I love Medium. I want to state that up front, because if I don’t, the purpose of this post may become misconstrued. Medium has allowed me to unleash a talent I’ve been holding inside for years. I’ve always loved writing, but I could never figure out the right way to project my thoughts out to the world. Social media gave me a platform, however it was limited to people within my immediate network and put strong constraints on the length of content I could release. Starting my own blogging website seemed like too much effort during the busy years of college. In other words I was missing the proper ‘medium’ through which to convey my thoughts. Then one day I stumbled across Medium.com and the rest is history.
With this context in mind I want to vent some of my concerns with a number of recent developments on the Medium platform. In particular I want to analyze Medium’s new clapping feature and discuss the Medium branding overhaul. As a product manager, I have a deep understanding of the need to constantly iterate upon a product, and that some of these iterations will be bolder than others. Regardless of how much an update benefits users, there will always be an initial push back towards change. Humans truly are creatures of habit, and when you mess with something we already love, our natural tendency is to resist.
Furthermore, I recognize there are factors at play that are beyond the scope of user experience. For instance, I know that Medium is struggling to define a profitable business model. Medium has raised $132 million in funding over the past few years, and that money has allowed it to survive despite sustaining losses over the first few years of it’s existence. Of course, this can only continue for so long before investors lose patience and the VC cash drip dries up. Just take a look at what is happening with Soundcloud. Soundcloud is an excellent platform that has benefited artists and visitors alike for years. However, their failure to monetize the platform has it on the brink of extinction.
So basically, I’m not ignorant to the other factors that are at play here. There may be moves in the works that will make perfect sense in the long run. However, I am mainly writing about these two aspects because I don’t fully understand them yet, and maybe someone who does can explain.
The first time I saw the claps feature on Medium, it was on someone else’s computer at work, and I actually said “what the f*ck!?” out loud. Again, this was just a natural aversion to changes I was seeing on a platform I love. I’ve experienced changes like this before on Facebook and Twitter, however the claps feature on Medium is different. It’s not just a design change, but also a functionality change. And that’s where I am lost. Medium allows users to clap on an article up to 50 times. The logic behind the change is that they want to move away from a binary system to one that allows greater expression of appreciation on behalf of the readers. Also there is an underlying incentive, since they will be leveraging this clapping feature to compensate authors moving forward, but this still isn’t well defined. I have 4 main issues with the new clapping system:
- It is extremely arbitrary: How do I decide how many claps a post deserves? Is 1 clap enough, or is that rude? How do I decipher the difference between 23 claps and 40 claps? What earns the max 50 claps? Our minds aren’t meant to think this way, and therefore I predict the clapping system will remain extremely arbitrary while it remains on such a large scale. The binary 💚 system was simple. I had a threshold in my mind for what a blog had to be to warrant a recommendation. If it surpassed that threshold I simply pressed a button. That experience just became a lot more convoluted.
- It diminishes the prestige of old content: It used to be difficult to accumulate a lot of recommends on Medium. If an article surpassed 100 recommends, it was a big deal. If an article received a couple hundred it was probably trending. If you reached a couple thousand, then you were on par with what some of the biggest influencers on Medium achieved on their articles. The new clapping system made all of that previous prestige vanish over night. Medium made the decision to force every article onto the new scale, and only mapped each heart to a single clap. This is a terrible method of converting from binary to a 50 point scale, and in the process a ton of value was lost. New content now has an enormous advantage over old content.
- The system is too easy to game: I could make 10 new Medium accounts with separate emails right now, and go give 50 claps a piece to this post. It would only take me a few minutes, and I would amass 500 claps. This would mean that I could essentially game the clapping system to make this article have more “traction” than any other piece I’ve ever written on Medium. That’s messed up.
- The UX is broken: It wasn’t until I read another post on the update that I realized you could click the clap button multiple times, and I’m assuming many people won’t catch on to this right away either. If you want to increase claps you can either keep tapping it or you can hold the button down; again this is not entirely obvious. But the worst aspect is removing (deleting?) claps. You have to hover over the claps symbol for more than a second, and then an X will appear to the right of the claps button. This should appear immediately; very few people will think to hover there, which is poor design in my opinion. Also if you press the X, it will delete ALL of your claps, and then you need to manually increase it again to get to a lower number.
Overall I think the claps feature has the potential to be a revolutionary system for interacting with content on the internet, however right now there are way too many holes in the system for me to appreciate it.
4 claps for effort though (or should I give 12?)
In my opinion, the old Medium logo was iconic. Literally the only reason I came to Medium for the first time was because I saw the green M on another website, and I was so intrigued that I clicked on it. Each time after that I got excited whenever I would see the green M in the corner of one of my browser tabs or on the mobile app in the palm of my hand. That green M meant something to me, and then in a very drastic move, Medium decided to pull it away overnight. What did they choose to replace it with? They chose to replace it with something that was familiar:
From a purely design perspective, I actually admire the look of the new logo. It is simple, clean and easy on the eyes. However, ultimately what matters is how a design makes you feel. In my eyes, the rebranding is a step in the wrong direction. This conforming to the industry trend seems to fly in the face of what Medium represents. In many ways Medium was trying to uproot traditional news sources, and the bold green logo seemed to symbolize this mission. This rebranding suggests that Medium is trying to align itself closely with these traditional news outlets. Black and white was the color of newspapers, which are becoming a thing of the past. Does Medium want to become part of the past or lead us into the future?
I wrote this article because I care about the long term success of Medium. Like many writers on this platform, my success in the blogging space is directly tied to the success of Medium. I know that Medium is making bold changes that they feel will help move the platform and the community forward. I just hope they don’t lose sight of the experiences of their writers and users in the process.