Finding the perfect blogging platform (or not)

It’s been less than a week since I’ve joined Medium, and in a lot of ways it’s a breath of fresh air after years on Tumblr and Blogger. However, I can’t shake the feeling that Medium is marred by squandered potential.

On the positive side, Medium has the best text editor of any blogging platform I’ve ever used. It has everything I need and nothing I don’t .The minimalist design and floating menus keep the page clean and devoid of unnecessary features. The ease of adding captions to pictures and videos is something sorely lacking on other platforms.

I also really appreciate the focus on writing over everything else. Too many social media sites and blogging platforms place the focus on linking to other people’s work, animated gifs, or other frivolous nonsense. If you want to express yourself on Medium, it has to be through the quality of your words, not some fancy customized layout. This focus also lends a weight and faux-professionalism to posts other platforms simply can’t match. However, the site has its drawbacks too.

The biggest problem with Medium is by far its lack of discoverability. Obviously my blog is so young I don’t expect much activity yet, but some aspects of the site seem intentionally designed to discourage new writers from being discovered.

Limiting the number of tags to three is especially glaring in this regard. I can understand wanting some limit on tags to prevent overuse, but three is far too few. Niche communities, what economists call ‘the long tail,’ are what make online platforms thrive. They’re what bring in new readers and keep them on the site longer. Any writer with an eye on exposure must choose between using more general and generic tags with a larger number of followers and barren niche tags that could better attract interested readers if only they could be used properly. As the system is set up now, that’s no choice at all, but even increasing the number of tags to five could alleviate a good deal of the problem.

The tagging system can’t help but highlight another major problem with Medium: its community lacks both depth and breadth. In terms of size, Medium is never going to be able to compete with something like Tumblr, but the lack of diversity is a bigger problem. Out of curiosity, I entered a bunch of different tags into the publish box to see how many results there’d be. The far and away winner was the word “Startup” with 45,000 entries. The closest tags I could find were the related terms “Entrepreneurship” (27K) and “Tech” (23K) and generic terms “Life” (26K) and “Travel” (31K).

None of that is very surprising. After all, Medium started out as a tech startup founded by entrepreneurs who probably travel and presumably live. But compare that to tags like “Culture” (6.5K), “Art” (9.4K), or “Science” (4.2K). Even if I’m missing a few popular tags, it’s clear that Medium currently caters to a very limited slice of the population and a very limited variety of posts.

When you get down to more niche interests like “Videogames” (1.7K) or “Anime” (325), Medium is downright embarrassing. I’ve been on this website for four days and occupy a full 1% of the “Anime” tag. That shouldn’t be possible for any broad tag on a fairly popular topic.

The top stories on the homepage back up the sameness implied by the tags. The majority of them are either personal confessionals, general life advice, or tech/startup related, and almost none of them have more than a few hundred likes. The site’s top stories.

I don’t want Medium to turn into Tumblr. After all, Tumblr already exists. But there has to be a middle ground which preserves the things that make Medium such an attractive platform, while making it easier for writers to get their work discovered and form connections with other writers. Medium has so much promise and I’d love for it to become the next big thing, but more than three years after launching, it still has a long way to go.

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