The Allure of Lists: Location-Based Tech Gives New Life to Old Standards

From People magazine's "Sexiest Man Alive" to Esquire magazine's "Sexiest Woman Alive," readers sure do love them some lists! It's a well-documented fact. If you throw a numbered list into your publication or onto your website, it's like catnip for your audience. (It doesn't hurt if you also throw a shirtless Bradley Cooper on the cover either.) As a result, editors like myself have to produce these things.

There is even a list about the reasons we (and by "we," I mean "you") like lists. Apparently, readers find these lists edifying. Yes, according to The Poynter Institute, these lists are popular because, among other things, "They make us smarter." They are also memorable, motivational, practical, and good for cocktail party small talk. Apparently they help us organize our views, according to Poynter, which has long dedicated itself to journalistic excellence.

Well, who knew? If it weren't for lists, it seems civilization just might fall apart.

As you very well may be able to tell, I am not a reader who seeks out lists. No, I'll take a good narrative over bullet points and numbers any day of the week. But as an editor, it seems that I have no choice but to embrace these flimsy, but immensely readable, things. If content is king, then lists are the crown jewels, and we, as content providers, have no choice but to give readers the shiny, high-value trinkets they demand.

This is, after all, the most basic principle of publishing: Give your audience something good to read. And as I've established already-with some authority, I might add-these days that means printing lists. Here at EContent we've traditionally ended the year with one big list, the EContent 100, and it is a massive undertaking. Posting it on the web creates enormous increases in traffic, and just about every company on the list tweets it.

Lists can often look like an easy way out for publishers, but in our case, we feel the need to provide real value-not just fodder for cocktail chatter, though we'd love it if you talked us up at your next soiree. ("Did you see which web content management systems made the list this year? What a shocker!") Now, though, we're undertaking the task of incorporating more lists into our coverage, and let me tell you, coming up with fresh ideas for these lists isn't as easy as it seems.

As simple as lists may be, and as good as they are for reading on-the-go or during your 5 minutes between meetings, even the biggest fan of Top 10 lists will stop reading if you don't offer your audience any insight. More importantly, lists, like all content, have to be relevant to your readership. Don't despair, though, because there is some good news for my fellow content creators.

Lists lend themselves to being especially context-driven, and if you've been reading EContent regularly -- as you very well should be -- you'll know how important context is. Imagine pushing a list of the Top 10 rated coffee shops within five blocks to a smartphone user who just searched for the nearest place to find some java, or sending the Top 5 hotels in the area to someone whose flight has just been canceled in a strange city. How much do you think someone would pay for that app?

Once again location-based services come to the rescue, only this time it's to editors who need to find a way to make lists new and interesting. But these context-driven lists also have the potential to help the bottom line, because editorial isn't the only department that might find new inspiration. There is plenty for sales here too. Beyond the potential of a paid app for mobile devices, there is also that old standby, the location-based advertisement.

Looking for the Top 10 restaurants in Washington D.C.? Well, here is a two-for-one entree deal for one of those eateries. Wondering what the top spas in your state are? No problem, and oh, by the way, here's a coupon for a mani-pedi at the one closest to you.

This isn't revolutionary stuff. Location-based services have been around for a while now, but it seems to me that most companies still aren't getting it right. The secret to success is having the right deal for the right user-but the combination of the geographic information combined with insight from the list should make your salesman's job a little easier.