A practical guide to writing on Medium, Part 1


This is part of an occasional series giving you the inside scoop on getting the most you can from Medium. Most of this information can be found on the Medium Support Pages, but sometimes it’s hard to find the information you want because you aren’t able word the search in a way that gives the best results. For example, if you type in “comments” your search returns one article that directly addresses your question, plus a bunch of other stuff you probably don’t care about. If, on the other hand you type in “response,” you get a boat load of articles about stories, drafts, comments, and blocking.

[Update: Some readers have pointed out that not all of the actions I’ve described work on mobile touch-screen devices. First, make sure you have downloaded the Medium app to get maximum functionality. Even at this point,you will find there are a few options not available.]

Medium has four different and unique ways for people to communicate and each one serves a number of purposes. There is a reason that Medium’s developers created these different forms of communication.

#1: Public Stories

First, there is the public story. Any comment is considered a story. When you publish a public story, you are basically standing up on your soap box, grabbing a bull horn and broadcasting your message to the entire world. Your story goes into the news feed that gets pushed out into the site and throughout the internet, depending on how well connected you are, or whether Medium’s editors choose to feature you stories in their email newsletters. There are three cases to consider:

  1. You are relatively unknown and just like the feeling of yelling out at some virtual mountains and hearing your echo
  2. You have a small following (let’s say under 1000), so you’ve made some friends within Medium and feel part of a larger community where you can give each other emotional support
  3. You have a large following, and now your messages are getting posted on Facebook and Twitter, allowing the big wide world to see what’s going on in your little corner of the internet.

In the first two cases, Medium is like a protected cove, where everyone can swim and frolic around and do whatever they want. But in the third case, the number of fish going in and out of that cove attracts predators. This is what has happened to some of the more popular women writers on Medium. Their notoriety and strong feminist views attracted some bad people who harrassed them. The same thing happens when someone publishes a particularly popular article about progressive politics. You will see some knuckle draggers open a new account and only comment on the one article, speaking in the crudest terms.

#2: Unlisted Stories

Second there is the unlisted story which allows long form communication but is only seen by people who are following a thread. It is not a totally private comment; anyone who has made this kind of comment can look at their stats and see that there is often more than one view. Unlisted means that the comment does not show up on your personal feed. Using the private cove analogy, this message will stay within a small group of people within your community.

[UPDATE: Here’s another great reason for unlisted stories. Let’s say you’re engaged with someone who disagrees with you in an honest conversation. But the deeper you get, the more you realize you’re getting trolled. The question is, what do you do with this kind of exchange? Should you keep it on record to show a line of logic that destroys their logic? Maybe. Maybe it’s better than deleting everything. But the downside is, your troll’s statement is showing up in your feed. So if don’t want to publicize that person or their idiotic view, just unlist the message.]

#3: Private Notes

Third is the private note, which is limited to 400 characters for the first note and 200 characters thereafter. It can only seen by the two people communicating. Unless someone copies and pastes it into a public message, which is a betrayal of trust and privacy. There is a reason that Medium will not allow people to copy and paste email, instant message threads, or twitter DMs. Or if they do, all the names have to be redacted.

#4: No Communication

Here’s another important mode of communication that most people normally don’t think about until they are having a problem.

Hiding Responses

Did you write something controversial? Are you really uncomfortable with confrontation? Medium gives users the right to hide responses to their articles. At the level of the heart and comment icons just above your profile, you will see a row of icons all the way to the right. Normally, you will see a twitter icon, a Facebook icon, a bookmark icon and the ubiquitous mysterious three open dots. If you click on the three little circles, it gives you the option to “hide responses.” For better diagrams, go here.

Blocking Users

If you feel you are being attacked by another Medium user, you also have the right to block that user. They will not see your articles in their feed and you will not see their articles. For more information and good diagrams, go here.

How Medium’s software works

If you make a comment that is one or two paragraphs, your comment will show up in your profile stream within the “responses” box. If your comment is longer or contains a picture, Medium interprets this as an article. If you are an active participant within your community, chances are you will write a good number of these kinds of comments. As a result, unsophisticated users will have a lot of trouble finding your writing, as your stories will be buried beneath all of your longer comments.

In response to one reader’s question, you can unclog your feed if you wish by deleting old or obsolete responses. The easiest way to do this is to click on your profile icon and then select “stories” from the pull down menu that appears. From here, select either “Drafts,” “Published,” or “Unlisted.” After you choose a category, you will see a list of all your writing. At the bottom of each story, it shows either the date it was last edited or published, the read time, and a “v” which is an downward arrow. Click on the arrow and choose to either delete or edit the post. If you edit the post and decided to delete it, you will see an ellipsis in the top right corner, just next to the publish button. Click on it and a pull down menu of actions appears, with one of the actions being “Delete story.”

Why use one form of communication vs another?

There is nothing wrong with any of these forms of communication, and certainly nothing wrong with having more private methods. Here’s an earth shattering thought: many people communicate in a completely private manner through email or Twitter DMs.

  1. Public comments are self explanatory. You want to make a statement and you want everyone in your community to read it and react to it.
  2. Unlisted comments can be used for more privacy, or to differentiate between comments you want to be seen for the long haul and those of a more temporary nature, where the topic is time sensitive and it loses importance, which will unclog your personal feed.
  3. Private notes are used between editors on a piece of writing within a publication. If you want to correct someones typo, this is a good way to do it, instead of using a public comment to help people write better. That’s one of the supposed purposes of Medium — to have a community of writers who help each other and correct each other’s mistakees or make deeper comments on style or subject matter. They also serve as a private place to exchange difficult personal thoughts.

Communication & Trust

Finally, let’s look at different levels of comfort in communication. Some people have no problem expressing everything inside them, regardless of how sensitive or embarrassing it may be.

Other people may draw certain lines of privacy, and never cross those lines, either to protect themselves, or to protect members of their family.

Still others lurk on the sidelines and never express themselves for fear of being attacked.

What about people who want to share something they feel might embarrass the story’s author?

What about people only wanting to communicate with a trusted friend on trigger issues to get feedback before making those ideas public?

For each person, there is an appropriate way to communicate through Medium. If we respect each person’s level of openness by communicating in the way they feel comfortable, then we foster increased communication. If we don’t, we are making unconscious judgements without proper context, and fostering the type of communication we hate when we look at other social media websites.

I don’t do this anymore, because I’ve got my little group of friends on Medium, but in this case, there are too many people who need help in figuring out Medium.
That’s why I’m asking for the maximum number of recommendations possible to get the word out. Thanks for your support of other, less experienced users.
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