A non-statistical analysis of the improbable quantity of words on a Medium feed versus their actual contents.

In returning to some previous arguments on cognition, and comprehension, I hope to critique the current Medium feed while addressing the long standing feud over the dominance of clickbait on Medium using casual causalities.

I should admit that the controls on this experiment are being sufficiently intoxicated so as to “connect” with myself. To Andrew Crow & Your Friends @ Medium, below are a few journalings as a long time user, written as simple rules, or koans as it were. Though not much has changed in hoping that one day 19 words or more will fill a line.


An ellipsis is not a complete thought

Figure 1a»A introductory paragraph cut short by …

I like to read…

Whole sentences. No one likes to read incomplete sentences. I myself like reading…

I myself like reading the first paragraph before committing to a click. Sometimes a lede isn’t enough and one needs a few sentences.

Figure 1b»A introductory paragraph

In fact this what the first paragraph looks like and it is evidently a teaser.


A clickbait competition is no competition at all

Figure 2»A clickbait title tagged India

Not going to lie, that’s a damn good title and not just because I follow India (the tag). Though there are other qualifiers on a feed—name, publication and whatsoever is so important—it still remains that headlines so disproportionately represent the main feed (see previous point) relative to what is written on Medium.

The purport of this conjecture being that people click clickbait headlines because it is the primary affordance of the feed view.

Figure 3»A screen capture of the publication formerly Absurdist

By contrast, a publication feed is much denser and in closer to a personally preferred 15–20 words per line. In this way it is a different kind of engagement and closer to Pinterest in it’s brick viewing motion. I’m partial to publications in this sense and certainly my own.

A feed of more story

Figure 4»A typical post as it appears on Medium’s feed

This is Michael Sippey. He, like most writers on Medium, writes between 500 & 1000 words about software technology (see figure 5b) for any given piece. The view we are given into his writing is 9 words out of 600 in this instance, or 1.5% of his ideation. If you scroll through you’ll find that a majority of the web and mobile feeds are represented likewise. In addition to the curse of clickbait that these ideas are subject to (see figure 2), it also tells me near nothing about the story (see also figure 6).

Figure 5a»Typical length of the first paragraph~Figure 5b»A post about software technology

By contrast, my botomatic digest emails tell me so much more than the feed ever has, simply by virtue of quantity, though by no means should this be a demonstration of quantity over quality. A rough calculation yields an average of 20 displayed words to 60 words in the headline and first paragraph, or about a 2/3rds less content. Aside, mumblings on Twitter point to more type in the feed which would leave Medium’s feed short a few characters.

Figure 6»An iPhone 5 mobile view comparable to Instagram

Lastly, the feed starts to resemble Instagram when the majority of the viewport is imagery at the cost of story.


Conclusion: Cognition versus compassion

A cognitive critique might subjectively argue that feed is designed so that readers see as many content choices as possible alongside relevant metadata. Such cognitive empathy would be correct.

A compassionate critique might intoxicatedly argue that the feed fails to capture the readers intellect and their want for a transformative story by virtue of brevity. Such compassionate empathy would be behavioral.

It follows then that by positive (headline enhancing) and negative discrimination (body diminishing) clickbait articles contribute disproportionately to the platform that I suggest an increase in the minimum display words on the feed unless feed quantity is the aesthetic aim.

PS. I make few pretenses about being a designer as one should if they are to advocate for the user.

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