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Updated by Nick Kellet on Oct 12, 2017
Nick Kellet Nick Kellet
Listly Curator Listly Curator
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9 Reasons Lists Are Broken





HTML lists are not interactive. What does that mean and why is it frustrating? It simply means you cannot sort and filter the list.

This limitation changes how we interact with lists.

When we know we can filter and sort through a list it becomes more consumable. It's become a basic expectation for any dataset on the web.




A list that is not social does not allow the reader to engage with the content. You can't comment or vote or contribute to the list.

Today people comment below the post in the comments section. You can comment by referencing the items in the list - all manually.

Readers can suggest omissions and corrections but the list never changes. Busy publishers never return to update blog posts based on the comments. If they did, they would be highly unproductive.

Comments also include much duplication and there is no simple way to aggregate opinion.

Social engagement is also social proof. Your list becomes more trusted if people can see that it's be contributed to by many people. Acting socially is a digital native's modus operandi.




HTML lists are simply text.

Lists are not stored in a database in a way that lets them be intelligently queried or modified.

Lists are stored in blobs of text inside CMSs such as Wordpress.

They cannot be extended and reorganized in any way without massive human effort. This means if search practices change, your lists our outdated and invalid.

So while lists account for 30% of content, lists are of much less useful that they could be.




Because lists are just "text" they cannot be reused without the effort of copying, pasting, fixing any broken formatting, attributing the list to the author, linking to their original post, etc...

Lists aren't like videos and slides, where we are used to embedding and reusing these content assets. HTML Lists cannot be embedded or quoted without cutting and pasting.

Every time a list is quoted, there is a risk it does not get correctly credited. Poor attribution is as much a function of laziness, distractedness and carelessness as it is deliberate.

There's also a risk that if the list were to change, that the copied information no longer reflects the central truth.

In their current form, HTML lists are simply not reusable.


Flexible Formatting

Flexible Formatting

HTML lists come "as is". The format of your list can and will not change. That is limiting. If you want to change the format of all your lists posts, you need to update each post.

There is no tagging in lists to let you know how or what to change. With the rise of responsive experiences to suit our mobile lifestyle that is becoming much more important.

How things look matters today. Formatting your list in any rich way inside each post is highly inefficient and prone to error and inconsistency.




Your HTML list's engagement cannot be measured because you cannot engage with the list, but if you could, that would open up all sorts of options for tracking how people value your content.

You could find out so much more about the sorts of people that engage, when they engage and what content is most interesting to them.

The lack of measurement leaves the publisher in the dark.




Today we all love to share. Sharing is on the rise and yet lists inside your posts are not easy to share.

You can share the post, not the list.

You certainly can't share the items on the list. Sharing an item adds context and meaning.

You can mention a list item by name, but the reader has to skim the whole post to find the item.

Sharing should be an opportunity for adding context and value.

That's a missed opportunity. Sharing, with these parameters, is not practical with static HTML lists.

This friction stops people sharing. It stops readers from reading. The publisher, the sharer and the reader lose.




Lists don't change, they age, they date and become irrelevant. Creating content is an investment.

Ideally we want to create content to stay relevant and to engage and entertain our audiences. Lists today have a "publish once" mindset.

If your lists become social then your content can evolve and enhance over time. The evolution of your content means your content investment holds its value.

Your readers will still find your content useful. Best of all search engines love content that evolves over time.

In the world of content, evolution is a good thing.




Lists attract niché audiences. The only people that read specific lists are people who find that topic interesting. Lists are self-selecting. Community forms around shared interests.

When you make lists social, and your content evolves over time, more people become attracted to your content. Social proof attracts people.

When people see other people engaging on a topic that speaks to their passions, they are tipped to contribute too. We all lurk selectively, and we contribute even more selectively.

When people contribute to great lists community bonds are formed, first with the content and secondly with the people who have also contributed.