As I was sitting at a local coffee shop looking at my long Things list of blog article ideas, I subconsciously started evaluating which ones had the most Social Media Optimization (SMO) potential.

It’s fairly easy to figure out. Can it be turned into definitive list of something? Could it be a quick how-to, or make people feel more efficient? Could it be easily scanned, something that would be bookmarked?

If it can fit into one of these, chances are the article has a good chance of making the social media rounds. But should an article’s viral potential have anything to do whether its worth writing (or reading)? Has good writing gone missing due to online magazines in need of social media traffic and ad revenue?

I think Smashing Magazine plays the social media game best — 30 Ways to Do X, What You Need to Know About Y, etc. Net tuts is another popular one that comes to mind, and there’s many more out there. Don’t believe me? Just take a look at the Delicious popular list. Enough said.

Now, don’t get me wrong: These are great publications, and they know how to write for the web. But when some of the most powerful publications all rely on the same proven formula that’s almost guarantied to land articles on Digg, Delicious, and get retweeted several hundred times, are we missing out on what could possibly be some truly great content?

I’ll confess that I used the same formula with my Howto: 3 Easy Ways To Speed Up CSS Development While Staying Organized article, and it definitely made its way around the social media sphere (simultaneously landing on the Digg homepage and the Delicious popular page). It was fun to write (and I’m not going to pretend the traffic wasn’t nice as well), but as soon as we have a proven formula for viral content, doesn’t that defeat the whole point of social media itself?

Perhaps I’m naive, but wasn’t the point of social media to share and reward good content, not to encourage top 10 lists?