Medium’s “Series” Are *WAY* More Than a Copycat Feature — Here’s Why.

Some people have it twisted.

By now you probably know Medium joined the likes of Snapchat and Instagram in the full screen storytelling game.

On first glance, the feature seemed to just be this platform’s attempt to stay relevant by having something which looked and felt like the popular feature made famous by Snapchat.

At least, a lot of news outlets thought so.

(In other news, the hamburger patty at Burger King looks a lot like the hamburger patty at McDonald’s)

Remember something about news sites in this current age — most of them feel enormous pressure to be FIRST, not necessarily THOROUGH. There are dozens of stories with headlines just like this which don’t even touch the deeper nuance of what a Series actually is.

You and I aren’t so hasty. Let’s take a closer look at what Series offer which Snapchat and Instagram don’t.


1) The Tilt

There is no way Medium would be able to step into the virtual reality space, right?

WRONG.

When I first saw the tilt feature, it looked like the picture you uploaded would just wiggle around a little.

“Um, okay,” I thought. “But…why?”

Good thing I am stubborn as well as slow.

Any time you have people moving around as if you were in another space, that’s virtual reality in my book. When you upload a picture as a “tilt,” the person reading your series can literally move her phone back and forth to see the whole picture. This means you aren’t confined to the 1080x1920px chains on both Snapchat and Instagram.

This function has a much lower barrier to entry than Facebook’s 360 Video or Snapchat’s Spectacles. If you have a picture and a phone, you can offer readers a more immersive experience.

The Takeaway for Creators:

Add items of interest in the off-screen area of your photos. The more people physically interact with your work, the more immersed they will be.

2) Mixed Media

On IG and The Ghost, you can only use picture and video*. But where does that leave us word people?

Series offers the chance to tell a story through both images AND text.

Better still, the text is given its own space to breathe. In a world where video and images are worshipped, the written word is treated as the focal point here.

More than anything, this is a testament to how well the team at Medium know what this site is for. He is not trying to make a shift to what the cool kids are doing. He is not cheapening the platform or trying to make it “more accessible.”

People come to Medium with the expectation they will read and think. Series is a natural extension of that.

The Takeaway for Creators:

Don’t try and tell stories with images only the same way you do on Insta or Snapchat. Words are power on Medium. Use them.

*I know, I know. Technically, you can create a black picture and write something on it. But for all the grace and tact is offers, we might as well be reading comic sans. Please stop yelling at me.*

3) No Expiration Date

Admittedly, this could be a reason the Series feature fails.

Without the 24-hour time limit, you lose out on the urgency accompanying Instagram's stories. On that platform, you HAVE to check in every day. What if you miss something?

As usual, what Medium passes on the immediate attention grab, they make up for with depth.

Since there is no time limit on your Series, you could create an epic documentation of, say, your cross-country move from San Diego to Boston that spans 475 pages on the Series.

Your readers have 2 options:

  1. Watch the move “live” as you update every day
  2. Experience the move from beginning to end whenever they feel like it.

This decision to allow work to live forever opens up new opportunities for artists. I’m particularly interested Nicole Aptekar, who is posting a picture of the same bridge every single day until further notice.

Imagine the potential for fiction writers. You get to tell a story day by day, and at the end of it, you have a complete work which exists on its own.

I am confident someone will do a series which will explode out of the platform and into wider public consciousness (a la the podcast “Serial”). At least one book deal will come because of this specific feature.

The Takeaway for Creators:

Think of your Series in terms of “Chapters” or “Episodes.” Sure, you could use a post an effectively copy and paste to the Series format, but if you come up with a broader header and reformat ALL your posts on the same topic to the same Series, you have a ready-made book with no extra effort.

Think long term. A two-year project is not out of bounds here if it’s interesting.

4) “Resumability, Pagination, and Serialization”

If you want to know the purpose of a cow, you ask the farmer. If you want to know the purpose of a new feature, you ask the founder.

Here is Ev Williams on Series:

“Imagine if you had to read books in one sitting — or find your page every time you returned. That’s how the web works today, penalizing everything beyond a few minutes in length.”

The interface of Series allows for a more natural, progressive storytelling experience.

You can hop in wherever you left off (or whenever the creator updates the series) — resumability.

You can focus your attention on one sentence at a time (instead of being met with a wall of text) — pagination.

You can tell and read longer stories (even if they aren’t planned) — serialization.

Here’s “the farmer” himself talking about the future of Medium:

The Takeaway for Creators

Experiment with shorter text on a page. Use reaction gifs to show what words cannot. Honestly, Series reminds me most strongly of Slideshare. Check out the best decks there and mimic them.

5) Varying Degrees of Approval

A good tweet deserves a retweet.

A good answer on Quora deserves an upvote.

A good article deserves a recommend.

But what about really good stuff? On most platforms, you can’t like something again. Sure, you could leave a comment, but that requires extra effort.

Enter the “applause” idea. At the end of the Series, you can clap once or you can clap 1,376 times if you feel so moved.

The Takeaway for Creators:

If there’s a theme to this feature, it’s DEPTH beats WIDTH. Imagine a world where you write a *very* good series to a limited audience. When your audience has the opportunity to go crazy, you could still be thrust into the fast lane of Medium’s algorithm.


Conclusion

Last Thursday morning, I was thumbing through my Medium feed and saw the new word, “Series” at the top.

First — I was intrigued.

Then I was upset— are they really dumbing Medium down just to look like everyone else?

Then I was elated — and immediately started experimenting with what Series can do. Here’s my first effort below.

This avenue of storytelling is going to make new stars, allow medium creators to work in ways that haven’t been able to before, and offer readers a level of depth they won’t get anywhere else on the web.

Ultimately, it’s you who is going to make Series great. I would love to hear what you might do with the new feature in the responses below.


Learn from the best

Have you been wanting to write on Medium for a while, but aren’t sure what kind of stuff will work here?

I’ve been fortunate enough to learn a lot over the two years (and 400+ articles) on this site. Several of my posts here have been featured in the New York Observer. One of them went on to become the #1 post in the world on CNBC.

You could hunt through the archives and find my best stuff to learn from, OR you could pick up my FREE audio book — The Best of Medium.

Download your copy right here.

And by the way, you could eventually hunt down the written work, but you won’t find that audio book anywhere else.

See you on the other side :)

— TB