Let’s talk about some bugs and making series more accessible.
Accessibility is key.
I’m writing a short book and originally wanted to make updates using Medium’s series feature. I chose series over what Medium calls stories (all other articles, poetry, fiction, blog-style posts, etc.) because I really wanted the content I’m writing grouped and presented together. My series are updates about fiction I’m writing— short fiction in dialogue form, a book of short stories, one which I hope to publish in physical book form once the series is completed. Until then, I want my series read. And to be read, my series needs to be accessible.
And so does yours.
When I started this, series could only be read using the Medium app. Yes, editing was done on a computer with a web browser, but to actually read the series, you needed the app.
I figured that this is okay. People download and use apps all the time. So I’d just have to tell people to download the app. They’d do that and read my series, right? I was wrong. Dead wrong.
The reason rubik cubes are popular with smart people is the same reason that, for the rest of us, they aren’t: they’re frustratingly difficult.
The reason the series feature on Medium hasn’t caught on is that it was frustratingly difficult. At least for the average Medium reader without the app.
The good news is, it’s not nearly as difficult as it once was. Although there’s still some obstacles to hurdle, it’s doable. We’ll get to that in a bit.
The Problems with the App
One problem with the app is that not only am I requiring my readers from Twitter, Facebook, and my Blog to download a new app, the app itself doesn’t just let people read my work. They have to create an account (which can be its own headache). And to create an account on Medium puts the user in the position of writer. “Write a new story” is the first thing they see once the account is created. Not all of my readers are writers. This was disconcerting to some who would just have liked the app to read series and articles published on Medium. Yeah, they need an account to clap (and comment), but baby steps, anyone?
Okay. Your friends have the app on their phone. Great. Now they have to search out your series or your name, even if (frustratingly) they were directed to the app from your series’s page. Once they have it up they want to subscribe. It’s not always immediately apparent how to do this. Here’s a hint: don’t bother. Your friends will have to scroll down and then back up (at least on the phones my friends used). That made a little menu available. Under a drop down arrow there, they found a “subscribe to notifications” option.
This was screwy to say the least. First, it appeared they needed to “follow” my profile before they could subscribe to notifications in all but one case (and in the latter case, I think they already had a Medium account and were following me). So after following me, they could subscribe to notifications, which apparently is supposed to notify them every time I post an update to my series.
It doesn’t work. Not a single person subscribed has ever gotten a notification when I’ve added to the series. Supposedly, subscriptions to your series also “ranks” your series higher. But since there’s not yet anywhere where the best series are featured (such as one can find under the topics option for stories), I just don’t see the point.
The Good News
Somewhere around the sixth week of my commitment as a series writer, a change was made. Before this, while in a web browser, if I clicked on a link to the series, I was taken to a page that asked me to send the app to my phone. While posting a dialogue that I made available as a regular Medium story outside the series in an attempt to gain more visibility, I noticed the change: you can now read series using your web browser.
Well, sort of.
This change was made unannounced as far as I can tell (I’ve dug around but have found zilch). Why this change was made is obvious: accessibility is the key to success. I get that the vision behind Medium’s series is about how people access content on the internet. But, I believe, because series lack visibility (they don’t land in feeds, though they can be found with a direct search or by viewing the profile of a series author), somebody finally wised up and realized that to counterbalance this, they needed to add accessibility. Thus, us series writers suddenly had a whole new potential audience of non-app users (not that anyone bothered to tell us).
This is good news, except it’s f***ing glitchy. Glitchy, but unlike notifications, not so glitchy it’s broken.
Most of the time when you try to open a series in a browser, you’ll get this message: “Read [name of series] on a larger screen, or in the Medium app!”
This does not mean you need to run out and buy a larger monitor. In fact, out of one desktop and three laptops, only one device actually pulled up my series without this message . . . and it was the one with the smallest screen.
The trick is simple, all you have to do is zoom out or go fullscreen. Once again, zoom out (that annoying feature you sometimes do on accident when scrolling around) or go full screen with the browser, which yes, you can do even outside of YouTube videos.
Zooming out: for me, this is the easiest trick. My hand is perpetually on the mouse when I’m reading. If you have a mouse with a scroll wheel, all you have to do is press the control key (Ctrl) on the keyboard and scroll toward you. This will zoom the screen out. One or two clicks out and — voilà! — the series becomes visible.
For laptops with trackpads or touchpads, you can usually place two fingers on the pad and slowly bring them together. Some touchpads have a “scroll wheel” on the side, which functions like the mouse’s scroll wheel above.
Going fullscreen: this one is actually pretty easy for most Windows users. On your keyboard are a bunch of F# buttons. Hit F11 to go fullscreen and F11 to revert back. Once fullscreen, the series magically becomes visible.
For a Mac, the fullscreen toggle option usually becomes visible when you move your cursor to the top right or left of the screen. Alternatively, you can press these keys together: control+command+F.
Hint: explain zooming out and going fullscreen to your readers whenever and wherever you leave links to your series.
But there’s a lot to read out there, and unless it’s a diehard fan at the computer, visitors to the series are far more likely to just find something else to read than figure out by themselves the next secret step to get to the content, let alone jump all the hoops of downloading an app just to view your series.
Will This Work For Me?
I don’t know. Giving your readers instructions to zoom out or go fullscreen is likely to turn off some of them. The hope is, if they’re there, they’re already fans. People don’t like to take extra steps. By this logic, you’re not likely to gain new fans from your series, though your content’s hurdles will likely not be insurmountable for your core fanbase.
With all this said, series are really cool. I like how it lets you put related content all in one place, tell a story over time, and give readers something to keep coming back to. I like how it looks. And I love how easy it is to start and add content to your series.
— If any bigwigs or developers from Medium happen to read this, please come away knowing that we series authors want more accessibility. We want our readers to have zero hoops to jump through as soon as they click on our content. I’m glad they can now use a web browser to access our series, but I’d like for them to do so without having to click any extra buttons (or read instructions on which buttons to click for that matter).
—We would also love more visibility. Maybe a section for series, broken down by categories or tags.
—Oh, and working notifications, preferably with a one-step subscription process.
I know I’m asking without really giving. But I do want to give. I want to send more readers to Medium. To do that effectively with the series feature, I need it to keep improving. So let’s make things happen for Medium together.
Like this post? Then give it some claps and follow me.
Oh, and now that you’re an expert, check out my series, Dialogues: a Collection of Creative Conversations.