Thoughts From a Happy Clapper

Another redesign, another controversy: Medium Claps.

Medium also changed their logo to mixed reactions. But I’d like to focus on my favorite change, replacing Recommends with Claps, despite the negative backlash. I love Clapping, and I think everybody can learn to love it, too.

Social Media Commentary


Besides the natural, “me no likey change”, more thoughtful criticism has mentioned that:

  • Claps can be gamed.
  • Claps are lazy.
  • Claps cannot (easily) be undone.
  • Claps have wonky behavior between mobile and web when held down.
  • Claps are assigned to legacy posts as 1 Recommend (Heart) = 1 Clap, significantly degrading their reputation.

I must admit, that last one is a doozy. Medium is now five years old. As a new user, some of my favorite content was published in its earlier days. These posts deserve continued attention. Regardless of how visible Medium or Google chooses to make them, fewer Claps will tarnish this content for users unaware of Medium’s evolution. If you will allow me to continue speaking as an armchair PM, perhaps Recommends should be assigned the average number of Claps posts receive from a single user. Right?

Full Disclosure: I passed Statistics by the skin of my teeth.

The other criticisms can be applied to any rating system, or they can be solved in future updates. Reverting Claps to Recommends is unnecessary.

But there’s one big thing we need to talk about if this is going to work out:

Stop Treating Claps As a Numbers Game

How do I decide how many claps a post deserves? Is 1 clap enough, or is that rude? How do I decipher the difference between 23 claps and 40 claps?
-Alex Valaitis
Claps go up by increments of 1, which is too granular. The chances a reader wants to give precisely 17 Claps is probably much lower than giving 15 or 20.
-Jason Li
So, the thing I’m wondering: I just gave someone 3 claps[…] — is that a great thing or kind of a put-down?
-Dharmesh Shah

I get it, we’re human. We like to quantify shit. But when was the last time we counted our applause?

One.. Two… Three?

I try not to focus on the growing number that appears above the Clap button. I enjoy the animations, and the little in-app vibration is my crack, but I Clap to reciprocate the energy and time the author has given me in writing the post. Thoughtful writing is a favor to the reader, so an invaluable post encourages me to max out my Clap button in return. This interaction is more meaningful to me than a lazy 5-star rating. It’s why I love Claps so much.

I think that removing totals from our focus could help make Clapping fun for everyone. The decision to include it in Clap feedback could be why we’re finding ourselves philosophizing applause. If our behavior should emulate our post-performance meat slapping, counting out our claps detracts from that. What is the count really for? Of course, some feedback is necessary to understand if our Claps register and when we’ve maxed out our Claps.

A Possible Alternative

While I think it’s still a little early in my design career to dictate drastic changes to a multi-million user product, I’d like to bring my own input to the conversation.

Have you used Facebook Live before? If you spam the like button, thumbs fly across the screen. I feel inspired by that.


Displaying flying balloon Claps, with a “+1” label on each balloon, could encourage users to applaud more naturally. Claps would stream up the side of the screen as the user taps or holds down the Clap button, signifying the buildup of praise with more taps. Ideally, this would remove any focus on exact numbers and let the user enjoy showing the author their appreciation.

Made with Sketch and Principle

At the 50 Clap limit, the flow would stop and the user would see a banner notifying them of the limit.

Made with Sketch

Medium and the community are going through a rough patch. Feelings have been hurt. The best cure, like in any relationship, is communication. What we like, what we don’t, and how things could change. The goal of this piece is to keep the conversation going for the better. I would love to hear what adjustments you think Medium needs to make.

Hopefully, as Clapping becomes more familiar to everyone, users will more naturally applaud content whether or not we see adjustments. I am already happily Clapping.

Thank you to jessica poteet, Thomas Caruthers, Zac Halbert, Russ Klusas, and the rest of the team at Tradecraft for their support and editing.