Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Thursday Quote - Anil Dash

It's not long until we get "21 Ubuntu Install Tips That Will Drive Him Crazy In Bed!"
It's Always August by Anil Dash, from A Blog About Making Culture August 31, 2006

Until recently I'd never heard the term "listicle" but in retrospect I've certainly . . . been guilty . . . of writing them.

In fact, my most popular blog post is essentially a listicle-without-numbers (Unpublished MySQL FAQ), and this 1999 cult hit probably qualifies as a listicle as well: Silverstream By The Numbers.

What's a Listicle?

The Wikipedia definition provides the basics:

"It's so easy you wonder why everyone doesn't do it until you realize that now it's all they do: Come up with an idea ("Top 10 Worst [X]") on the L train ride to the office that morning, [and] slap together 10 (or 25, or 100) cultural artifacts ripe for the kind of snarky working over that won't actually tax you at all as a writer/thinker."
But Anil Dash's 2006 blog post is even more fun to read; here's an excerpt:

If you've never worked in the publishing or media industries, you might not know that August is officially the month where everyone basically phones it in. Back in New York, people would speak of going to The Hamptons so often that it's been verbed into "Hamptoning" and used as a generic term for going on vacation. While bigwigs and editors are away cavorting, a makeshift army of interns, temps, and recent college grads generally takes over. These kids usually don't have much experience, and newspaper editors don't want to have to do any hard work during the dog days, so the end result is that you get a combination of lazy writing and some really crappy journalism.

What kind of crappy journalism? Listicles! "Best Of"s. Special Theme Issues. And all of these pieces are topped by blaring, or alarmist, or horribly-punned headlines. You might notice that the other time of year this happens is around the end of the year or at New Year's, when Christmas and the other December holidays conspire to leave major media outlets virtually unstaffed. Then, you get year-end wrapups or another round of Best Ofs.

Indeed, as former White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card famously told the New York Times, "From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August."

So, then, why is it always August in the "look at me!" part of the blogosphere? Because the people who are blogging for an audience of thousands, or for hundreds of thousands, are prone to a lot of those same tendencies. Digg and delicious and the rest are littered with Top 10s and geek equivalents of Cosmo coverlines. It's not long until we get "21 Ubuntu Install Tips That Will Drive Him Crazy In Bed!"
So what does that mean for the future? No more listicles?

No "Top 10 Cool New Features In SQL Anywhere 16"?

Maybe not... every one of those listicles was enormously hard to write, and since a listicle is supposed to be cheesy easy then clearly there's something wrong here... :)

Next week: Phillip G. Armour

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