Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Top 10 Ways to Revitalize Top 10 Lists in 2010

Top 10 lists are on their way out. If you spend any time prowling around blogs, Facebook, or especially Twitter where the top 10 list has become a mainstay, you can see the signs: people are finally getting tired of top 10 lists, and it's about time.

On the other hand, the data seem to contradict this hypothesis. Even if you account for link decay in Google listings as pages disappear from the web each year, the annual growth of the internet and the concomitant increase in content duplication, the pattern is clear: we've gone top 10 crazy and it's gotten much worse in recent years. Despite this skyrocketing graph, here are the top 5 signs that a top 10 backlash is imminent:

1. Direct expressions of frustration: "There is no more tired, cynical trope than the end-of-the-year Top 10 list," states Newsweek's Steve Tuttle, who then mysteriously proceeds to give us his own tired, cynical trope of a top 10 list.

2. Resignation: People at Blog World Expo talked about the top 10 list as if it was an abusive spouse that they simply couldn't leave. "They're terrible, but I can't seem to break away and I always get a lot of hits," one blogger told me.

3. Experimentation: Desperate for a spark of innovation and trying to distance themselves from the herd, other list writers have resorted to using wacky numbers like the Top 51 Photos of the Decade, or the Top 211 Twitter Users Who Will Follow You Back, or the Top
6,692,030,000 People on Earth That Would Feel Depressed, Confused, and/or Hungry While Reading That Previous List.

4. Subtle expressions of frustration in the form of rebellious acts of meta-irony (e.g., Leif Petterson's Top 11 Top 10 Lists That No One Made in 2009) and absurd levels of self-referentiality (e.g., Andy Murdock's Top 10 Ways to Revitalize Top 10 Lists in 2010) that began to appear more consistently in 2009.

5. Overkill: I can understand why one might click on a link sent by your old friend Joe to the Top 10 Stupid Poses In Front of Statues by Joe, but there are only so many top 10 lists one can enjoy and more than enough floating around cyberspace for us to need any more. The existence of sites devoted to top 10 lists, like top10list.com, boggles the mind.

Taken together, these are clear signs of a forthcoming sea change in the increasingly important world of pithy online content designed for hordes of information consumers with a pathological fear of paragraphs. While a paradigm shift may be on its way, it's naïve to think that top 10 lists will ever disappear entirely, so it's worth thinking about ways to refresh the medium.

Top 10 Ways to Revitalize Top 10 Lists in the 2010

1. Get rid of numbers

Numbers are standing in the way of innovation when it comes to listing things. Why do we need them? What has a number ever done for you? Ranking is the best excuse for using numbers, but there are many other ways to rank things:

Top 10 quadrilaterals for the 2010s ranked by horribleness of font

2. Get Nerdy

Instead of a boring old list, why not chart the elements in an n-dimensional hypervolume or use a thin plate spline for a 3D graphical representation?

The top famous athletes I've seen eating in Baker's Square

3. Get Symbolic

Why restrict yourself to words when the web allows a broad multimedia palette that gives you the ability to add layers of symbolism?

4. Get Darwinian

Sometimes lists have internal structure and it makes sense to show how list elements relate to each other. When Charles Darwin sat down in 1837 and first sketched a tree-like structure to describe the nature of evolution, he never could have foreseen how far this idea would be taken in the future. Let's take it one step further now and appropriate the cladogram - this may at first seem frivolous, but using this type of diagram can add new and interesting layers of information to the top 10 list concept.

5. Get Old-School

I'd wager that I'm not alone in thinking that we don't see nearly enough Venn diagrams these days. They make me nostalgic for the dog-eared text books or yore and those wonderful old science films with space-age Raymond Scott background noises.

Top celebrities I have recognized sorted by my ensuing reaction

6. Get Elementary

Speaking of nostalgia, why not resurrect art media from your childhood to add a personal touch to your top 10 lists? For example, you could create a list of the
Top 10 Best Pasta Names out of elbow macaroni and Elmer's Glue:

Don't limit yourself to small macaroni elbows - you can do amazing things with glitter, string, paste, and Play-Doh.

7. Get Green

The green movement is really catching on right now. Everything is green, from green vehicles to green MBA programs, and I think top 10 lists can also ride the green wave. How? Remember the 3 Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. It takes time, effort, electricity, and disk space to make a new top 10 list, not to mention the time and electricity we waste reading them, so next year let's try (1) writing fewer top 10 lists to conserve resources, (2) reusing old ones when they suit the topic you're discussing or when most people have forgotten the first incarnation, and (3) recycling old content and reworking it into new products. I'll probably just repost this whole thing next year in the spirit of being green.

8. Get Artsy

Show off your art skills and get your top 10 list noticed. What would you rather look at, a dull text-only list or this?:

Top 10 underappreciated adorable animals as reflected by a Parisian puddle

9. Get Honest

Okay, be honest, is your "10 chocolate shops in Belgium" list really about helping people find chocolate in Belgium? Wouldn't it be refreshing if we were all a bit more honest about the purpose of writing top 10 lists?

Top 10 Chocolate Shops in Belgium
  1. Read my blog
  2. Tell your friends to read my blog
  3. Retweet me
  4. Think I'm funny/cool/more worldly than you
  5. Validate the vast amounts of time I spend online for purposes that are quite unclear even to me
  6. Click on my Google AdSense links - I'm trying to break the $1/month income barrier
  7. Buy my e-book based on my travels through Belgium
  8. I'm checking my Google Analytics right now to see how many uniques this post is generating
  9. Wouldn't I be amazing on The Today Show talking about Belgium?
  10. Offer me a book deal/bag of money/free trip to Belgium to eat chocolate

10. Get Idealistic

This is the most daring proposition of all: don't try to revitalize top 10 lists. In fact stop writing them all together. Produce articles of value to the world, rich with detail, emotion and personal voice. Write pieces that move and inspire people. Engage readers' minds and encourage thoughtful interaction with the world. Stop prescribing and start empowering. Fight the lazy, reductionist tendencies of the internet and embrace the nuance and complexity of the world.

Can we do this? I certainly hope so, not only because I just ran out of numbers and I have no room for "Get Pessimistic," but because I'd be genuinely excited to see what's coming next.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Julmust: The Christmas Soda

I love the foods of the holiday season. They suddenly appear one day and they're gone just as quickly, and somehow this makes me love them all the more. It's similar to Girl Scout cookies: if I could get Samoas, Thin Mints and Tagalongs year-round they would almost certainly lose their appeal. Having a food suddenly appear after a long absence makes it totally irresistible.

Damn I want a Samoa right now

Christmas beverages also undergo a similar disappearing act, but partly this is due to the fact that they suit the winter season: hot cider, mulled wine, eggnog all work well with the cold winter weather. This undoubtedly differs in the southern hemisphere — I can't imagine hot apple cider being a popular beverage during the holidays in Australia, for example (correct me if I'm wrong, Australian friends). I also look forward to the seasonal winter beers, often dark and spicy to suit the season, so perhaps it's not so surprising that Julmust, a dark and mysterious Swedish Christmas soda came about.

Julmust is a member of the proud family of beverages resulting from temperance movements around the world, a Scandinavian cousin to root beer, sarsaparilla, cream soda, ginger ale, etc., but probably closest in concept to shandy. It recently popped up next to the Glögg at Cost Plus World Market, often a good source for unusual sodas, so I had to give it a try. As a lover of sodas, I'm sorry to say that shandies really don't float my ice cream, so to speak, so the ingredients of Julmust made me a bit worried. If I want something to taste like beer, I'll drink beer not beer-flavored soda.

Mmm, hops and malted barley soda.

Luckily, the sugar and powerful artificial flavorings mostly overwhelm the beery elements of Julmust and it's actually a fairly pleasant if somewhat artificial-tasting soda. If I had to approximate a recipe of Julmust, it would be something like this:

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Andy's Pseudo-Julmust

10 oz. Coca Cola
2 oz. Grape Soda
1 oz. Tonic Water
1 oz. Orange Gatorade
1 oz. Pellegrino SanBitter
A splash of Hubba-Bubba Bubblegum Soda

Combine ingredients, let sit until half of the carbonation has been lost, bottle and slap an out-of-focus Santa label on it. Drink and be festive.

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On the plus side, Julmust doesn't taste like beer-soda, in fact it mostly just tastes like a fruity spin on cola. If Dr. Pepper had a Swedish cousin, say perhaps Björn Peppar, he would probably taste like Julmust. Is Julmust Christmasy? Does it taste like Winter? Not to me honestly, but then I didn't grow up with it to form those associations, so who am I to judge?