Discovery on Medium: Improving the Front Page
For the last few weeks, what I see when I load Medium is the post by Ev about building Medium, the one about McDonald’s and the one about teens & social. I loved them all but I want to see something new.
Medium is amazing. I love reading here and I basically stopped using my Tumblr blog for writing (sorry Marissa). And while I’m sure you guys are working on a million improvements, I have to tell you about my chief complaint - the front page - and even offer some solutions!
“MOST RECOMMENDED TODAY” (MRT)
I think MRT as a heuristic for discovery is suboptimal, at least in its current implementation. As I mention in the subtitle of this article, it leads to some articles being displayed repetitively for long periods of time. I think there are many structural reasons for this (chief among them that some people will obviously naturally have greater readership than others) and I hope that the engineers and product designers will take those into account in future versions.
Without moving away from MRT completely, there are some easy fixes that could enhance the experience. One approach could be to not display articles I have read or recommended on the front page. The advantage of this approach is that Medium is already tracking which articles I recommend, so it would probably just involve a fairly simple addition to the database query that spits out the MRT list.
The reverse approach would involve allowing people to mark articles they want to hide from the front page, which would involve creating an additional database table, but would allow the reader to hide an article without having to recommend it first (as negative as that sounds).
There are other considerations that could encourage more variety of content: should an article from November 2012 even be eligible for the front page? Should Medium employees and friends be featured on the front page? (I could argue both ways!)
In non-programmatic solutions, given the editors at Medium’s employ, I would actually advocate for an expanded “Editor’s Pick” section. These guys reads a lot of stuff - let them tell us what’s good!
Another solution to the content discovery conundrum would be to leverage the existing network on Twitter and ask/answer the question this way: What are my Twitter friends posting / reading / recommending on Medium? Medium does not have an API or else I would be hacking away at that. (Speaking of which, will Medium have an API?)
I love the white space, gorgeous typography and large font on Medium. So it is with a heavy heart that I have to point out that in its current incarnation, the front page only shows three articles before you have to scroll. Clearly, that is not the end of the world - scrolling is easy - but when I’m just doing a cursory browse through the site and I see the same three articles on the front page, my brain wants to say “nothing new, moving on” and I have to force myself to dig down to really explore what’s new. Obviously the changes to MRT I wrote about above will help pull new stuff up, but even without those, there could be some decent ways to bring more content to the top:
- On a 26'’ monitor (not that rare these days), it might be possible to accommodate two columns of articles tastefully without killing white space.
- The sub-head text could either be dropped or shortened. 99% of articles get me to click with their title (and author). Worst case, one or two lines of sub-head text should be sufficient.
- The front page font could be … smaller? I think the large font is amazing for actual article reading but not strictly necessary for the front page or some parts of it.
One of the reasons why I love Medium is that it has introduced me to new people and ideas. I hope that the front page will evolve so that discovery on Medium can be even better.
Thanks for reading and yell at me on Twitter here.