A platform analysis of Medium

Although I’ve used Medium to write a blog post once in the past (in fact it was a technical blog post for my Harry Potter course last spring, ENGL 108P), I never really used Medium as platform for daily social media, which naturally it is a great platform for. So for my ENGL 295 course, I’ve decided to analyze Medium as a social media platform, and of course write a blog post detailing my discoveries.

What originally beginning as an extension Twitter, Medium now operates as it’s own social media platform

Interestingly enough to begin, Medium was originally a concept developed by Evan Williams, a cofounder of Twitter. Medium was developed as a way to publish writings and documents longer than Twitter’s 140 character limit bound. While in development, it grew into a separate platform independent of Twitter and now exists as an online publishing platform containing both amateur and professional publications. The platform was launched in August 2012 and is an example of social journalism that is often used as a blog host for both companies and individuals.

As defined in class, social media are computer mediated tools that help users interact with their social networks. Although I wouldn’t personally classify Medium as a traditional social network (such as Facebook or Twitter) where there can be direct interaction between users, Medium definitely is a “medium” that enables interaction through the discussion of the blog posts hosted on the platform. There is definitely reciprocity in the communication on the platform and each blog post can definitely affect large social groups and communities (see the recent wave of discussion generated by Susan Fowler’s controversial blog post regarding her time at Uber).

So while this is only my second blog post on the platform, I took the recent few weeks to use Medium and observe how it is utilized as a social media, and here are some interesting discoveries:

1. Medium fulfills the criteria of a standard social networking site

When you first think of a blog hosting platform, a social networking site isn’t typically the first association you could make (or at least it wasn’t initially for me), but Medium does contain features that are typical of an SNS.

A basic profile created on Medium

As a pure Social Network Site, Medium does feature the ability to create a profile and follow users, creating connections. You can link other social media platforms (such as a Twitter or Facebook account) and you can follow both personal accounts (such as friends) and public accounts (professional blogs by companies or established individuals).

The dashboard page for a logged in Medium account

The Medium dashboard is similar to standard dashboards of other social media platforms. It contains a typical feed which displays some content that is curated based on the user’s preferences which were set when a profile was first created. It offers a Top Stories section, which is content deemed to be popular for the day, and an Editor’s Pick’s, which are curated content based on favourites by the Medium staff.

The ability to modify the content displayed to the user

Interestingly, similar to Facebook and Twitter, Medium’s dashboard offers the feature to modify the content it can show you. This is done by a button that allows users to Show fewer stories like this or Show fewer stories tagged with this content. Relating to discussions based on algorithms in class, this offers the opportunity for the platform to “learn” a user’s changing preferences and adapt accordingly.

Additionally, there is also a likes feature, which is applicable to both articles and comments. Clicking the heart icon identifies to the platform that you like the article or comment written by the author. All likes by a user are stored on their profile as recommends, so followers and other users can see the particular articles a specific user likes.

Continuing with the theme of common SNS features, Medium also offers a notifications feature which allows users to observe the most recent updates and interactions with their content.

A notification system to display the recent interactions with your profile

This notification system is setup on the top right of the page near the profile section and offers insights into the recent interactions with your profile, whether that is new follows, new responses or likes.

2. You don’t have to write articles on Medium to use it as a social platform

I think this is the biggest misconception or mistake when using a writing first based platform such as Medium. Of course Medium is a great platform for hosting a blog(more details about this in a later point), but there is so much more to the platform than just writing, as evident by the SNS features discussed in the first point.

Commenting is a great way to interact with writers

The most obvious form of social communication on the platform is commenting, or “Responses” as Medium defines it. Each response is placed at the end of an article in a comments section, and each response can be “liked” and even replied to. Responses offer a quick mechanism to not only interact with the author of a particular post, but also as a way to generate discussion amongst other readers of the article as well.

In addition to traditional comments or responses, there is another feature that I believe is quite unique to Medium, Highlights, which is further discussed in detail in the following point.

3. Highlights is a powerful bookmarking and annotation tool

Compared to comments, Highlights provides another layer of communication that references direct quotes in the articles, as shown in the image below.

Users have the ability to comment on specific exerts in an article through “Highlights”

Highlights in Medium is a simple feature that is accomplished by simply selecting and highlighting a piece of text. Once a piece of text is selected, users can Highlight the text, as a bookmark or indication that this particular exert in the text resonated with them, or even directly reply to this quote with a response.

Highlight, Respond or even Tweet the selected exert

Similar to Likes and Responses, Highlights are saved in a user’s profile, so that other users can see what a particular user has highlighted. This makes it easy to view specific points that resonates with particular users, even without having to view the entire article.

A top highlight is shown for a particular quote in an article

An even more interesting use for this feature that I found unique was displaying the most highlighted exert in an article. Top Highlight is a feature within an article that displays to users which pieces of texts are the most frequently highlighted by other users. This feature is unique in my opinion because while it is different than a summary, it “highlights” a critical point in the article. This point can be an incredibly funny exert, an extremely shocking point, or something that drives down the idea of the article to the user. Regardless, I believe that this is a creative way to display a crucial component of an article as deemed by the readers.

4. Writing articles on Medium is an incredibly easy and smooth experience

So this one was a little obvious, but it is without a doubt to say that writing a blog post on Medium is quite the unique and clean experience. Writing my first article and subsequently this article on Medium were both seamless and smooth experiences for me. When initially beginning to write an article, the user is presented with a minimalist text editing web platform.

A very minimalist platform for editing an article on Medium

When writing on the platform, users are given minimal options to edit the style of the article by highlighting a specific piece of text. This includes abilities to bold, italicize, quote or section off certain parts of text in addition to adding attachments such as images or links. Articles are autosaved and stored as drafts on a user’s profile, which can continue to be edited until the user deems the article ready to be published.

Editing an article

Once an article is completed and ready, users are able to publish their articles which are then displayed to the public. An interesting feature that I found was that Medium provided tracked stats to users for an article published, including views and reads.

Stat tracking provided by Medium

This interesting feature allows users to gauge the type of interaction or engagement other users had with their article.

Concluding thoughts

Based on my usage with Medium in the recent weeks, I believe Medium is a great platform for using writing as a facilitator or “medium” to generate interaction within a social media context. The platform is clearly writing first, but it also has typical SNS components found in user profile features. The writing component itself is very good at facilitating discussion through a unique commenting and highlighting feature. Finally, the content that is provided on Medium are impactful, and often have profound reaches within certain communities. With this in mind, I predict moving forward Medium will be a critical platform for sharing written content in a social context.

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