Why Medium Notes Are Different and How to Use Them Well
On Medium, we don’t have comments on posts; instead we have “notes.” They hang off to the side of paragraphs and are shown when you click/touch the little indicator on the side.
Notes are one of the best parts of Medium and useful for lots of things: They help improve writing. They add valuable supplementary information. They incorporate new viewpoints. They give meaningful feedback to those who write things. And they let people connect over ideas.
Arguably, traditional comments—the kind you see beneath most blog posts and pretty much every other media artifact on the web—do the same thing (in ideal circumstances). Notes are much better for the type of ideas and stories people share on Medium. Here’s why (and how they work):
Notes Are in Context
The most obvious thing that’s different about Medium Notes is that they live on the paragraph level rather than below an entire post. Not only that—notes can (optionally) highlight specific text within the paragraph:
This has many advantages. For one, notes are great for word-level feedback. It’s the central mechanism for Medium’s collaboration feature—which lets authors get feedback before they post. Being able to quickly highlight some text and say “typo” is so easy, people are willing to do it frequently. (Personally, I find it fun.)
Alternatively, commenting on the paragraph level is also useful—and more efficient than at the end.
Leaving notes in context gives the same advantage after publication. Getting specific feedback from readers on what parts of your posts are resonating with (or challenging) them is powerful:
Authors Control Whether Notes are Public
When you leave a note, you’ll see an indicator in the upper right that says “Private”:
The only person who can make that note public is the author of the post. This is handy if you just want to tell someone they have a typo—no one else needs to see that.
It’s also handy for avoiding spam or other types of abuse. One of the best things about writing in public is finding out from readers that you’re really connecting with them. One of the worst things about writing in public is fielding random ad hominem attacks and penis enlargement spam in the space in which you’ve poured out your precious thoughts.
By making notes private by default, we remove much of the incentive to spam or troll. If you’re not adding value, you’re not seen.
Note: Replies to notes (which go under the original note) are public by default once a note itself is public. This allows for quick conversations. However, replies can still be hidden by the author after the fact.
Notes Tips for Authors
First, if you would prefer not to get notes on your posts, you can shut them off in settings:
We don’t yet have per-post notes controls, but leave a note here if that’s something you would like and use.
Request notes before you publish
As mentioned above, getting trusted friends or co-workers to give you feedback via notes before you publish works great, and makes you look smarter. Also, they get thanked on the post by name. More on this: Don’t Write Alone.
Don’t make all notes public
Show a note publicly if you think subsequent readers of your post will get value from it. We want to create a system in which people are encouraged to open notes because they’re valuable or at least interesting. If someone’s just catching a typo for you, definitely don’t show it. (You can still thank them with a reply.) Also, resist the urge to show all “kudos”-type notes. Naturally, when someone says something good about what I wrote, I like others to see that—and that third-party feedback can be value added. But a long list of “great point” notes can drown out more informational ones.
Don’t only make positive notes public
Similarly, we want to create a system in which constructive discourse is encouraged. By showing the commentary of people who don’t necessarily agree with you, you build credibility:
Dismiss notes you’ve processed
A third option under the private/public note control for authors is to “Dismiss” the note. This is useful for cleaning up your own view.
The note-leaver won’t know you’ve dismissed it from your view and will still see it until they delete it.
Use notes as footnotes.
I like to leave notes on my own posts. It’s a nice way to add contextual information that doesn’t need to be in the main flow of text.
Use the email shortcut links.
Unless you’ve unsubscribed from all email notifications from Medium, you’ll find out about notes via email, where you’ll get the full note, and the option to view it on the story.
I’m really happy with how notes are working now. (Shoutout to the amazing engineering and design team who built them—it wasn’t a trivial effort.) From my own experience, I find Medium Notes a huge leap forward from traditional comments. Stay tuned for more improvements to come.
Let us know what you think.