Living online lists


After my post a two days ago, I’ve been thinking more on the idea of living online documents.

As I wrote in the post, there isn’t a good chance that the average online article will get re-written or refined much for quality. The incentives don’t seem to be there.

However, there may be one type of document that may work as a living online document: lists.

We see lists all over the place. Do a google search for anything (social networking sites, SEO strategies, best personal development blogs, whatever) and you will come up with many articles that are essentially lists. People love lists. So do writers. Buzzfeed has pretty much used it as a content strategy, and look how quickly they have grown.

The thing about most lists is that they often purport to be exhaustive or complete. At least that is what we would hope for. What good is the list of top SEO strategies if it is out of date when someone Googles for it later?

What I’m getting at is that a good list should have lifetime value. A good list isn’t just something that should be treated as “news” and then thrown away the next day. A good list takes time to create, and is valuable because it pieces together everything that matters in a certain topic.

Why let a list go out of date if it can be occasionally updated? If I owned the blog post that was number one result for the Google search “top SEO strategies”, I would have incentive to update it. The post probably gets a ton of traffic, and keeping it fresh and up-to-date would help keep it there (assuming that Google’s algorithm can be thought of as a rough heuristic for quality).

Here is an example that has popped up recently. In the past few weeks, there have been several highly-shared articles on startup postmortems. These are valuable things to think about; entrepreneurs should learn from failures as well as successes. These are two of the popular ones:

  1. 51 startup failure post-mortems :: CB Insights
  2. 14 startup postmortems :: Ryan Hoover

These posts by CB Insights and Ryan Hoover are great, and are on a topic which I believe the startup community needs to discuss more often. But beyond that, they ended up inspiring several other founders to write postmortems. Now what? The two articles are fixed at 51 and 14. They are still good for now because they are only missing a few articles, but what happens a year from now? Or five?

Here is where a living online document could work. I had actually been keeping my own list on the side while experimenting with Soulmix:

I’m not saying my list is better now, but unless the authors of the previous two lists update them (which blog authors rarely do), I’m sure that over time, my list will end up being the better piece of content on this topic.

This is just an example, but I think it gets the point across. You could apply it to lists of SEO strategies, great gangster movies, or pictures of Kim Kardashian and North West.

As I’ve been experimenting with Soulmix, I’ve been trying to figure out what it could be, and this popped up as an interesting thought. I think that is pretty cool. There are issues with how to publish or do social shares with updating lists, but the idea of well-maintained lists sounds like a great thing for the readers on the Internet.

P.S. Soulmix is in a private beta, but if you’d like to join and help figure out where it might go, just request an invite 🙂

Photo credit: Flickr/juliejordanscott

6 thoughts on “Living online lists

  1. Alex,

    Thanks for reading our startup failure post-mortem post. Your point is a good one and so we’ve been updating the list over time as we see other post-mortems. We prob just need to update the title to reflect that 🙂

    But we hope it’ll continue to be a useful resource to the startup and investor communities.

    Thanks again for reading.


    • Hey Anand,

      Didn’t know you had been updating that list — cool! And glad you published that big list.. it sparked a bunch of great conversation about startup failures, which is usually a good thing.

      Good to hear from you, and thanks for dropping by!

  2. I hadn’t thought about that before but my blog has been going now for 7 months and in that time I have posted 89 proper blog posts as well as numerous: quotes, links to articles on other sites, bits of news…. However most of the views my site gets are for three very specific posts – maybe I should update them? maybe I should make checklists to go with the posts? will work on that now. Thanks for the insight
    /Paul @

    • Hey Paul,

      I must admit I’m a new blogger. I don’t know traditional blogging mechanics, but it seems that bloggers don’t usually do this. Even if they do, the traditional sharing model doesn’t work well for this. Blog subscribers won’t see the updates. And what do you do on social media? Do you blog that you updated an old post? Maybe.

      I’ve been updating old posts occasionally because I think it would be better for future readers. I would love to hear other takes on this though..

      Great blogging by the way — it took me much longer than 7 months to get up to 89 posts!

      • That took you 9 minutes to reply to my comment !!! not bad for 5:47am (I confess it is 13:50 here in London, England).

        I am going to experiment with these top three posts and see what the effect are of carrying out updates to the content. I will clearly mark the updates within the post and will “announce” them by posting a “news” post with a link to the updated post.

        That way I should cover casual site browsers and subscribers (pitifully few at the moment).

        It will be interesting to see the effect on numbers and the effect on the google search for the terms in the title – at the moment I am at number 6 on the first page for my most popular post. Will let you know what happens, if you are interested?

        I got to 89 by posting roughly three times a week (these posts are between 300 and 800 words long and have to be practical, insightful, authentic and have a clear message – or they don’t make the cut and they hang around until either I rewrite them or delete them). Currently working on augmenting and editing material from some of the first 70 blogs into an e-book.

        /Paul @ (London, England)

      • Haha, I’m a late-nighter and it was right before going to bed.

        Yea, would be interested to know how it turns out. The e-book is a good idea for updating/revising old text also. It doubles as a good thing to offer to collect an email list also (I haven’t done it, but others do, and it works!).

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