Product Analysis: Medium

How does a company make words so enjoyable to read?

Words have never been so readable.

Medium is a platform where you can read about current events, technology, drugs, leadership, self-improvement, and more.

Their goal is to get as many people as possible engaging with and writing solid content.

The way they measure engagement is through their North Star: TTR, or total time reading.

Why?

They don’t care about numbers. From Medium’s perspective, they aren’t trying to achieve world domination through words on a screen. They are trying to change minds. They are trying to achieve impact.

Medium’s mission has guided their product philosophy towards becoming one of the most delightful content consumption and content creation experiences to ever exist.


The Reading Experience

Everything about the reading experience is incredibly enjoyable.

Homepage

Forget about article content — just navigating to an article is an easy and simple process. The text is not overwhelming, the navigation bar is clear, and articles are nicely matched up with a relevant photo uploaded by the author.

I‘m even shown exactly how long an article will likely take to read, so I won’t have to cut my own reading experience off midway through.

Compare that to the home page of NYTimes or Bloomberg, where every single article is competing for front-page real estate like that of a typical newspaper, Medium wins. Even before anything has been read.

Not to mention the fact that Medium‘s front page is full of content that has been specially curated for the most important person in the world; me!

One of these is not a headache to browse through.

Content

While reading, there are never ads (even if you don’t use adblock!), there are no distracting other articles on the screen while you read, nothing.

Just blank, white space. And words. I can finally focus on the task I want to be doing most — reading.

On top of that, the share, clap, and bookmark buttons follow the page as I scroll. So, the moment I read something that makes me smile, makes me sad, or changes my mind, my actions can immediately reflect how I feel, without having to scroll all the way to the bottom of the article and interrupt my reading experience.

As a user, a “like” is often much too one-dimensional. I either like or dislike. On Medium, I can show exactly how much I like a piece with multiple claps.

Those same buttons disappear while I scroll past images, so I can focus. They also don’t appear before I’ve started reading. They disappear when I reach the bottom of the article and start reading comments. They are only relevant when they should be.

Some of this text is easy to read.

Highlighting

Finally, highlighting. On Medium, highlighting is actually MEANINGFUL. I can highlight a word and leave my thoughts with the author and the world, I can leave a note for myself, I can save the highlight, and I can share the highlighted quote on twitter. Mental models; my favorite.

Try it yourself… please… the icons make so much sense…

There are just so many beautiful little nuances. Who knew reading could be this enjoyable.


The Writing Experience

Medium might also have the simplest writing experience I’ve ever seen.

Writing Shortcuts

For starters, the most commonly used shortcuts are in place, so the mental model remains. Command + B to bold, Command + I to italicize. An asterisk (*) to create a bulleted list. Adding additional content such as photos, gifs, videos, embedded links, or line-breaks can be easily found next to the lines that I am currently writing on.

Adding this content is still such a great experience.

ADDING VISUALLY APPEALING CONTENT HAS NEVER BEEN EASIER!

When I select one of the already intuitive options, Medium indicates to me exactly what I should do next. There is little room for error. If I don’t copy paste anything and instead continue to type, Medium doesn’t try to shove what I’m typing into a Youtube or Twitter link. I simply go back to writing “normal” text, and no one gets linked to a faulty site.

I literally cannot screw up. The Gulf of Execution and Evaluation do not exist.

Can this be more straightforward?

Plus, there is no mess of a header bar that is cluttered and forces me to painstakingly search through as I look for a single shortcut. There are no excess features. There is only simplicity and elegance.

Remember me?

The rest of the time, as I edit my pieces, what I see in my editor appears in exactly the same way as what I see in the published format. WYSIWYG.

I can finally focus on writing.

I know what you will see — because it’s what I see. No mismatch.

Analytics

Finally, there is a fairly powerful analytics page for every writer.

Medium helps me measure my success — I can see how many views, reads, and fans each article garners. I can see the source of these viewers; Medium, Facebook, Google Search, etc. And, I can see what topics those readers are generally interested in, and how I might want to do keyword targeting with viewers in the future.

All of a sudden, Medium puts me on the path towards writing in a more effective manner.


The Sharing Experience

Sharing, like I mentioned earlier, is SO easy to access. Whether that be sharing an entire article, or an inspirational quote, the social media integration and UI allows me to actually share instantly.

However, the Medium platform has social implications that lie deeper than external sharing.

Followers

Since Medium is a social content platform, following people is a completely different experience than, for example, sharing on Facebook. I can follow people, and instead of just seeing what they share publicly, I can see what they like, what they have highlighted, and what they have written.

Instead of crawling around the interwebs by my lonesome, I now have this amazing filter for what is good, just based on what the other ~80 million smart people in the Medium world care about.

Facebook feed for thoughtful things, anyone?

Recommended Articles

On top of this, your writing gets found. And Julie Zhou’s writing gets found. And shit, even my writing gets found! Sometimes.

Medium goes out of its way to recommend articles based on content, and factors that go beyond just simple page views. Since they collect precise metrics for attention and engagement, as well as information on your previous reads and topics of interest, Medium can recommend pieces that might not be the most popular, or written by the most well-known authors, but will truly be the most relevant to what you are interested in.

I’m guessing when you reach the bottom of this article, you might find a recommended article with 5 claps and an article with 5,000. Hopefully, their common denominator will be the interest you have in those articles.

I’ll do anything for a clap.

Publications

Last but not least, publications are a thing.

I can pile in my writing into a collection of other authors and articles whose contents are of much higher quality than my own! I can then freeload off the entire publication’s readers, and perhaps even contribute an original thought here or there.

I’m lost too, Thuân. I’m lost, too.

Reading has truly become social on Medium.


Future Notes

Medium is doing a great job. This section was very difficult for me to write.

With the goal in mind of getting more people to engage with and write good content, I tried my best to plot out Medium’s path forward.

Seeking

It is still difficult to go on a search in medium to find really good stuff. I could rely on the algorithm to actively recommend me articles, but with Medium’s massive readership data, there must be a better way.

I follow people who have written insightful things. Those people write insightful things, but also probably clap for insightful things, and highlight insightful things, and comment on insightful things!

However, there currently is no way to easily access a “feed” of articles that the people you follow have interacted with. You can only go to each individual’s profile and see their previous interactions there, or wait in the tiny dedicated “Your Network” portion of the home page for a small amount of articles to show up.

Perhaps adding a new tab on the topics navigation bar for “Your Network” that is curated based on the people you follow and their interactions would help me find articles that I think would be more relevant.

Reading

Not much to enhance here. Sometimes, words can be confusing. Adding a quick Google Search shortcut when you highlight as a reader could be useful, and would typically live out of sight.

Google Partnership? Ads shown through there? Chances are, a Medium Google Search would be very intentional, and could mean some $$$ for Google Ad Revenue!

Commenting

I just noticed this when I was replying to certain private comments for this piece — when replying to a private comment (or leaving one), pressing Enter posts the comment, instead of adding a line spacing in your comment. This is not synonymous with any of the other composing functionality on Medium, where pressing Enter typically adds a line of space.

Summarizing

I’m guessing a lot of people enjoy taking notes and leaving an excess amount of comments or highlights in order to truly process what they are reading. Leaving a million comments is currently not stored intuitively in Medium, and articles you’ve commented on the past can be easily lost once you start leaving too many comments or highlights.

Perhaps creating a neatly organized view of all the articles you’ve commented on, or even having a dedicated “Summary” feature and profile tab to organize your thoughts and easily access all your summaries.

Returning

Right now, there is absolutely no outside incentive for you to return to Medium — besides the fact that you decide there might be a potentially interesting article for you to read.

This phenomenon likely stems from Medium’s philosophy of getting out of your way, primarily focusing on your enjoyment of the articles you do read, and not trying to shove low quality articles in your face. Again, great reading experience.

However, this means that there is no explicit reason for me to open Medium.

Is there a way to unobtrusively incentivize readers to come back daily?

Perhaps something as simple as a story of the day, specifically curated for you that Medium’s algorithm determined has the highest likelihood of you enjoying. No push notification needed, just a story on the front page that you can count on to tickle your brain muscles the right way. I’d come back every day, but more importantly be able to read at least one great piece during my visit.

Now, imagine you read 4 story of the days, and they were all free and great. All of a sudden, on that 5th day, the story is a “member-only” story. You need membership to read it! Getting users over the paywall, anyone?

Writing

I struggle to know exactly how I can improve my writing. Perhaps, Medium’s writing platform can turn into a jump starter for young authors’ careers.

There are a few things that I am interested in as a writer: syntax, structure, and success.

I can use Grammarly to correct my writing syntax. I probably need to take a class (or read some Medium articles) to learn how to structure an essay. But Medium does have a way to indicate success: their analytics page.

Currently, the analytics platform is rather weak. I know some high level information about views, reads, claps, and viewer interests, but I don’t know where readers are jumping off the article.

Knowing the answer to that question can also inform a million other questions: Are my articles too long? Is my title relevant? Do I have too much text, and not enough images?

This is something that I can see being hidden behind the Medium paywall, as well. But, if this gets implemented, please let me use it for free Ev Williams.

Publishing

Medium has become a platform where a newborn writer can maintain his or her entire portfolio on. Companies need talented writers to write copy, or edit journals, etc. Creating a talent platform might be the next step for Medium!

For all these novice writers, it seems like the only logical next step is to publish an e-book. New sub-category?


Questions

If I worked at Medium, I would be curious about a few things.

One of the things Medium (and every company ever) seems to be particularly challenged by is how to turn their free users into paying users.

The way we incentivize users to convert to paid subscriptions would likely vary greatly depending on what user subset they fall into, and what features they use the most.

Therefore, I’d be curious to see if there is a difference between subscription rates for pure readers, combination, or pure writers?

The follow-up question would be something along the lines of: Are most writers on the platform with the intention to write? Or did they start off as readers, and it took a few months to transition to writing?

At what points do readers and writers convert to paid users on average? How many pieces of member-only content will they have clicked on, or seen before that? What is the “last-straw”, before users finally make the decision to buy?

Then, that would determine if we focused on getting people to convert to writing more, or if we would focus on getting the most existing writers onto the platform. For readers, we could see exactly which factors (articles, push notifications, email discounts) lead up to a user converting to a paid user.


That about wraps things up! Hope you enjoyed my analysis. Feel free to reach out to mediumdchang@gmail.com if you thought it was terrible.

Thanks for reading!