08/09/2011 11:42 am ET Updated Oct 09, 2011

Top 5 Things to Know About "Top 5 Lists"

Lists have become this unavoidable shiny object that are prevalent on every RSS feed.

They are something of a cultural staple in North America, and with the rise of online connectivity and individual authorship, we are seeing more lists than we can digest. The ubiquitous rise in "Best Of's" is baffling. In an attempt to help myself remember what to look for, and mentally manage some of the online clutter, I am sharing my top 5 tips.

Yes, I am about to get all sorts of Inception on you; the following is a list within a list.

1) Look beyond the headline
The birth of micro-sharing has become mainstream. However, when it comes to "best of" lists, don't let the headline do all the talking. Prior to sharing, liking and linking, read through the entire list and ensure the value proposition is as it proclaims. This especially applies if you see the article on Twitter, and the leading 140 characters are strong. Yes, I am implying that many users share prior to reading. Don't be one of those people; you are doing a disservice to your own knowledge bank.

2) Source of authority
Everyone and their grandmother is an author online today. Ensure that sources line up by taking the extra minute to look at who the author is and what other topics have they specialized on. This is not to imply that new authors do not have informed opinions, it is just to say that not everything should be shared, and we have a duty to do a little fact-checking before passing it forward.

3) Trending doesn't make it true
Aggregation is not always a good indicator of an educated opinion. Just because it is trending does not mean it is valuable. Aggregators get tipped on quantity, meaning something will fall on your feed or appear popular because of concentrated engagement in a short period of time. This does not always reflect quality, in-fact it seldom does.

4) Don't limit yourself
Lists are guilty of two things: including too much to meet a top 20 quota and missing key components or including too little. Lists can be a good place to start, but take those tips and do some of your own research -- especially when it comes to technology, platforms and recommendations on products or services. Research the listed, then look for comments on forums to see if they line up. We have this human default to bucket things, but there are many shades between the best of and the worst of, so be open to the in-between.

5) Look for the hidden print
Most of your favorite online sources use corporate dollars to help with funding content. This means that a "best of" list may not be a true representation of what is the best, but rather a reflection of the interests of the sponsor that partnered with the online publication. This bias is all the more reason to check the fine print at the bottom of the post. Writers are required to announce if they are being sponsored to do a series or a list products/services.