Here’s my vision

Hey Medium, This is What’d I’d Do with You

I recently submitted my resume to Medium to apply for a position as a product manager. However, I have not gotten a response from them. Instead of waiting around for a reply, I have decided to review Medium and display what I would do if I were a product manager for Medium.

To Medium: I mean this as constructive feedback and hope we can have a conversation for me to help improve Medium. You have my email and resume.

Disclaimer is that I don’t have any data about Medium other than being a user. These feedbacks and feature ideas are based off of my understanding of Medium’s platform and mission.

First step, we break down Medium to three areas:

  • Social
  • Series
  • Audio

Let’s discuss them in order of when it was implemented.

Social

Medium lowers the barrier to create a blog by having everyone’s author page be their blog. However, because individual authors are harder to discover, and publications have a larger following, the real way is to create a publication. Publication barrier is also lowered, causing people to make their own publications for each type of writing.

As my interests lie, I would create a publication for tech writing and one for Taiwan. Thankfully I do have my own Taiwan organization blog to use. However, if today, I found a person’s publication about Taiwan very good, and we discussed about working together, there’s no way for us to merge the two.

Vice versa, if I wanted to join a publication, there’s no way for me to do so.

Medium, while being a very social publishing platform, doesn’t allow for much social interaction apart from highlighting and responding.

Contact Authors

While new features like series and audio are nice features, the number one priority should be connecting readers to authors through direct message or authors to authors to collaborate or join together for a publication.

Here are a couple of scenarios:

  • I find a publication that’s very interesting and I’d like to contribute. How can I request to join?
  • I found a good author for my publication. How can I ask them to join my publication?
  • I’m interested in meeting and discussing with an author in person. How can I contact them?

I found myself in this situation when I was looking for writers that wrote about Taiwan and came across Kyle Chu 微風捕手 who documented his eatings around Taiwan. I wanted to contact him, but had no way to, so I had to find him on Facebook to message him.

I eventually add him on Facebook to make sure my messages didn’t go into the easily missed “Message Requests”

One concern with direct messaging is the ability for the whole internet to contact a person. Each social network have found their own individual ways to get around it.

Facebook — only friends can message you directly. Strangers that find your profile may message you as well, but they go into a separate inbox (often which people miss these messages because it doesn’t show up easily)

You might want to check if you have any unread “message requests” from over a year ago

Twitter — you may only direct message someone if they follow you

Gchat — even Gchat you’d have to invite someone to a conversation. Only when they agree can messages be sent between the two.

Here’s some interim solutions without building out a messaging system:

  • response to the author page
  • contact author button be via Twitter (maybe can show public tweets on author page) side thought why not actually recommend article when you recommend articles. Auto tweet it out (changeable through settings)

Respond to Author Page

Depending how the author page is implemented, if Medium is able to latch on responses not only to posts, but also author pages, it would leave the people the ability to comment on it. Public responses could be how readers think about the author’s writing while private notes and responses are private messages to the author. Of course, to prevent internet trolls and cyber bullying, this functionality could be toggled and/or monitored by the authors. (Speaking of which, why isn’t this an option for individual posts?)

Contact via Twitter

The connection between Twitter and Medium may stem from the fact Ev Williams founded both, but Twitter can also act as an avenue of communication.

“Our application, and most other Twitter enabled applications, uses the middle level (Read & Write).”

Unless direct messaging is something that Medium.com is working on right now (like rolling out in this sprint,) then it would be much easier if Medium just got the deepest level of permission and use Twitter as a direct messaging system.

Series

I joined Medium a little bit right after Series was introduced by katie zhu.

The two series that caught my eyes on the announcement were the ones by Melinda Gates and Bernie Sanders.

Wow. I’m interested.

However, as I browse through Sanders and Gate’s stories, they seem like they’re just a story with pages. Series should be much more than that. They should be…

A Journey, not a Lecture

Since Series are…

…are mobile stories that can be added to over time and unfold card by card with the tap of your finger.

“Added to over time and unfold card by card.”

To me, this sounds like a series to a chronicle or a journey, documented as a new door is opened and a new experience has happened (or happening.) These stories should unravel and have a sense of time passing. I hoped my first series documented such thing:

I had recently gave a talk at a Taiwanese American conference in which I told the attendees about Taiwan’s history through my own life. This allowed it to be more than just a history lesson but a personal story. The difference is also that this series will grow as I watch Taiwan grow and change. Recently, I added cards to talk about how it was watching Taiwan’s constitutional court take a step towards being the first Asian country to allow for same-sex marriage and achieve marriage equality.

Opening and Closing Series

Like a journey, there’s a start, a middle and an end. Series should be able to be “archived” when they are finished. This will mean it can be recommended, but there’s not much option to follow updates as there won’t be updates. A scenario would be if I want was taking a road trip across USA and I wanted to have a series documenting it. After I have arrived at my destination, the journey is over. After a final card reflecting on it all, I’d archive the series.

However, anyone that recommends the series should get notified if it gets un-archived.

Example:

I’m job searching, so I have a series talking about all the people I networked with and jobs I’ve applied. After I got the job, I’d close the series. However, I can open it again after I try to job search again.

Audio

I love the new audio feature released for members. Still in its infancy, I believe this can be a great tool if implemented properly. Allowing users to record their own audio for their writings could be a large game changer for Medium (though it will also start to branch out Medium’s focus.)

Playlist

This would need Medium to develop their own player, but having the ability to have playlists would enable users to use Medium no longer as just a reading platform but into a multimedia platform. Instead of just having morning digests, a collection of audio clips can be curated and shown for the user to listen on their morning commute. A skip over a certain piece would allow Medium to know the piece wasn’t to the listener’s taste and slowly understand the taste of the user.

Collaboration

While some people come to Medium and improve their writing, some people may come to improve their speaking. Bringing people together comes back the original first point of social. This lets me think about collaborative productions like the idea of behind HitRecord by Joseph Gordon Levitt. Allowing people to come together to create a multimedia experience would not only get people onto this platform but allow users to have an multi-dimensional environment, a much sought after experience for the internet-age user.

As I read over all these points, I realize there are many points about improvement, but all this is done without actual knowledge as a product manager at Medium. More informed decisions on features can be done after having a clear understanding of the roadmap.

Miscellaneous Thoughts

Android — Always last

Also forgot to mention that when I was making my own series and I tried to “preview on my phone” nothing happened. After troubleshooting and failing, I emailed support. First they gave me the troubleshoot answers. Then they told me that it was iPhone only. While I appreciate the new video feature explicitly to be iPhone only, it would be nice to at least tell me it doesn’t work on Android yet. No response is worse than telling me that it’s not working for Android yet.

Revenue Generation

Lastly, I chose to avoid any discussions about how to generate revenue for Medium because I believe this is a separate issue that CANNOT be done without data known only to the company (how many members are there currently? What are the listen rates to the audio version? etc.) One line from Backchannel’s leaving from Medium might be a good starting point though:

But in the time since Backchannel launched, Medium has shifted its business strategy, and it’s no longer as focused on helping publications like ours profit.

Understandably Medium is trying to put readers first instead of publications. But for a healthy platform, publications will have to be properly rewarded for their good content. As Ev Williams says:

We believe people who write and share ideas should be rewarded on their ability to enlighten and inform, not simply their ability to attract a few seconds of attention.