever you have to say about what your website is and why it is worth visiting, you need to be able to say it in the title.
3. Lists Have Structure, and Readers Like Structure Long unstructured web pages can get a bit boring, or they can seem like a struggle to get through to the end. A list is structured by definition, so the reader can look forward to reading a nicely structured web page.
4. A List Is A Mystery Suppose someone advertises a list with the title 10 Reasons Why Bush Should Have Thought Twice Before Invading Iraq. George Bush sees the link in his RSS reader, and he tries to think what the 10 reasons could be. He does a bit of head-scratching and thinks of 4 reasons, but after that he gets stuck. He asks his wife, who comes up with another one that George didn't think of, and then he rings up his colleague Colin Powell, and Colin thinks up a couple more. Which means he's still 3 short (assuming the ones he's got so far are the same as the ones in the list). The only way he is ever going to find out what those extra 3 items are is if he goes to the website and reads the list.
5. A List Promises Expertise Most people might know a few methods of getting stains off carpets, but if your list is 25 Ways to Remove Stains From Carpets, then your knowledge clearly goes way beyond that of the average person, and you must be a subject expert.
6. With So Many List Items, They Can't All Be Rubbish When you see an advertised link to a list with the title 10 Ways to Pay Off Your Mortgage, you could suspect that some of the items are lame worn-out suggestions, like "Make your own Cappuchino's – Don't Buy Them in Coffee Shops", or, "Synchronise Your Mortgage Payments With Your Paydays to Reduce Interest", or even "Buy A Cheaper House". But if the list has 10 items, then you would think that surely at least a few them are going to be worth the effort of reading them.
7. The Number Of Items Can Carry A Message I did say that having a list with a reasonable number of items promises the reader that they won't have to do too much work to read your web page. But sometimes a larger number carries an interesting message. Like Over Three Hundred Proofs of God's Existence, or EJB's 101 Damnations. In each of those examples, the reader's natural response is, "Oh My God, I Didn't Realise There Were So Many!".