493 Reasons (Approximately) BuzzFeed Style Listicles are Super Annoying and Totally Addictive


If you’ve spent any time on BuzzFeed, you know you need a calculator to tally up the number of amazing kitty videos and celebrities with sexy abs on any given day. (It’s a lot!)

The articles with lists, better known as listicles, are paramount to the success of sites like BuzzFeed (and, yes, even EcoSalon). But why? Why are there so many numbers in our articles? And why are they so compelling and frustrating at the same time?

MediaBistro reported that BuzzFeed’s editorial director Jack Shepherd said, “At their best, lists are just scaffolding for stories: The list format grabs the attention because it’s an easy way for people to process information and for readers to know what they’re getting, but that’s not even close to half the battle. A great list that people share everywhere has to be an experience.”

Right. “An experience.” Well then, what about the rest of it? Why are we so hooked on numbers?

1. According to news syndication company Mobiles Republic, we’re on a steady diet of “news snacking”, which is just what it sounds like. You may bookmark that 10,000 word article in The Atlantic, but chances are you’d rather read 20 shorter articles in the same time period. It’s easier for us to digest smaller bits of information, and a listicle guarantees us just that. We know we’re getting 3, 11 or 311 pieces of information, which just seems more doable in the modern world.

But who likes being labeled a “news snacker?” Erudite or not, many people still want to digest real news as if having a real meal in France where savoring and enjoying are the real stars of the meal. Fast food day in and day out isn’t very appetizing, even for the frequent consumers. In the same sense, the lure of the list robs us of that holistic experience. Instead of reading the New Yorker cover to cover, you just read another one of Cosmo’s “10 Ways to Keep your Man Satisfied.” Chances are, one of those ways is to be well-read. Makes you feel kind of icky.

2. Lists are practical, sort of. If looking for the hottest trends or best recipes, sometimes seeing our options can be really helpful. Aggregation beats endless searching. Except, there’s an arrogance there, too. Who decided on the 19 best smoothies in the world? Was there a panel of judges? Were they taste-tested? Who was in charge of quality control?

3. We’re also genuinely curious creatures. Forty-six Beyoncé hairdos? Well we’ve got to see which ones made the cut, of course! But the downside is that once you start down the list, you can’t help but wonder what’s after? If those are the 46 best hairdos, what was number 47? Was there a 47? What if I like that one better?

4. They’re also kind of genius. After Bono’s lavender-tinted appearance at the Golden Globes on Sunday, BuzzFeed published “The 25 Most Iconic Moments In Purple Tinted Sunglasses History.” Not only does this pique my curiosity, but if I’m cool (which I’ve got lists both for and against), I can share this with my preferred social network and let the list of comments (another list!) entertain me for hours. Yes, BuzzFeed and their lists help break down barriers with our lists of friends we may or may not have actually met in real life, but are willing to engage in witty online conversations with.

5. But, of course, lists are also super annoying. They suck us in. Do we really care about Beyoncé’s hairdos when we have other more important things to worry about (like cute kittens)? It’s easy to feel rather lame and unaccomplished when you’ve spent your morning clicking through list after list.

6. They’re clickbait, too, which means that because it’s widely known that the human brain can’t resist the lure of the numbered list, once you’re there, you’re more likely going to be bombarded with ads, some of which use lists to lure you further.

493. It seems that we live in a list-vortex. It’s like a black hole with a lot of numbers in it; ergo, we get a glimpse into the inner workings of the universe, which upon further contemplation, appears to be just an eternity of lists, is it not?

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

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Image: thefunkyman


Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites OrganicAuthority.com and EcoSalon.com, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better. www.jillettinger.com.