What Medium is to me

Originally posted on Medium, naturally.

Matthew Butterick in The billionaire’s typewriter:

Mr. Williams claims that Medium is “the best writ­ing tool on the web.” Okay, that’s at least con­crete. But we’ve got a lot of good web-based writ­ing tools al­ready. Medium does more than those?
Ac­tu­ally, no — Mr. Williams con­cedes that Medium has “stripped out a lot of the power that other ed­i­tors give you.” So how is it pos­si­ble to be “the best” while of­fer­ing less?

(via ma.tt & Anil Dash)

Since when does best equal most? Is that our new yardstick for quality? Apple has made a living building products that do much less than the competition, be it Microsoft with Windows, Google with Android, or any portable music player. Along the way, Apple’s generally had much higher satisfaction rates. And the people who use their devices can’t stop gushing about them.

Why do you think that is?

Medium is doing something tricky — on one hand, they’re trying to build something that can make anyone’s writing look beautiful. That’s not an easy task. Not all people are good writers, and not all people have good design sense. But as Medium has evolved, they’ve made it harder and harder to publish a bad, unreadable story — without limiting who can join by charging a fee or making setup complicated and techy.

On the other hand, they’re trying to build a business that makes money. Throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks isn’t a great strategy for that. Instead, they’re starting from an established paradigm and slowly building out thoughtful features to change the ideas of what a publisher and publishing exactly are in today’s world.

It makes no sense in the con­text of to­day’s web. If Medium had launched 10 years ago, it would’ve been as­ton­ish­ing. But it didn’t. To­day, the costs of web pub­lish­ing — in­clud­ing de­sign — have de­clined to al­most zero. Rel­a­tive to to­day’s web, Medium is not cre­at­ing new pos­si­bil­i­ties, but in­stead clos­ing them off. To pre­vail, Medium needs to per­suade you that you don’t care about the broader ex­pres­sive pos­si­bil­i­ties of web publishing.

That’s simply not true. Setting up a good looking blog on Wordpress, Blogger, or Squarespace requires some combination of time, money, and expertise. With Medium, I can connect my Twitter account with a couple of clicks, and with one more click, “Write a story,” I’m in.

This is a faulty line of thinking — that everyone with ideas worth sharing has the time, resources, and experience to make a beautiful blog. That’s just not at all accurate.

And now that Medium allows publishing through iOS, how powerful is that for people without access to a computer? Can you set up a beautiful Wordpress blog on an iPod touch? I don’t think so.

In truth, Medium’s main prod­uct is not a pub­lish­ing plat­form, but the pro­mo­tion of a pub­lish­ing plat­form. This pro­mo­tion brings read­ers and writ­ers onto the site. This, in turn, gen­er­ates the us­age data that’s valu­able to ad­ver­tis­ers. Boiled down, Medium is sim­ply mar­ket­ing in the ser­vice of more mar­ket­ing. It is not a “place for ideas.” It is a place for ad­ver­tis­ers. It is, there­fore, ut­terly superfluous.

I’ll be honest — I don’t love this. Online advertising sucks. I know there are ways to make money beyond advertising. But there’s also one key difference I see here.

Medium isn’t selling ads against our content (yet), in a way that that seems negative or dishonest. Unlike many other major players in the tech space, they’re taking “us­age data” as he says, and figuring out ways to monetize that. That’s a big difference to me. It’s learning from your users and applying that to future work and promotions. It’s not taking a story I write about a film and pasting the local showtimes next to it.

And again, isn’t that exactly what Apple does? Does the Apple Watch not exist, in part, because they’ve learned how people use, and perhaps more importantly, want to use their technology?

When Medium works, it connects writers with an audience that is far beyond their typical reach.

Yes, I do tend to get more visitors to my personal site that I’ve spent years building, tweaking, updating, and paying for, but my writing has traveledmuch further with Medium’s help.

When it doesn’t work, it is absolutely frustrating to see a post that you’ve put a lot of time into shrivel up and die — but it’s going to be ok. Medium doesn’t claim any ownership over our work. I can take this post and rewrite it or repackage it for my personal blog, or any other means I see appropriate.

Would it be great if Medium paid users whose work brings massive attention to the network? Of course. Though I could be wrong, I think their focus on publications is just the tip of the iceberg in that regard.

Either way, I don’t think you would’ve read this had I not posted it on Medium. Isn’t there some value in that?

Andy Newman