Listicles! How ubiquitous! From medical websites to travel to comedy to even marketing, listicles are everywhere! 10 ways to get rid of your mother-in-law to 100 ways to make a paneer sandwich, we literally have no escape.
But how did this phenomenon come about? What was it about our era that made listicles so popular. Is it because our attention spans are short? Is it because we don’t have time to read longer pieces?
The answers go much deeper than that. In fact, they start at the beginning of the internet.
1. The beginning of the internet
Far in the past, in the 1960s, people were tinkering with ways to connect computers over large distances. By 1995, almost the entire world was connected in what we now know as the internet.
2. Before broadband
But not all was the same. While internet speeds in Europe and North America were about 1Mbps, those in the rest of the world are still somewhere below 256kbps, in most cases, around 64kbps. Which means that most of the internet that are popular, are made up of text. Pictures and videos are far too large to download in practical times.
3. Scrolling is king
Text meant scrolling. Walls and walls of text on sites offering everything from astrology advice to legal services and education material meant the most used key for your computer was the scroll key on the mouse. Which meant that mostly people who liked to read were on the internet.
4. From chapters to section breaks
While people were reading large books in real life, the transition to the computer screen had not happened entirely. Face it, even now, it is boring to read long walls of text. So, there came in a new thing on the internet – Section Breaks. Which broke big scroll walls of text into screen sized or even smaller chunks so it could be easier for people to read without getting lost.
5. Section breaks rise up
Section breaks became hugely popular. For the first time, reading on the internet was becoming practical. Section breaks became the queens to the kings that were scrolling.
6. Broadband = Pictures
Mid 2000s and enter, the broadband throughout the world! Broadband changed the face of the internet like multiplexes changed the face of theaters. It wasn’t a quantitative change, but a massive qualitative one. Broadband didn’t only allow for more content, but the content itself changed. At that point, it started with pictures.
7. Text pictures 50-50
From one picture per article/blog, soon it became a 50-50 ratio between text and pictures. Even section breaks started getting pictures now!
8. Rise of the Memes
Soon, content developers realized, the pictures are getting them many more visitors than the text. Not only did text itself become picture heavier, sites dedicated to only pictures came up. Now, it was not a picture to accompany some text, but text to accompany some pictures – what we now call Internet Memes. Gifs made an appearance too.
9. Section breaks to points
The text itself went tremendous change. From large section breaks, the article started becoming full of different points. Each point came to be accompanied by a picture. Headlines started mentioning the number of points the article would have.
10. The age of the listicle
A listicle is an article in the form of a list, points. The age of the Listicle means that the form of the content we used to consume has drastically changed. 20 years ago, this same article would have been written in the form of an essay, today it is written in the form of the list.
Do share this listicle with friends and family so they know why and how they are reading it in the first place.