Top 10 Lists Suck. A Lot.

OK, maybe they aren't all lame OK, maybe they aren't all lame

Take the pledge with me, please.

“I hate top 10 lists.  I will never do a top 10 list.  I will never re-tweet, share on Facebook or otherwise positively review a top 10 list ever again.  I will cast the appropriate amount of scorn and derision upon them, because I realize Top 10 lists are a tool of the Devil.”

Too much, you say?  Do you remember a wonderful movie from the 80s called Broadcast News? There was a great speech in it from Albert Brooks, when he tells Holly Hunter’s character that the simple minded William Hurt character is the Devil:

What do you think the Devil is going to look like if he’s around? Nobody is going to be taken in if he has a long, red, pointy tail. No. I’m semi-serious here. He will look attractive and he will be nice and helpful and he will get a job where he influences a great God-fearing nation and he will never do an evil thing… he will just bit by little bit lower standards where they are important. Just coax along flash over substance… Just a tiny bit. And he will talk about all of us really being salesmen.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xgtitHA22i0

Now that is some damn good writing.  And it is pretty much how I feel about Top 10 lists.

They are pablum.  They are the mindless dreck that comes from wanting to knock out a quick post…. wait… an idea forms….

A Top 10 list of the Top 10 reasons that Top 10 lists suck.

Deal with the format, in its own format. Similar to my tongue-in-cheek 2010 year end wrap-up idea, true, but let’s roll with it.

I should do this with some cool video that would reveal them with the appropriate background music, but my technical skills to not rise to the level of my distain.  So instead, I’ll embed a appropriately reverential and respectful song (that features the mental state I feel every time I see these damn things) here via the above clip.  Please just hit play and scroll down slowly, pretending all is revealed in sync with the tune.

With no further ado, I give you…..

Top Ten Reasons that Top 10 Lists Suck

9. You didn’t think you were really going to get 10 reasons, did you?  Let’s start with some respect for worthwhile Top 10 lists, for instance the Ten Commandments or the Bill of Rights.  Actually, now that I think about it, even those suck.  Not making a carved image is on the top 10 commandments of a major religion or two? Not working on Sunday (or Saturday, depending on your definition) is more important than requiring charity and compassion for others?  The Golden Rule is one rule, not a g**damn top 10 list.  The Third Amendment in the Bill of Rights is protection from the quartering of troops in your house. Really? That makes the top 10?

8. No one even bothers to do them right — A Top 10 list should be a countdown from 10 to 1.  Some sense of order leading up to the most important or best.  Is there no appreciation for the build-up to the best anymore?  If you are going to do a crappy idea, at least do it properly.

7. Every good Top 10 has been done — Now we are subjected to an endless array of the overdone (Top 10 Beaches) or moronic and nonsensical (Top 10 Photos featuring Blue).  There actually is a Top 10 List website.  On its front page today, honest to god, two of the posts are: Top 10 Vegetables and Top 10 Ways to Pick your Nose.  Enough already.  Letterman does it better than any of us, leave it in his capable hands and stop being a follower.

6. They insult your readers — What you are basically saying is that no one cares to read anything unless it comes in bite-sized pieces.  While this may be true in our attention-deficit, click-and-move world, don’t feed the beast.   Shameless kiss-up to my readers… I have more faith in you.

5. They are just done for SEO purposes — SEO, for the non-blogging readers here, means search engine optimization.  All of us publishing on the web want our stories to appear near the top of the Google or Bing searches, and unfortunately people get on google all the time to ask for the “top 10″ this and that.

top 10 women from wayne's world

OK, maybe they aren’t all lame

4. It is lazy writing — throw up some photos of beaches and call them the top 10 best beaches in the world.  Throw up one measly sentence about this or that and call it the Top 10 Best Whatevers.  No depth, no thought, just damn lazy.

3. They are lame — Take a stand.  Ten is a cop-out.  Go for the Top 3 beaches or take a real stand and just go with your very best beach of all time.  Do we get to cast 10 votes for President?  Of course not. You get one vote.  Pick your best choice and run with it.

2. What the hell is up with 10?  Are there really always ten best of every single thing in the world? Why not 7 or 12 or 16, if you aren’t going to pick one? Ten is contrived. It is the number you pick out before you decide what is worthwhile. Ten made some mathematical sense in the old days, but we are now in the digital age, which is binary.  Go with Top 2 lists, I say.

1. Because it is long past time to put substance over style.  I shall endeavor to make this point with a simple question — can you think of any Top 10 post that you thought was an example of truly great and thoughtful writing?

‘Nuff said.  Join the Revolution.

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I’m an attorney that took off on my birthday in December of 2008 to circumnavigate the globe without ever getting on an airplane. After 16 months, 6 continents and 44 countries, I made it all the way back home. Right now, I am back on the road writing about it all. Read more by Michael Hodson and connect on Google Plus.

115 Responses to “Top 10 Lists Suck. A Lot.” Subscribe

  1. Allison February 21, 2011 at 8:58 am #

    I’m pretty sure people also do them so they will get retweeted by lonely planet. Thus guaranteeing a bazillion hits to their stupid list while simultaneously guaranteeing no repeat visitors from said bazillion hits.

    I’m taking the pledge.

    • Michael Hodson February 21, 2011 at 10:59 am #

      whooo hoooo! One person added to the side of right and justice!

  2. Gary Arndt February 21, 2011 at 9:00 am #

    The problem with most top 10 lists is that they are written by people who have never been to the places on the list or done the things that they write about.

    For example, “Top 10 Beaches in the World” would probably just be a list of famous beaches the author heard about with some creative commons (or not) images taken from Flickr.

    The real question for any top 10 list should be: “How do you know that?”

    If the list is written from personal experience, then I see no problem with it. “My top 10 favorite beaches” is a totally different story then trying to say you know the top 10 beaches in the world, especially if you haven’t been to every beach in the world.

    The other exception would be if there is some sort of methodology. National Geographic Traveler every so often comes out with their list of “50 Places of a Lifetime”. Rather than just pulling places out of their ass, they actually poll writers and other travelers to have some sort of system for creating the list.

    A great example of a horrible list is this one by Off Track Planet (http://offtrackplanet.com/featured/doing-fun-things-in-dangerous-places/) I’m pretty sure the author never has been to any of the places on that list, let alone done the things on the list. It is pure bullshit. They just made shit up and stole some images to create a piece of link bait.

    Next time you see a list, just leave a comment that says “How do you know that?”. That’s the litmus test.

    • Michael Hodson February 21, 2011 at 11:02 am #

      Leave it to Gary to add flesh, substance and good analysis to my attempt at humor. I think next time I pop off with a humorous take about something I witness on the world wide interwebs, I need to ask Gary if he’ll do a sidebar with well thought out analysis. Thanks for taking the time out to long-form comment, Gary.

      • Marsha February 21, 2011 at 11:27 am #

        Two things. I will co-opt with Gary here because creating a top 10 list of, say, the world’s best beaches inherently assumes that you’ve been to every single beach in the world and that the beaches on your list are the top 10. Not gonna happen. Secondly, it’s *your* opinion. What you like in beaches and what I like in beaches are two completely different things. I will confess that I have retweeted a top 10 list or two if I thought they were worthy… :)

    • Tania February 27, 2011 at 11:58 am #

      Gary, great comment! And so true…

      Whenever I write – if I’ve never been there, I always interview 1-3 people who are involved (aka have experienced with the subject at hand. Stories of personal experience are always the best in my opinion…when something is genuine the reader is left with a little more to digest versus random quick facts you could find on Wikipedia or some other quick Google search. There is a true sense of place and person

    • Raymond March 2, 2011 at 8:19 pm #

      So of course I had to check out the link Gary referred to above, and I noticed a little golden nugget titled…ahem…”Sex in Cuba: A Guide to Getting Laid”. It’s complete with a photo of a chesty bar tart and the caption, “Last Night’s Pork”. I smell a Pulitzer…

    • Freddie March 2, 2011 at 11:18 pm #

      Off Track Planet has NEVER, ONCE, EVER SOLD TEXT LINKS, EVER. Every single link on our site is there for the sole purpose of providing the reader a reference. In fact, we don’t even have advertising anywhere on the site other than one Google ad in the sidebar.

      In regards to our top 10 lists, you picked 1 out of 200 top 10 lists we’ve published that wasn’t fully written from our writers first-hand experience, because that particular article was created for entertainment and inspirational value. It was very well researched and written otherwise – but let me explain before people takes Gary’s word on this…

      Off Track Planet was created to inspire the youth demographic to travel, especially those based in the United States. It’s completely designed for the A.D.D. audience which is why, for us, top 10 formats work well. Some of the material is created purely to entertain and inspire but most, 98.9% of it is written from our travel writers first-hand experience and I have 12 angry travel writers that would love to take this matter up with you personally, Gary.

      Let me also say that Gary has had a personal vendetta towards us for almost 2 years over some images that weren’t properly linked. Our biggest pride is the quality of our content and we do our best in every aspect of our site to inspire more young people to travel. You continually like to say bad things about us – if it empowers you to pick on a group of young writers, motivated to create positive change in our world through travel, I hope it makes you feel good about yourself.

  3. Joel February 21, 2011 at 9:17 am #

    You make me ashamed that I once wrote the Top 10 Best Phallic Structures in the world. http://freedoniapost.com/2010/09/the-10-best-phallic-structures-to-visitpart-1-of-2/

    Of course, it was my most heavily researched post and I have been to all 10 of them. And I swear I don’t give a crap about SEO.

    Can I please be excused that one offense?

    • Michael Hodson February 21, 2011 at 11:04 am #

      Well, I made an exception for Letterman, I suppose I should obviously make an exception for any penis references relating to travel, even in a top 10 format. Or boobs.

  4. 1dad1kid February 21, 2011 at 9:22 am #

    Great article & well written! I agree on so many levels. I also get a kick out of the ones that declare they know the best blogs. Based on what? One person’s top 10 is another’s bottom 20.

    • Michael Hodson February 21, 2011 at 11:05 am #

      well, unless they put me on their list…. in that case, I am all for them ;)

  5. Ken Kaminesky February 21, 2011 at 9:29 am #

    I’m with Allison,

    People do it for the traffic, and it’s a shame that Lonely Planet or any other self respecting publication would condone these kinds of posts. ESPECIALLY when they pass over retweeting quality content that actually requires one to read as opposed to skim.

    I’ll grant you that for pretty photos of beaches, or monuments, or something of the like, these lists get my attention as well. I’m a Pavlovian dog when it comes to websites that have lots of cool photos like the Boston Globe http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/ . I will try to mend my ways, and stick to the legit sources of information and images. But it is discouraging to see the top ten lists getting hundreds of thousands of Stumbles, Diggs, FB likes and Tweets. Even worse is when the authors of these lists use the photography without any permission whatsoever, and they never credit the photographer. That is called theft, and I’ll be writing about that on my blog soon. Thanks for the wake up call Michael.

    • Michael Hodson February 21, 2011 at 11:07 am #

      Yea, understand the traffic reasoning for sure. Guess I just find the whole thing silly. I could put up some pictures of half-naked hot women in my site also and get some more traffic, I suppose…. hold it…. thought forming….

      • Dave February 21, 2011 at 12:30 pm #

        Just don’t put up the Colombian models…that’s my job. :)

        • Michael Hodson February 21, 2011 at 4:18 pm #

          we need LOTS more of those posts, David!

  6. Anthony February 21, 2011 at 9:34 am #

    I couldn’t agree with you more Mike. Does anyone even read those list posts anyway? Every time I see them re-tweeted I skim straight across them and don’t even give them a second glance. When I see numbers in the title I instantly am thinking – not another fricken list! Instead of creating a list, they should write individual posts about everything on the list. Chances are, like Gary has said, they have never even been to the places on the list. I have taken the pledge and will stand by it.

    • Michael Hodson February 21, 2011 at 11:08 am #

      I can say that I don’t think I have ever RT’d a top 10 list or otherwise “pimped it” out. And not going to start now. Thanks.

  7. John February 21, 2011 at 9:49 am #

    Actually, I think anyone can post what they like, nobody is forced to read any content. Some folks actually like Top 10 lists, in much the same way as red top tabloid newspapers sell more copies than other formats. Lonely Planet has sold Top 10 Destination Guides for years now, so I’m fairly sure there is a market for this style of information transfer. They are a different niche to evocative writing via travel blogs. The question that should be asked of anyone in any type of publishing is, “What do my readers want to read?”
    At least on the internet if we see a link to a post headed “Top 10…” we can save some precious minutes of our life by not clicking.
    I suspect however, that you will only get the views of other travel bloggers in these comments, making a meaningful analysis of what John and Jane Doe, the non blogging travellers actually think.
    In the meantime I am left wondering how I came to click on a post that begins; “Top 10…”

    • Michael Hodson February 21, 2011 at 11:10 am #

      “At least on the internet if we see a link to a post headed “Top 10…” we can save some precious minutes of our life by not clicking.”

      Word.

  8. Jeff February 21, 2011 at 9:49 am #

    I agree with Gary on this one. I do very few top 10 lists. But, when I do them (like I just did), they are based on my experience and use my photos. I also prefer 10 Great or 10 Cool or even 10 Amazing. But, when I see 10 Best, my BS meter goes off because it is almost impossible for any person to be able to pull that off convincingly. Top lists can be a useful tool in a time when people’s attention spans are limited. But, most often, they are abused.

    • Michael Hodson February 21, 2011 at 11:13 am #

      Ahhhh, in a comment that I am going to make in reply to a bunch of other comments on this thread.

      I’ve got no problem with Top lists, or Great Things lists, or any other variation of it. My question at its heart is…. why 10?

      Just make the list and however many things you want to list as the best, or the top, or the most amazing just comes out naturally. 10 is contrived.

  9. Dave February 21, 2011 at 9:55 am #

    “They are the mindless dreck that comes from wanting to knock out a quick post”

    I seriously disagree. You’re throwing the baby out with the bath water. As Gary said, what matters more than the format of one’s writing is the substance behind it. I’m just as likely to put a few hours into writing up a list post as I’m a normal one.

    The reason list posts are popular, and quantified by a number, usually an odd one or the evil 10, is that people respond to these titles. Bloggers took this tactic from magazines. Look on any cover of a woman’s magazine, or Men’s Health even, and you’ll see a variety of titles along the lines of “47 Secret Ways to Have Mindblowing Sex.” If magazines have been doing it for decades, I’m pretty sure you’ll see bloggers doing it for just as long.

    Online, people want content they can skim quickly — maybe they’re using an iPhone and don’t have time to read the War and Peace of the World’s Driest Deserts. I don’t mean that as a blanket statement — there are plenty of people who want to read travel narratives, but for the most part, I’m not one of them (or if I do, it’s by someone I know personally). Clearly I’m not alone or we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

    Just because a blogger puts their thoughts in list form doesn’t mean those thoughts are “mindless.”

    “They are just done for SEO purposes”

    While list posts may find their way to the top of search engine listings, this is not my intent when writing or publishing them. The use of a number in the title is meant to grab people’s attention when it’s posted in RSS feeds and through social media (on Facebook, Twitter, etc).

    And while you may be sick of reading them because you spend a lot of time reading other blogs or on social media, I’m sure that the general public isn’t so fed up!

    • Grant February 21, 2011 at 10:07 am #

      I have to agree with Dave here. It’s tough posting roundup lists all of the time (we don’t necessarily limit them to 10 at Gadling, nor do they have to be numbered or rigid) but it’s what our audiences respond to. Unfortunately, that makes them a necessary evil.

      Nb, I bet you’re getting huge traffic on this top 10 list.

      • Michael Hodson February 21, 2011 at 11:16 am #

        Traffic has been OK. Actually not very likely to be one of my top traffic posts, because it really is only of interest to bloggers and my “regular readers” probably are rolling their eyes at the inside pool nature of it.

        And again, I’ve got no problem with lists. Hell, I have done a lot of list posts. I just personally hate Top 10 lists.

    • Michael Hodson February 21, 2011 at 11:14 am #

      “47 Secret Ways to Have Mindblowing Sex” or other such posts don’t bother me at all. Why? Because the author started thinking of reasons and came up with 47. Or 13. Or 8.

      10 is contrived. The only reason people do lists of 10 is because….. other people do lists of 10. It is simple follower behavior.

      • Dave February 21, 2011 at 12:34 pm #

        Ok, I get your point about 10 being a contrived number. I’m not so interested in “Top 10″ of anything. I’ve used plenty of other numbers, but they don’t seem to bring in as much traffic. Also, for what it’s worth, when I sit down to write, having a target number in mind can sometimes help me formulate my thoughts better.

    • Jason Castellani February 23, 2011 at 8:20 pm #

      It’s skimmed all the comments and I think Dave sums up my opinions too.

  10. John February 21, 2011 at 10:00 am #

    Gary,
    Looked up the link. ROTFL! I’m not sure what anyone else thinks, but that is piece of comedy in a weak Monty Python sort of way. I also couldn’t find a comment from you on there saying, “How do you know this?” Guess they reject comments they don’t like to publish, or you don’t follow your own advice. ;)

    • Gary Arndt February 21, 2011 at 11:49 am #

      What? I have a list of links. I used the tag instead of the tag. I didn’t put a number in my title and all I claimed was that it was a some links I wanted to share. It didn’t use any modifiers like “Best”, “Top”, or “Awesome”.

      How do I know? Because it is my opinion. That’s all I claimed it to be.

      • John February 21, 2011 at 12:34 pm #

        I was referring Off Track Planet Link the link you consider to be horrible. What list of links?

        • Gary Arndt February 21, 2011 at 12:54 pm #

          I thought you were referring to my recent post on my site. Never mind.

          As for leaving a post on OTP, I’m not going to dignify them. They steal photos. They’ve done it since day 1 and still do it. The site is nothing but stolen photos and link bait articles.

        • Freddie March 2, 2011 at 10:50 pm #

          Off Track Planet has NEVER, ONCE, EVER SOLD TEXT LINKS, EVER on OFF TRACK PLANET. Every single link on our site is there for the sole purpose of providing the reader a reference. In fact, we don’t even have advertising anywhere on the site other than one Google ad in the sidebar.

          I don’t appreciate you assuming these type things without having anything to back it up and then going public with it…over, and over again – especially after I’ve addressed that to you, personally via email.

          And as far as pictures go, yes we had a period of time in the first few months of launching the site almost 2 years ago where I wasn’t using photos correctly because I didn’t know any better. At another point we had a designer who cut corners and it got by me – We’re doing our best to go back and replace and/or properly link those. I now double check to make sure we get permission and properly link all photos – if you comb through the site, you will find the majority as so.

    • Freddie March 2, 2011 at 11:34 pm #

      We never reject comments, feel free to leave one of your own. Please read my other replies on this topic before you make up your mind about us. If you don’t like our sense of humor, that’s fine – it’s not meant to be like most travel writing in the first place (bland). But to say it was thrown together for link bait is a horrible offense with no truth to it.

  11. Deb February 21, 2011 at 10:21 am #

    I like top 10 list destination pieces, it gives me some ideas of places I want to visit and sites I want to see. They are fun to read and don’t bother me at all. Whatever people want to write on their blog they can, it doesn’t bother me one way or another. I agree with John, you will probably only get comments from other travel bloggers about this subject anyway because the rest of the world really doesn’t care. When I’m looking up a destination that I am about to travel to, I look up phrases like “Things to do in …” It helps me decide what I want to see and do when I get there. We always do a wrap up of places that we have been to. For example our, Top Adventurous thing to do in Thailand, or The Best things to do in Sri Lanka. Good for me if it is SEO friendly, isn’t that the point of blogging, to get people to come to your site? And I don’t think that my posts on our best adventures in Victoria Falls is a cop out at all. I experienced those adventures and I researched and thought about what I wanted to say. I think that my readers would be grateful that I gave them some info on what to do in Vic Falls.

    • Michael Hodson February 21, 2011 at 11:17 am #

      I love list posts. I love best-things-to-do in such and such posts. I like best hostel posts and search for them all the time. I am good with all sorts of lists, bests, and otherwise….

      but why 10?

  12. Chris - The Aussie Nomad February 21, 2011 at 10:28 am #

    The humor factor in this post is awesome Michael, now if only I wasn’t at work so could include the mentioned audio backing music as I read down the list.

    • Michael Hodson February 21, 2011 at 11:19 am #

      Kinda sad I haven’t gotten more comments on the song I picked or whether people thought any of the reasons were funny….. since it was intended as a funny post :(

      • Joel February 21, 2011 at 11:29 am #

        My favorite was the one about “taking a stand.” So take your own advice and quit negating all your points except #2 & #3!!!

        ;)

        • Michael Hodson February 21, 2011 at 4:03 pm #

          ain’t that the truth, brother. Ain’t it the truth ;)

  13. Chanize February 21, 2011 at 10:58 am #

    I write plenty of Top 10 lists. Why? Because ALL my editors ASK for them. And guess what? They help pay my bills. As much as I understand the ire aimed at these lists, perhaps instead of dissing the writers, let’s direct our attention to the magazines/websites who continue to use these models despite claiming they want Fresh! New! Ideas!
    Everyone wants a roundup and chances are the writer hasn’t visited every place on the list. But that isn’t limited to “listy” pieces, is it? How many editors are concerned that the writer hasn’t been to the area, and instead expects them to just research it? Because you know they aren’t flying the author out to those 10 places, are they? Pfft.

    • Michael Hodson February 21, 2011 at 11:22 am #

      Chanize, no need to do your comment inputs here so that you show up anonymously. I take no offense at any comments.

      As to the substance…. if someone was paying me good money to make Top 10 lists… I’d be making Top 10 lists and cashing the checks. I am willing to be a hypocrite for beer money. ;)

      • Sajid September 18, 2012 at 9:39 pm #

        Michael , you keep on saying that you have no offense on any comments.
        But its really sad that you did not have had the courage to publish my comment about the “top 10 lists”.
        But you feared to approve the comment.

        I am not going to say anything more , because i know you are not going to publish and approve which goes against you.

  14. Nicolas De Corte February 21, 2011 at 11:19 am #

    I agree with Gary in the way that it is impossible for anyone to create any top 10 list, as it’s not possible that the writer has been everywhere and even if he/she has, they cannot speak for everyone. What you like most is still a personal decision.

    That said, I wonder if you think the same way about any list. For example something like “7 beaches I liked the most”. The good thing about these list posts is that they are well organized in paragraphs with subtitles, which you can’t always say about regular posts. They’re easy to scan and provide the opportunity to skip a part that doesn’t interest you.

    • Michael Hodson February 21, 2011 at 11:23 am #

      Nope, like I said above a number of times — totally fine with list posts. They have their purpose. Just personally recoil every time I see “10” and always want to ask, “really? 10? That was the number that you naturally arrived at?”

  15. Chanize February 21, 2011 at 11:34 am #

    Show up anonymously? What? I see my name just fine. Maybe I’m missing something.

    Anyhoo, I don’t see the number 10 as any different than magazine 101 where it’s damn near mandatory to put a number on the cover. It seems for online, 10 is the magic number for the ADHD generation.

    And if you’re doing a 10 New Hotels piece, but remove the word “Top”, then it becomes a news story and not necessarily an evaluation, yes? So I’m in favor of taking out the word “Top”.

    And yes, one of my clients pays pretty nicely for her Top 10 lists.

    The one who does Top Five, pays half of that. ;-)

    • Michael Hodson February 21, 2011 at 4:05 pm #

      Odd, your name doesn’t show up with any way for people to click on it and email you directly and such. No worries. Perhaps an oddity of my WordPress theme that isn’t working.

      and send that client on to me. I will totally whore myself out of my principles for good cash. And will try to pitch him or her on a prime number post. ;)

  16. Andrew February 21, 2011 at 1:04 pm #

    Hmmm.. Perhaps instead of Top 10, I will do a Random 8. No order, just pick randomly 8 thinks to highlight and try to talk about.
    There was a show in the US (that I think was actually a british show, but definitely not something I have seen in Germany) that took two random things in history and through a series of jumps related them. It would be nearly as mindless to write, but somewhat more entertaining.

    • Michael Hodson February 21, 2011 at 4:05 pm #

      I love the Random 8. I actually have an entire trip around the world that I want to do in random fashion, but need a serious sponsor for the endeavor.

  17. Mike February 21, 2011 at 2:53 pm #

    I think top ten posts can have a role to play but agree they need to have a purpose – great pictures is one thing, but great content is even better. The saying a picture tells a thousand words is true but a thousands words can inspire people people even more in my opinion – maybe because I am a writer and not a photographer.

    • Michael Hodson February 21, 2011 at 4:06 pm #

      One well edited pic sure does take me a lot less time than 1,000 words…. so its got that going for it.

  18. Gray February 21, 2011 at 3:22 pm #

    I don’t have a problem with list posts as long as they’re well done–and not overdone, which is the biggest problem. As Gary said, you can tell most of them were written by someone who only did online research, but hasn’t really been to all of those places or done all of those things. Websites that do nothing but top 10 lists bore me. The writers who rely on them too heavily are like one-trick ponies. I think it’s a perfectly valid tool to have in your writer’s toolkit, but to use that same analogy, are you going to use a hammer as your only tool for every project you have, or are you sometimes going to need a screwdriver or a wrench? Some people do have a short attention span, and the top 10 lists work best for them. Other people prefer meatier, in-depth posts to read because they’re more satisfying to them intellectually. Other people are visual and respond to photo essays. I like a variety of all of these things.

    • Michael Hodson February 21, 2011 at 4:07 pm #

      I don’t have any problem with list posts either. Do them all the time. Just chaff at the predetermined “10.”

  19. Brooke vs. the World February 21, 2011 at 3:24 pm #

    Ugh, I see both sides of this. As a blogger, I usually hate list posts in general and feel that most of the time they are a cop-out. However, I was surprised at how much traffic my post on the 10 places I want to visit before I hit 30 got… outrageous.

    I’ve come to terms now with the fact that the majority of people out there like this mindless drivel. As I’ve been pitching articles to various publications, I am surprised that my least-favorite and more list-type ideas are the ones being picked up on. *sigh*

    • Michael Hodson February 21, 2011 at 4:08 pm #

      no problem with lists — lists are fun. 10 is annoying to me. Well, annoying and a fodder for attempted humor… which seems to have missed its mark today ;)

  20. Dalene February 21, 2011 at 4:14 pm #

    Hilarious post, the best Top 10 list I’ve ever seen. :)

    Everyone can write whatever they want whenever, as far as I see it. I don’t have to read them.

    For our site though, I wholeheartedly put my left hand on my iPod, raise my right hand in the air and say…I do solemnly swear….

    • Michael Hodson February 21, 2011 at 5:03 pm #

      I have busted 2 iPods traveling so far…. hope that the transitive property from me to your hand doesn’t screw that one up.

  21. Craig February 21, 2011 at 4:43 pm #

    I didn’t read your sucky Top Ten list article thing, I just listened to the Smiths. And that was good.

    • Michael Hodson February 21, 2011 at 5:02 pm #

      best comment yet!! I am tempted to close comments on this thread after that home run.

  22. Cam February 21, 2011 at 5:18 pm #

    haha… I was waiting for this one! I’m enjoying the comments also, perhaps even more than the comical rant.
    I’m going to join Switzerland on this one… I like lists, what can I say, I have the attention span of a … is that a red fire truck??
    It doesn’t bother me when bloggers throw in the occassion Top 10 lists, just like it doesn’t bother me when bloggers write controversial posts just to stir up some discussion. It’s all in the name of attracting readers and providing entertainment.
    We do a “Beer Around the World” series that focuses on 10 memorable beer drinking moments from our travels. I chose to showcase ten photos because I had to be somewhat disciplined (we have over 300 photos in the queue) and it was a clean number. Now, I don’t promote “Top 10″ or say “10 Best”, it just happened to turn out that way. I don’t think the posts have any less value because I used 10 beer photos instead of 9 or 11, so I can’t agree that the number is the issue. Now, if all I did was blog about lists then I would agree with you completely.
    That said, I agree that “Top 10 Places I’ve Never Been” posts are quite annoying and useless.

    Shall I continue to flip flop… yikes, am I turning into a politician??

  23. Mikeachim February 21, 2011 at 5:46 pm #

    1. I’m all for Ten of things. In fact, anything with 10 in it, including that movie where Bo Derek gets her kit off. But look – 10. It worked for the Roman army – want to teach your soldiers not to suck? Kill every tenth man. That’s a powerful motivating force and would work wonders in travel-blogging circles. Then there’s decimal. And powers of ten. And then there’s Commandments. And the fact that Ten is the sum of the first 3 prime numbers, which is apparently something of a headgasm if you’re an egghead. And so on.

    Don’t knock ten. Ever. Or ten may knock you.

    That’s not a sinister threat, just a suggestion. I once criticised ten as a number, the way it was so crappy that it was the first number with two digits, setting the trend for long-winded math, etc etc. and the next day I lost a £10 note. This is a lesson about ten, and how it can screw you over. Look. Embrace the ten. Like these guys: http://10magazine.com/ Be happy. Be rich. Be Ten.

    2. Lists are fine. (Lists of ten ROCK, mainly because of 10 – see 1). It’s the way lists are used that’s the problem. We need to get over our small-minded fear of lists, and develop our small-minded fear of spam. Gary has a good point there too – too many Top Tens are unreferenced. No real justifying going on. No sense of actual research or of whittling down to a final list. These kinds of lists are dishonest, because they claim to be the “Top” (look, right there in the title) and they’re actually more accurately described by the word “Some”. These lists are not fine. Actually, lists are not fine. And top ten lists are the worst. BURN THEM ALL.

    3. I just went to get a book to use to build my case against Ten, and when I pulled the book out the bookcase, *exactly ten books fell out and landed on my head*. See what I mean? No screwing with Ten. I love Ten.

    4. Lists make a quick read. They’re visual shorthand.

    5. Don’t fuck with Ten.

    6. I’m tired of being told to do more things than I can possibly ever manage to do. I bet everyone is. No wonder we’re all stressed.

    7. Ten.

    8. I wish people would approach lists the right way, which is – have fun. Make your list come alive. Ridicule the format. Say something. Write something in your list that will change the way someone thinks. Not just add to their list of Stuff I’d Do If I Had Time Which I Never Will, Have You *Seen* My To Do List? One reason I love Lifehacker is that they have posts that have one or two things in them. I tend to actually get around to doing one or two things, here and there. I’ve rarely done ten things. Although I’M NOT KNOCKING THE GREAT TEN. Ten rocks my socks. But seriously? Have fun with your lists.

    9. Ten is a lot of writing. I’ve written Top Ten lists for blogs and it always takes AGES if you don’t cut corners and write nonsense. On my blog, I rarely do Tens because I want to write something meaningful and I want to finish writing it before I die. Seriously, ten is a lot to bite off and chew. I’m amazed so many do it.

    10. The greatest number in the world.

    Fin.

    • Michael Hodson February 21, 2011 at 6:04 pm #

      Best. Comment. Ever.

  24. pam February 21, 2011 at 6:00 pm #

    Never been one to let a joke die young. That’s why I’m totally putting this in my top ten list of top ten things that are making the web suck.

  25. Katie February 21, 2011 at 6:27 pm #

    Love this! I have to say, while I usually click on the headline to check out a lot of Top Ten lists, there are very few I can think of that end up being worth it – for a lot of the reasons people mentioned above. With some, it’s clear that they’ve never even been to the places mentioned. With others, their perspective seems quite limited (i.e., Top 10 Places in the World to do X, but all 10 are in the same region – great that they relied on what they know, but if it’s top 10 in the world, it should probably include other places in the world). I also hate Top 10 lists that are obvious (which a lot are). I’m always hoping to find one that actually tells me something new (like this one – ha!)

  26. Giulia February 21, 2011 at 9:53 pm #

    Almost every time I open a “Top 10 List” link I am so disappointed. I always expect something else, or at least some information! Most of the time I get some pics with a line or two about each one, and nothing new.
    When I first started blogging I didn’t know about these lists, then found out they where so popular. So I wrote a list too (shame on me:p) but it was “13 reasons why……bla bla” because I actually had 13 things to talk about. So I am excused right? :p (please include at least 10 reasons why I’m excused in my case, thanks-)
    I love your style. I loved the song. Thanks :)

  27. Abbey Hesser February 21, 2011 at 10:02 pm #

    Ughh… I’m so SICK of “I hate Top 10 Lists” posts already. Get creative at least. Rant about something everyone else hasn’t already jumped on the bandwagon for. Like “I hate posts with pictures” or perhaps “Reasons I don’t read blog posts from bloggers who AREN’T ME.” I dunno. Anything.

    I, for one LOVE Top 10 lists. I am ADHD. I enjoy things in short spurts (*ahem*) and I DON’T enjoy people coming in and golden showering all over my parade. I will continue to do Top 10 lists ESPECIALLY on things I have no authority for (I’m cooking up a post called “Top 10 ways to BEAT THE STEREOTYPE: Celibacy on the road”) and inserting (*ahem*) pictures I found off creative commons. So what. No one reads my blog anyway. Why can’t I at least have a little fun?

    On another note. I enjoy music in blogging. And (ya know, the whole ADHD thing) since I honestly only read the first sentence for each of your #s, maybe you were psyching me out with the headline and only giving the REAL goods to those who actually read every word of your post. Hmmm. Oh yes, I was talking about the song.

    I enjoyed it.

  28. Leslie (Downtown Traveler) February 21, 2011 at 10:06 pm #

    Interesting. I’ll take the dissenting opinion here. I agree, top 10 lists are overused; they can be meaningless, especially when there is just a sentence for each entry. However, I enjoy reading and posting top 5 lists (and the occasional top 10). I’m not always in the mood for a long, involved essay and sometimes it’s nice to scan a quick list on a topic I’m interested in. Especially when combined with photos, it’s an easy-to-digest format and is great for those of us without much time (which is essentially everyone). I can scan the list and read the points that interest me, and pass by the others. There’s a reason it’s a popular format! It boils down to this: if you don’t like top 10 lists, just don’t read them.

  29. Zablon February 22, 2011 at 7:41 am #

    your top 10 list doesnt have 10 items only nine

  30. Tonya February 22, 2011 at 8:18 am #

    This is hilarious and witty and made me laugh :) I had never quite thought of top ten lists that way, but I have to agree…thanks for the best top 10 list I have read.

  31. Ayngelina February 22, 2011 at 11:29 am #

    I had no idea the post would start such a debate. Personally I hate writing top 10 lists but as a reader I get sucked into them – even just to scan the answers to decide if I want to read it or not.

    • Michael Hodson February 22, 2011 at 2:02 pm #

      I was kinda hoping for more feedback on the humor aspect, but suppose I am glad to have started a substantive discussion instead. Not that I do substance that often ;)

  32. Angela February 23, 2011 at 11:49 am #

    I don’t like top ten lists either, unfortunately I get assigned some sometimes and I so hate to write them. You are right, they are just for SEO purpose and lazy writing, although for me they are much more difficult than other kind of articles simply because I don’t like to write them! However, we must admit, people love them, that’s why they are so requested…

  33. Yvonne February 23, 2011 at 3:52 pm #

    top 10 what? whatever. made me laugh. this post will make it into my “top 11 best blog posts I’ve ever read”. maybe at number 7. or 3. or X. oh wait. that’s *badword* too, right? yes, I had Latin in School.

  34. Christy @ Ordinary Traveler February 23, 2011 at 4:32 pm #

    Well, now I’m off to write a top 10 list so I can get re-tweeted by Lonely Planet!

  35. Laura February 23, 2011 at 5:03 pm #

    While I understand your hangup with overuse of the number 10, I like David Letterman’s Top 10 lists And he even counts down to #1 ;)

  36. Jim February 23, 2011 at 6:49 pm #

    Have to agree with Gary that most listicles appear to be written either by people who have never been to most of the places listed, or they’re just lazy writers.
    Give me a story, a real experience, a unique interpretation of a place, or an exploration of social or conservation issues associated with a place and I’ll read it avidly.
    So sign me up….Actually I signed up long ago . I refuse to read anything starting with 5 things or 10 best…

  37. Randy February 23, 2011 at 6:55 pm #

    You are on fire, man! It’s not easy to work in The Smiths, Wayne and Garth, and Broadcast News into a post, but you’ve managed to do it. However, due to an upcoming agreement, I’m going to have to take the 5th on Top 10 lists. :)

  38. Vera Marie Badertscher February 23, 2011 at 10:26 pm #

    So if you don’t like the number ten, why didn’t you call this post Top Nine Reasons…….
    And if you want us not to read top tens, why do you want people to Stumble it? Huh? Gotcha?

    And no one has stated my theory about why top 10, or 5 or even 3 lists break all traffic records is that people watch them hoping the writer will fail. They’ll read and say NO! That doesn’t belong in a top #–FAIL! or they actually think if National GEO says they are going to list 50 best volcanoes, they’ll only come up with 49.

    But you’re too busy watching your number of page views climb to care about comments, anyhow.

    • Michael Hodson February 24, 2011 at 11:04 am #

      the whole concept of humor might have just passed you by ;)

  39. Natalie February 24, 2011 at 12:45 am #

    I hereby confess to my past sin of doing a top ten list. However I have since then seen the light and realised the number ten has been done, beaten to death, dug up and bashed to death all over again.

    Therefore I pledge that if I post any top list, the number will be anything but ten. See my last post was 20!! I also give you permission Michael that from now on, if you see any ten list on my blog, you are welcome to publicly show me up all over Facebook. I joined the cause man!!!

    • Michael Hodson February 24, 2011 at 11:03 am #

      Ahhhh, a convert. Thank you (as I bow in your direction)

  40. Candice February 24, 2011 at 8:34 am #

    I once made a list of reasons why I like making lists. Let’s duel.

    • Michael Hodson February 24, 2011 at 11:03 am #

      will there be drinks involved in our verbal duel?!!

      • Candice February 24, 2011 at 12:31 pm #

        ALWAYS

  41. Theodora February 24, 2011 at 8:46 pm #

    I think the reason top lists in general suck is the absence of personal research or knowledge, and that applies whether or not you are creative as to the number. I, sadly, do top six lists. On a Sunday. Because it’s alliterative, like top ten… And, yeah, there is research in them…

  42. turkey's for life February 25, 2011 at 1:21 am #

    The problem is, they’re popular. People – maybe just the non-blogging world out there, but there’s a lot of them – like to read them. I read them if it’s a subject I know about, just see what drivel has been written, and then I get really angry because quite often, the author has obviously not been to the places themselves.
    I own up to doing a ‘Top 5 Things To Do…’ a few months ago. It was about the Greek island of Katellorizo. I should have named if ‘The ONLY 5 Things To Do’ but that doesn’t sell the island too well does it? :)
    No top 10s though – and never any top 10s – on our blog.
    Julia

  43. Caz Makepeace February 26, 2011 at 3:43 am #

    I have to say I disagree with you on this. It has been pretty well documented, and not just in the travel niche, that top 10 lists or any sort of list posts are popular. I think you have to look at what your readers want and like. Ultimately you are writing for them. A lot of my readers love them. I don’t write a lot of them, but when I do then I will 95% of the time speak from my experience. Within the list I may include a place I have not been, but I always disclose if I have no experience of it.

    I think if people are planning on spending time and money in a certain place in the world, then they want to know the best places to go. No problem with that.

    And yes they may be written for SEO purposes, but who has a blog that is not writing an article somewhere that is written for SEO purposes. I am sure you have written this post with the intention to stir up controversy, which in turn brings in a lot of traffic.

    I agree with Gary that a lot of top 10 lists are written by people behind a desk and so perhaps they don’t hold a lot of weight. But really are they any different to posts that are written like Top 10 blogs to follow- which are 99% of the time written for SEO and link backs, and are totally subjective and are often have your mates blogs listed in them. Which post is providing the better and more accurate value to your readers?

    And there are a lot of people writing posts in the hopes that Lonely Planet will tweet them, as with Afar or Gadling etc Why does almost every tweet have these in the hash tags? Don’t look at people with scorn who are wanting to receive some share love from Lonely Planet. Face facts, all bloggers who are spending their precious time working their blog, want to get love from big players like Lonely Planet, because it brings them traffic. Isn’t that what we all want? Let’s take the blinkers from our own eyes, and look at our own little ploys and strategies before we heap criticism on those who are just doing the same as us but via a different path.

    And most importantly, the thing that pees me off the most, is that so many people write blog posts judging others for what they are doing. My question is who makes the judger the authority and why are they so great at what they do and others not?

    I’m so tired of this. I wish the arguing and moaning and taking sides and crap would all just stop. There is so much nastiness, and nit-picking and games of one upmanship. Sometimes I just want to turn my back on the travel blogging community because I thought it would be so much better than this. I’ve spent years travelling the world and the community I have been immersed in has always been friendly, fun, helpful, kind, encouraging and supportive. Why can’t we replicate this in a blogging niche that is all about travel?

    Can we all just worry about what we are doing? Can we all just concentrate on providing value for our readers and trying to encourage and help one another? Instead of trying to make people feel bad and inferior about themselves and about what they are doing, why don’t we try to make them feel good? Is it so hard to do?

  44. Paul February 26, 2011 at 3:35 pm #

    My biggest gripe with top-ten lists is reason #4.

    It’s lazy as shit writing. Let me think of some funny/half-assed witty comment and insert under this great generic picture. Even worse is that half the time, that picture is taken off of flickr or picasa. At least have some pride and USE YOUR OWN GODDAMN pictures!

    Lest we all forget, we are writing OUR OWN travel blogs… right?!

  45. @AlexBerger February 27, 2011 at 6:16 pm #

    hahaha, you had me chuckling. Well done and right on!

    • Michael Hodson February 27, 2011 at 6:28 pm #

      whooo hooooo!! Someone that got that it was all tongue-in-cheek humor. Thank you, Sir.

  46. Lindsay aka @_thetraveller_ March 1, 2011 at 12:55 pm #

    YOU SUCK A LOT!

    • Michael Hodson March 6, 2011 at 11:44 am #

      I suck at life!!

  47. Jason March 1, 2011 at 10:39 pm #

    I’m taking the pledge, Michael. From now on I’m just doing posts about Swedish swimsuit models. Someone has got to take a stand!
    Jason

    • Michael Hodson March 6, 2011 at 11:44 am #

      Ummmm, would you make sure you email me the links to all those posts?? ;)

  48. Matt March 2, 2011 at 8:23 pm #

    I think an interesting theme that has come up here has been that list posts first became popular by the use of traditional magazine media. It only then makes sense that they’d make their way onto blogs.

    I find some interesting similarities here too between this post and my most recent (and controversial) post. As @Gary says, many authors have probably never been to all of the places they’ve mentioned – best beaches, flash foodie destinations in Italy, or top backpacking destinations in New Zealand.

    I say, ‘So What.” So long as they’re properly researched, I’m well okay with this. I’ll note though that my travel blog arguably has a different approach than many in the travel blogosphere. Whereas I try to offer up travel advice and inspiration to the budget conscious traveler or backpacker as opposed to documenting my personal travel narrative. A post that lists 10 (or 8, or 7) of the best places to say … go skydiving is great – it offers advice to someone who might one day be considering this.

    Also, I like how you point out Top 10s never count down. Doesn’t make sense. While I typically stick with lucky number 7, I do always count up!

    • Michael Hodson March 6, 2011 at 11:45 am #

      Love me some lucky 7 — or 13 for that matter ;)

  49. Tim L. March 2, 2011 at 10:02 pm #

    They suck in magazines, they suck online. It’s lazy writing meant to pander to people who are drawn to this format like flies on sh*t. Dumb magazines and dumb websites love top-10 lists because they work for readers who don’t demand more.

    I’ll take this pledge because I’ve been taking it for years already. The only time I’ve written this kind of drivel is when big media companies have paid me handsomely to do so—and they’re usually doing it because they wouldn’t know an original idea if it pummeled them on the side of the head. But I’ll take their money since my byline will be in small print anyway and I don’t have to tell anyone…

    • Michael Hodson March 6, 2011 at 11:46 am #

      Tim, thanks for visiting and for the blunt, direct and accurate commentary. Then again, if you want to send some big media company my way….

  50. Bret March 7, 2011 at 12:23 am #

    TOTALLY agree! If you see a Top 10 List on Green Global Travel, you can bet I’ve been paid handsomely to write that story for one of my freelance outlets. I’ve certainly done a few– Top 10 Things To Do In Curacao, Best Volcano Hikes in the U.S.– but they represent less than 1% of the stories we’ve posted.

  51. Lisa | LLWorldTour May 1, 2011 at 10:16 am #

    Ha! I’m not sure which is funnier – your post or Mike’s hilarious TEN list. Ten forever!!

    And I refuse to take your pledge. I will not join your cult! Live free or DIE!
    Lisa

  52. Marc Passion March 6, 2012 at 11:50 am #

    Brilliant!! I’m in, basically because I struggle with writing about one thing let alone ten. And totally correct, why would anyone want to go to the tenth best beach or whatever. Put your balls on the line and say this is the best god damn pizza I’ve ever had and all the rest taste like dominos.

    Great post mate!

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