Medium, reloaded

What I think Medium is going to be, so far


Medium has started at the beginning of 2017 an impressive transition towards what it’s going to hopefully be. At the end of 2016 things were quite ugly: a lot of layoffs and a new direction to take. The most difficult thing to accept was — I suppose — the unreliability of the business model on which Medium was based up to that point: mainly a free model with some small or bigger islands of payed contents, most in english and published under the umbrella of the “Sponsored content” or some kind of formula like this. That’s why Ev Williams and the Medium board decided to change everything: a subscription system based on a monthly fee, some members only contents and a new way to pay writers for their efforts.

As an italian member I have to admit that this system pays off particularly english authors but I’m fine with it: english is the first or second most spoken tongue in the world, it’s fair that you can reach a bigger audience with it.

After a first phase rolled out in the first half of this year (some contents payed directly by Medium after they reached an agreement with some authors and assigned to them stories to write) now it’s time for the second phase, which is still in development these days. First came the “claps thing”, as I’d like to call it: the recommends/green heart system— which was basically the “like” of Medium and was a way to measure the engagement of a story within the Medium community — changed into a clapping hand that you can push, giving (clapping, actually) your thumbs up to a story. You can clap one or more times and I suppose the more you clap, the more interesting the story is supposed to be. I have mixed feelings about it: from one side it seems silly and less serious that the heart, even if giving a green heart is not the most professional way to express an opinion about something, I do agree. On the other side I’m having much more fun being clapped, yes I do. I developed a clapping language too:

+1 clap: pretty good
+2 claps: good
+5 claps: green heart
+10 claps: damn good mate!
+50 claps: Pulitzer Prize Candidate

The claps thing was just the beginning: at first glance it wasn’t very well received. Medium actually introduced the system along with a new product: Series, that is contents that you can read just on a mobile phone, made with texts, images and videos. I publish some series too and I see them as a quick and effortlessy way to share contents without much editing.

So: from that point on, claps became something different: maybe they tested into the Series environment in the first place and they thought that, given that you can only read Series on you mobile, that should have been the more intuitive way to express your feelings about an author’s work. Then they thought it could have been a good metric for stories on Medium too. And they could have worked well to measure the engagement of a story. The aim is not to reward the authors’ egos but to pay them, because — it turned out recently — the more claps a members only story/article gets, the more its author is payed (so: clap this one like there’s no tomorrow and I’ll eventually buy my first Aston Martin — thanks a lot).

Are you still with me? Let’s go back to the beginning:

January 2017: layoffs, Ev Williams announces they are renewing Medium’s focus. I write an article on why I think Medium should embrace a kind of membership model.

March 2017: I proved to be right and Evan Williams explains that Medium is going to be partially for members. The thing is actually more complicated because subscriptions are not going to pay for Medium’s bills but its authors as well. That’s to say that it’s not going to be exactly as I predicted but I was right about the monthly fee, which turned out to be 5 dollars. (I’m sorry if I keep on coming back to this but I’m so rarely right that I just want to celebrate a little bit). Another important thing happened: Medium’s home page completely changed its design and layout from a blogroll theme to a newspaper’s one: blocks and sections, limited number of articles on a single page and so on. That is really important because it meant that Medium moved on from the “blog style” towards its new and more mature version: the magazine. Series took off this month too (and claps too).

August 2017: out of thin air Medium renews its logo: no more the green foldable M but a much more solid and bold M which looks a lot like the old logo.

Something is going on here. At first I didn’t understand the meaning of this new move: why changing again after less than two years? And why changing to go back to the first logo, even if slightly different? Did Medium reconsider its image (that was obvious) and did they think that the previous version was better?

I thought so but I was wrong. That solid bold black M from 2014 and before was not the same one I was staring at now: the old one said “You have to take me seriously: look at me, I’m bold and strong”. The new one doesn’t have to prove anything but to be the logo of a much more mature kind of company: a publishing company. And a social network. But a publishing company in the first place.

The proof was the updated Medium app: when you open it the first thing that jumps to your eyes is the image at the beginning of this article: an illustration with a man with things going out of his head (ideas? Stories?) and a lady that is gently giving him money. It’s like a puzzle that maybe says that Medium is now a publishing platform to make money. Maybe, I don’t care. What I care about is the fact that the welcome screen is no longer a lonely pulsating green M but — look at it:

It’s a cover: it’s a magazine cover. Medium is a magazine made of tens of thousands of different magazines and written by millions of authors.

Inside you find articles and stories arranged in different themes and sections, exactly like in an old fashioned magazine. But you can consume it on your tablet or smartphone. The shape and layout are pretty the old one but the medium — pardon the joke — it’s updated and contemporary. And it’s a much modern kind of magazine because you can create and customize it choosing your interests and what you want to see and read.

Of course, it’s anything new in its overall concept: maybe few of you remember Firefly, probably the very first attempt to create a personalized web experience back in 1997 or so. It worked pretty much the same way: you choose what you wanted to read and then you… well, you read it.

What has changed in 20 years is that now we have social networks and the real plus that only Medium has: the reading experience. Medium is still the best way to read things online and I’m talking about typography and the pure pleasure of reading.

Can you see that? The “Medium” centered logo right on the top of your page? Can you recognize that old fashion feeling of actually reading a reliable newspaper? Do you understand why they choose to switch from a logo that said “Well, we’re a publishing platform” to something different that shouts out “I’m the contemporary New York Times”?

Medium is in its adulthood and it’s no longer a tool to publish contents but it is finally a curated and organized thing. A giant publication. A medium.