First Impressions of Medium

Why Medium is awesome, and why it pisses me off.

Seems like the best way to begin is to just start, so that’s what I’ll do.

I’d intended to try out Medium months ago, but with my disability and illness, I wasn’t able to sit at the desk (MacBook) and write. Medium doesn’t offer iOS support; I love blogging from my iPad, but that’s probably mostly due to necessity more than anything else. Though there are some good apps, too, like Blogsy, Byword and Posts.

I’ve been blogging for over a dozen years now at various services, many now defunct. Dedicating time and energy at a free service makes me a bit nervous after my experience at Livejournal, Vox and Posterous. Ads, rules changes, community moderation (and petty censorship), uptime issues and service shutdowns. Seen it all.

I wish Medium had markdown support. I like its simplified formatting. People can go overboard with it and too much customization is often more of a curse; further, at a ‘magazine’ style service like Medium, visual consistency is important. So I suppose minimalist rich-text makes some sense; limit the options, streamline design, control sizing and spacing. But I can’t add bullet lists, underline, strikethrough, super or subscript.

The rich-text editor is restrictive. By design. But it means that I can’t just write my post in Ulysses III or Writer Pro (with Markdown), copy/paste/done. I can certainly compose the plain text elsewhere, but after pasting it in, I have to go back and add formatting and links — it feels unnecessarily tedius. Couldn’t they just limit the accepted markdown and achieve the same thing?

Second, the editor as-is isn’t tablet/mobile friendly. A simpler markdown system would work just fine. Actually, Posthaven has a nice, clean rich-text interface that functions adequately on the iPad and iPhone (I don’t have an Android device to test, and I still wish Posthaven had markdown support. Eventually, they say.) so it could be done. I really don’t know much about web programming, so I can’t say whether or not Medium’s current version would work on iOS Safari, but my guess is no.

A few things that I really like:

The typography is clean and the type is larger than normal, aka a proper size, albeit on the smaller-end of that spectrum. Too many websites use micro-type; perhaps it’s a holdover from low-res displays, Flash site designs and plain text web pages. 12pt serif seems large on an 18" 800x600 display. Even at 1024x768 it’s fine. At 2880x1800 it makes my eyes bleed, even with Apple’s simplified ‘you’re too ignorant for advanced settings’ auto-text-enlargement adjustments.

The user interface is clean and distraction-free, and the text is set with nice margins. I hate it when websites and apps let the text run from edge to edge either out of laziness or some crazy belief that it’s better that way.

However, I wish the page would scroll up farther while writing. The input line sits really low, so instead of focusing on my screen’s mid-section, I’m looking at the bottom few inches. Maybe some people don’t care or even prefer it that way — I like typewriter-scrolling, keeping the active line dead-center (Ulyssess III does this beautifully; iA’s Writer apps achieve something similar with ‘Focus Mode’)

Inline notes and comments is a brilliant idea. I hope that this becomes a blog standard. Why force all comments to exist in a forum like setting? At least some systems allow for reverse-chronological order or seeding based on popularity (+1’s or thumbs up, stars or whatever — I don’t really have a preference there). But Medium is the first system I’ve used that allows the writer to stick a note on a word or phrase and allows comments to sit next to the applicable paragraph. It’s so simple and genius.

The only thing I’d add is some kind of guide for first-timers that explains how to comment on a specific word or phrase. It isn’t inherently obvious — because it just isn’t done elsewhere. I like that a little plus-box appears and lights up next to each paragraph, but clicking that box for the first time (maybe the first few times) should notify the user that he or she can highlight text and click the ‘+’ or tweet icons. Similarly, I think that the editor should (initially) indicate that it has rich text support, because you’d never know it existed if you never highlighted any of your text. Many of the Medium articles I’ve read lack formatting and I couldn’t find a guide or documentation, so for me, finding markup was a happy accident.

A ‘small’ annoyance, but it’s getting to me.

The autosave is a really nice feature, though a bit distracting because the black Medium ‘M’ logo keeps popping in and out with ‘Saving…’ and ‘Saved’ flickering every few seconds. I’m glad for it, in case of a browser crash or in the (unfortunately too frequent) accidental swipe-to-page-back (in Safari) + Magic Mouse. (If I had a Thunderbolt to USB adaptor or more USB ports, I’d plug in my Razer Naga and it wouldn’t be a problem… alas.)

If only the logo was inverted, or an outline version; primarily white-on-white with a gray outline ‘M’ and square. And smaller; on my screen, it’s probably a half-inch square. Instead of using the words, maybe a little symbol could indicate saved? Perhaps a subtle ellipses and a check mark?

Perhaps it doesn’t bother other people, but the constant motion in the upper-left nags at my focus and disrupts my writing flow.

If the icon stayed static and present, it wouldn’t be as bad, but the indicator would be better in the bottom left or right corners. That it’s just in the periphery causes my eyes to notice something strange and makes me want to look up at it — and away from the words I’m typing. Just writing this post, I’ve concluded that if I were to continue posting to Medium on a regular basis, I’d need to use an app like Byword or Writer.

It seems like a small thing that shouldn’t be worth complaining about, and I know that Medium is free and it has all of these great features… but it stresses me out. It probably shouldn’t, especially when compared to the numerous larger nearby distractions (like distant gunshots and sirens — I live in Oakland, California after all).

All I can say is that it does; and with my chronic pain and illness, migraines and muscle spasms, any little annoyance or stresser I can get rid of makes a difference in my life’s overall quality. Writing is one of the things that I like to do and it helps me ignore the constant pain that I have.

Closing thoughts

I’d like to be able to schedule posts here.

It’s one of the features that I really like at my main blog, Says Brad (Squarespace), and my Tumblr. It’s a bummer that Ghost doesn’t yet support it; I’ve been playing around with Ghost 0.4 ‘Aton’ at and it’s a lot of fun. I have some major complaints, but I think it’s all early-adopter stuff that’ll get worked out way before version 1.0 (hopefully!).

If it isn’t technically difficult to implement here, my assumption is that the lack of scheduled posts is a deliberate attempt to deter spammy, marketing entries and the like. I see a lot of that at Twitter; identical tweets at set intervals throughout the day, linking to this or that or something.

I get that, but it’s also very helpful for people who write at odd hours or in spurts.

No one wants to see a myriad of near-simultaneous updates followed by extended inactivity. For many people, simply saving entries as drafts and posting when appropriate would suffice, but for people with disabilities or extended absences (due to illness or traveling or whatever), the ability to schedule posts in advance for readers is a wonderful thing.

I use scheduled posts whenever and wherever possible. Most of my friends aren’t awake at 4am (PST) when I (am sometimes able to) write these things. I don’t want to bombard them with five entries at once. I’m able to finish a post at a normal, daytime hour very rarely; because most days, for most of the day, it’s too bright and I’m hurting too much to do much of anything.

I’d also like a night mode.

The bright white in the middle of the night (when I usually write) makes my left eye twitch. Yes, I can adjust the brightness of the screen, but that also affects contrast. An off-white on soft-black option for the writing environment would make the editor damned-near perfect.

I suppose if the Medium-geniuses offered one ‘fix,’ I’d choose the autosave indicator. My hope is that other people have asked for or recommended these things and that able-bodied, healthy people don’t shoot down and ridicule the ideas and requests.

If nothing else, this was a nice experiment and distraction, something that I can write about and review at Maybe somebody will like it, although it seems more likely that people either won’t care or will say mean things. Maybe I’ll think of a way to integrate Medium with my Twitter updates, perhaps as an extension or a means of elaborating on ideas beyond the 140 boundaries. Beyond the Boundary. A pretty anime.

Also, it was a nice learning experience. And if you read through my little, perhaps long, update: hi, and thanks! Also, I hope that you take care, and don’t take your health for granted. When I was younger and (somewhat) healthier, it seemed impossible that I’d be in my twenties and near-incapacitated on a regular basis…

Though and then again, when I was in my early teens, I didn’t think I’d even be alive in my late twenties — but that’s a journey down a rabbit-hole fit for another time. Lessons learned; it’s worth it to try to be happy even if things are tough, and there’s always something to be thankful for!

Round one, complete!