Medium, goddammit, you’ve YouTubed Me
I want my infinite scroll back — there’s no serendipity in algorithms
As a kid, I graduated from being a dictionary reader to being an encyclopedia reader. I took these skills online with me long ago (in online terms), but have seen, over the years, what seems to be a desire on the part of what we now euphemistically call “web designers” or “user interface” people— or whatnot — a deliberate restriction of material that would otherwise catch my eye. Flashes from the margins and undeliberated word & topic associations are the raw material of serendipity — my “Preferences,” my “Networks” & my “Personalizing” of my homepage are all just an algorithmic interpretation of me.
What if I told you I neither want nor need an algorithmic me — because I’m already me. For instance, as a musician with an interest in ethnomusicology, I used to delight in YouTube “finds.” Once YouTube got all algorithmic, the really marginal stuff got flooded off the page by numerous offerings related to things I’ve clicked on before. Ok, there’s a tiny bit of room for discovery there — but I’d have to spend hours and hours surfing the site to get the exposure to the same material that used to pop up in the margin. (Here’s a hint, Medium: I never spend hours doing that.)
One of the things that has kept me engaged with Medium has been a constant cruise down the infinite scroll “to see what crazy shit people were posting on Medium.”
And the larger-than-thumbnail pictures! How easy — and exciting — it was to see a graphic or a photo or artwork that I recognized as something I knew I wanted to read. And did so in ways your stingy little thumbnails can never hope to attain. How much stuff I’ve read from previously unknown (to me) writers, because of the interplay between the graphics and the headline!
Will the old photos of Timeline or the fantasy graphic constructs of Gutbloom catch my eye, no matter how recognizable their profile icons may be? And, for that matter, how can anybody who doesn’t already have a well-recognized icon ever come to anyone’s attention? (Hint: I not convinced they can — ever.)
Does anybody believe seeing the tiny profile picture of ‘Awful Pictures’ or ‘The Nib’ is going to draw me into a click better than an always recognizable fragment of their art work? That the profile icon of rstevens is going to automatically make me long to know what today’s dieselsweeties is about? Worse are your “star” writers — who typically write about so many things — many of which are of no interest to me. In those cases, it’s frequently been the interplay of graphic, headline and blurb that elicited a reaction from me. (Hint: I’m not going to consume my Medium screen-time clicking on all these stories. My loss. Medium’s loss. Perhaps worst of all, the writer’s loss.
And, speaking of writers, I’m one. I’m a little-known one, for sure, but can you tell me how I could possibly expect my own posts — like this one — to ever even be seen? In the infinite scroll, I was there — there where I was when I posted the piece — confident that of the zillions of readers who scrolled & scrolled trying “to see what crazy shit people were posting on Medium” would scroll past mine in the process. That was a system in which I believed I had a chance to “catch the eye” of new readers.
Now, I have no idea. My frigging ‘homepage’ not only seems to limit my possibilities to “curated topics” & writers & sites I already follow, but also, by limiting the space, implies that whatever’s there will only be there for a limited amount of time according to some system I do not understand, but do understand that it will just make it that much easier for random users to never see my posts.
N.B.: Every time I refresh, I get a slightly different list, the algorithm choosing what stays & what goes with no transparency. And I don’t really care what it thinks I might like — I’m interested in finding things I like.
Ev, I just want you to know that I’m rootin’ for you. Otherwise, I wouldn’t bother writing stuff like this. I appreciate your efforts enough to tell you how I feel: This new homepage shit (as I’ve experienced it so far) is a significant loss of important aspects of the original “Spirit of Medium.” For me, the homepage looks like it will reduce my engagement with Medium & Medium Staff. That it will reduce my own posting to little more than providing a URL for stuff I write — and if my (already abysmal) stats go down far enough, will probably lead to a gradual drying up of my writing here. That would be too bad.