Anywhere but Medium
Last night I posted a tweet: “Next time you want to post an essay to Medium, do the open web a favor and post it elsewhere. Anywhere. Tumblr. WordPress.com.”
If I had more space I would have added Pastebin or Blogger. Really anywhere but Medium.
I didn’t have room to explain, but people asked, so here’s where that tweet came from.
Over on Facebook, Steven Max Patterson wrote a long well-thought-out comment about Trump, jobs and how he’s not wrong about the policies he’s advocating. He also went out of his way to say he doesn’t support Trump.
It was so well written, it seemed a waste to bury it in a comment on Facebook, where almost no one would see it. You can’t publish pointers to Facebook posts or comments, because you never know who might not be able to see it. I’ve never been able to fully figure out how this works. So I suggested he post the comment to a blog so I could give it greater circulation by pushing it through my network.
In the back of my mind I thought that he’ll probably put it on Medium. But I didn’t want to say anything up front. Who knows, he might put it somewhere else.
Well, he did put it on Medium and sent me a link, and I sent back a comment saying that I was worried he’d do that, and unfortunately while I love his post I am reluctant to point to it on Medium. I asked if he’d consider putting it somewhere else. He asked where else. Hence the tweet.
Medium is on its way to becoming the consensus platform for writing on the web. if you’re not sure you’re going to be blogging regularly, the default place to put your writing is Medium, rather than starting a blog on Tumblr or WordPress.com, for example. I guess the thought is that it’s wasteful to start a blog if you’re not sure you’re going to post that often. It’s something of a paradox, because blogs are not large things on the storage devices of the hosting companies. If they’re doing it right, a blog is smaller than the PNG image in the right margin of this post. They’re tiny little things in a world filled with videos and podcasts and even humble images. Text is very very very small in comparison.
People also post to Medium to get more flow. But at what cost? Which pieces get flow? Ones that are critical of Medium? I doubt it. Or offend the politics of the founder? I don’t know. I don’t see a statement of principles, tech startups usually don’t have them. They’re here to dominate and make money off the dominance. I’m very familiar with the thinking, having been immersed in it for decades.
Because I cross-post my stories to Medium through RSS, you will be able to read this there. I guess they won’t recommend it. It probably won’t appear on the front page of Medium. See there’s the other problem with ceding a whole content type to a single company. Since you’re counting on them not just to store your writing, but also build flow for it, the inclination is to praise them, to withhold criticism. To try to guess what they like, and parrot it. If Medium becomes much stronger, this will be what SEO becomes. We saw that happen before on Twitter, when they gave huge flow to people they liked, and not to people they don’t. Now they’re being more open about it. Why not? It didn’t appear to cost them anything the last time around.
If Medium were more humble, or if they had competition, I would relax about it. But I remember how much RSS suffered for being dominated by Google. And Google was a huge company and could have afforded to run Google Reader forever at a loss. Medium is a startup, a well-funded one for sure, but they could easily pivot and leave all the stories poorly served, or not served at all. I’m sure their user license doesn’t require them to store your writing perpetually, or even until next week.
I only want to point to things that I think have a chance at existing years from now. And things that are reasonably unconflicted, where I feel I understand where the author is coming from. Neither of those criteria are met by posts on Medium. I also want to preserve the ability of developers to innovate in this area. If Medium sews up this media type, if they own it for all practical purposes, as Google owned RSS (until they dropped it), then you can’t move until they do. And companies with monopolies have no incentive to move forward, and therefore rarely do. Look at how slowly Twitter has improved their platform, and all the new features are for advertisers, not for writers. I suspect Medium will go down a similar path.
We can avoid this, it’s not too late. You have a choice. Post your writing to places other than Medium. And when you see something that’s interesting and not on Medium, give it some extra love. Push it to your friends. Like it on Facebook, RT it on Twitter. Give people more reasons to promote diversity on the web, not just in who we read, but who controls what we read.
We all point to tweets, me too, because it’s too late for competition. And YouTube videos. SoundCloud MP3s. Do we really want to bury something as small and inexpensive as a web page? Is it necessary that a Silicon Valley tech company own every media type? Can we reserve competition in the middle of the web, so we get a chance for some of the power of an open platform for the most basic type of creativity — writing?
When you give in to the default, and just go ahead and post to Medium, you’re stifling the open web. Not giving it a chance to work its magic, which depends on diversity, not monoculture.
Anyway, the story had a happy ending. Patterson posted his story on WordPress.com. I circulated a link to it via my linkblog, so he got far more exposure than he would have gotten on Medium, and the open web got a little more of a future as a result.
PS: This post, and all my other posts on Medium, was originally posted on my blog.