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Depending on who you ask, the growing popularity of "Top 10" articles
on the internet is either A. The
surest proof that humankind is becoming steadily dumber and a troubling
harbinger of the coming Idiocracy, or B. Pretty neat because they are fun and
looking at numbered things is easier than reading words in a dumb old
book anyhow.
 
Which of these theories is correct? I'm afraid I don't really know. But
as a respected Orthopedic Surgeon and Semiretired Professor of Internet
Sociology I do feel that I am uniquely equipped to explain to
you the reasons for the proliferation of Top 10 Lists. And
although I could easily summarize these reasons in one or two
sentences, I feel it is my obligation as an Internet Content Creator to
needlessly dilute them by stretching them out into a Top 10 List
instead.
 
So here are (in no particular order) the Top 10 Reasons Why Top 10
Lists Are So Popular.

 

1. THEY USUALLY GET MORE TRAFFIC THAN OTHER TYPES OF ARTICLES

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It doesn't take a genius to figure out that the reason so many Top 10
Lists keep getting produced is because internet users possess a
seemingly insatiable appetite for them. Top 10 Lists receive
significantly more traffic (and therefore generate significantly more
ad revenue) than "regular" content, so it's be pretty foolish to expect
content producers to stop creating them.
 
But even if internet users themselves were responsible for the
continued existence of Top 10 Lists (which, let's face it, they
probably are), I don't think you can be too hard on them. I mean, which
of these links would you be more likely to click?
 

  1. The Top 10 Ways Credit Card Companies Screw You Over
  2. An Insightful, In-Depth, 8 Page Look At The Potentially
    Unscrupulous Practices Employed By Many Credit Providers.

 
If you chose the latter option, I've got some good news for you: You're
probably a fairly intelligent person with an inquisitive mind who isn't
afraid to put some effort into learning something new. I've also got
some bad news too: The people who chose the first answer probably
outnumber you 600 to 1, which means you're gonna have to sift through a
hell of a lot of articles with titles like "Top 10 Things You Never
Knew About Hangin' With Mr. Cooper" before you find a piece that
interests you.
 
Normally I'd have no problem helping people like you out by providing a
couple links to fascinating and educational longform articles, but I'm
a little busy pouring over this infographic about kids breakfast
cereals of the 80s right now. Did you know they used to have a cereal
called Pop Tarts Crunch? I can't believe I missed out on that! It
really does sound delicious.
 

2. YOU DON'T HAVE TO WRITE NEARLY AS MUCH

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Although I'm sure some writers would be hesitant to admit it, another
of the major reasons there are so many Top 10 Lists out there is
because they're 100 times easier to write than "real" articles. If you
need proof of this, just look at the section you're reading now. How
long do you think this took me to write? Two minutes? Six? I'm sure
it's somewhere around there. I didn't even have to think too hard about
it either; it's pure laziness gold.
 
But of course, there's nothing stopping anyone from creating Top 10
Lists which are so long that they actually become maddening or
insulting to readers. I
Usually End Up Doing This
, but  only because I'm an idiot
with poor impulse control. If your goal is to get the most traffic
possible to your site while expending as little effort as possible,
short, slapdash Top 10 Lists are definitely the way to go.
 
 

3. A COUPLE NUMBERS CAN JUST BE FILLER

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Occasionally it can be hard to come up with ten interesting or useful
things to say about a subject. Luckily, with Top 10 Lists, one or two
of your "numbers" can just be pointless placeholders. As long as you
include a decent-looking photo and a few lines of text, most readers
won't even realize you've just wasted their time with half-assed drivel.
 
 

4. LIKE I SAID, A COUPLE NUMBERS CAN JUST BE FILLER

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Don't be afraid to throw in some redundant information either. All you
really need to do is rearrange the order of the words a bit and maybe
switch out a few for synonyms. So long as you include a few lines of
text and a nice-looking picture, most readers won't suspect that you've
wasted their time with hastily assembled junk content. 

5. YOU CAN GET ALL "META" WITH THEM AND STUFF

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Hey, you know what'd be hilarious and wacky? To "winkingly" take the
concept of 10 lists to its "kooky" extreme by creating an "Ironic" Top
10 list of Top 10 Lists! It'll be genius! What's that you say? Hundreds
of websites have already done exactly this and in most cases have even
somehow managed to do so without even a hint of sarcasm? Well I'll be
goddamned. 
 
Tell you what though, I've got no problem with slumming. Shit, my whole
life is build around the concept of slumming. I'm more than willing to
take this practice to the next level of idiocy to prove some
nonexistent point to myself. As proof of this, I've compiled this Top
10 List of The Top 10 Top 10 Lists. No longer will you be forced to
scour the web for an easy-to-digest list of Top 10 Lists. I've done it
all for you right here.
 

  1. Top
    10 Top 10 Lists Of 2010 [BusinessInsider]
  2. Top
    10 Worst Top 10 Lists Of 2010 [VanityFair]
  3. The 30
    Best Top 10 Lists Ever [ACF]
  4. Top
    10 Top 10 Lists Of 2008 [Buzzfeed]
  5. The 10 Best Top
    10 Lists [Alternet]
  6. The
    Top 10 Top 10 Lists Of 2008 [TheIntrepid]
  7. Most
    Popular Top 10 Lists Of 2008 [Lifehacker]
  8. Top
    10 Best Top 10 Food Lists [EndlessSimmer]
  9. Top
    10 David Letterman Top 10 Lists [About]
  10. Top
    10 Top 10 Lists Of 2006 [AskMen]

NOTICE: I'm not actually claiming that these are the 10
Best Top 10 Top 10 Lists ever. Nearly all of them are really, really
terrible, so you probably shouldn't click through to any of them.
 
 

6. YOU DON'T EVEN HAVE TO BE LITERATE TO CREATE THEM

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One downside of the extreme popularity of Top 10 Lists is that even the
shittiest lists can gain attention and "go viral". I can't count the
number of times I've clicked through to a Top 10 article only to find
that it's nothing more than a series of numbered headers, watermarked
stock photos, and single sentence captions which appear to have been
hastily translated from Olde English to Haitian Creole and then back
again.
 
I halfheartedly tried to find samples to reinforce this point, but I
didn't have much luck. It's probably for the best though. Regardless of
how weird or funny or cool as I may have just accidentally made these
lists sound above, they're really actually quite dull and depressing.
Take my word for it and keep away.
 

7. YOU CAN INCLUDE A RANDOM REFERENCE TO THE 1996 SINBAD FILM
"FIRST KID" AT NUMBER 7 BECAUSE BY THE TIME PEOPLE HAVE REACHED THIS
POINT THEY HAVE ALREADY GROWN TIRED OF YOUR LIST AND ARE IN THE PROCESS
OF QUICKLY SCROLLING TO THE END

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Think about it: In what other conceivable instance does a person get
the chance to talk about "First Kid" without looking like a complete
moron? Let me just go ahead and answer that for you: Never. That's
right, if it weren't for Top 10 Lists, you would never get a chance to
talk about "First Kid" without making a complete and utter ass of
yourself. If that's not a good reason to support them, I don't know
what is.
 

8. THEY HAVE GROWN TOO POWERFUL AND CANNOT BE STOPPED

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Even if a study were published tomorrow PROVING CONCLUSIVELY
that Top 10 Lists were causing human brains to melt into mush, it
likely wouldn't make much of a dent in their popularity. The problem is
that it'd be difficult to get anyone to read the study unless it were
formatted as a Top 10 List, and I don't think I need to explain why
that'd be an issue. Not only would it be hugely hypocritical, but it
might even be dangerous.

Some scientists have posited that if such a feat were attempted, it
would likely cause some sort of interdimensional rift through which an
army of tormented souls, lesser demons, and cyclopean battleships
helmed by superintelligent incorporeal mists could hypothetically
emerge and enslave/destroy humanity. Even now, the mere thought of such
a scenario chills me to the bone.
 
So unless you want to risk the complete annihilation of humanity, the
best you can really do if you don't like Top 10 Lists is publish a 7
page singlespaced diatribe on your longform literary blog and hope all
the lower-caste Philistines who enjoy Top 10 Lists read it and
immediately begin claiming to understand and enjoy the works of James
Joyce while riding their hemp recumbent bike to their new volunteer
position at the uptown vegan bookstore between the payday loan place
and the dingy ethnic grocery store that you've never been inside but it
doesn't matter because all they sell is corn flavored hard candy, dried
rooster claws, and bags of noodles that cost $3 more than usual because
they're shaped kind of weird and have a bunch of weird Asian writing on
them.

In case you couldn't tell, I sort of lost track of the point I was
trying to make there. Oh well. I think we can safely assume it wasn't
anything earthshattering.

9. YOU DON'T EVEN NEED TO INCLUDE THE NUMBER OF ITEMS YOU
ORIGINALLY PROMISED

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Since most readers lose interest in lists like these before they're
even halfway through, I usually don't worry too much about how I end
them. In fact, on some occasions I don't even bother to include the
number of items specified in the title. If you really want to get
technical about it, I'm not legally obligated to provide you
with ten reasons for the popularity of Top 10 Lists just because I claimed
I would, right?

I don't think I need to remind you that this stuff is completely free.
If anything, you should be pleasantly surprised if and when I
manage to deliver on any promises I make in regards to the number of
items I plan to include in my Top 10 Lists as opposed to being
indignant or disappointed when I'm unable to live up to your
preconceived notions of how complete my Top 10 Lists should be.

Anyway, I'm not trying to be an asshole or anything, that's just the
way I feel. And hey, if it's any consolation to you, the tenth item on
this particular list was originally going to be "YOU DON'T HAVE TO
WRITE AN OUTRO." You know, like how it's not that big of a deal to end
Top 10 Lists abruptly because simply reaching the end of a numbered
list usually provides enough closure on its own? I don't know,
something like that. Maybe it's not even true, but I don't mind.

There're some things in life we can never be quite sure of, I suppose.

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