Why is Ev Williams hell bent on destroying Medium?

Keith Parkins
Mar 25, 2017 · 9 min read
commons / Permament Culture Now

If I find out later that Medium is not truly free and open, I will most probably back out of the membership. The idea of having a wall between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ turns me off. — babulous

Let’s take Medium. There are so many writers here, posting fresh and insightful thoughts and stories. The majority aren’t getting paid for writing but they still churn out tons of posts. So why do all these writers write? — babulous

signed books by Paulo Coelho

Paulo Coelho is a writer, a very successful writer. When once asked why readers read his books, he said he did not know and did not wish to know, as he may be tempted to write what they wished to read, in other words aim at a market.

We know these writers, they churn out the same book, ad nauseum, heavily marketed.

Paulo Coelho writes because he wishes to write, he has something to say, and he wishes to be read.

I find the same with musicians. They play and write music, if they can earn some money doing what they love doing, that is a bonus, otherwise they have a side job to enable them to pursue their real passion.

Contrast with the rubbish we find on shows like X Factor, Britain (ain’t) Got Talent. They want to be rich, want to be famous. That is why their music is so bad.

Or contrast with hacks who are paid to churn out drivel to fill column inches.

Medium was created as a platform for writers. Maybe not what the vulture capitalists thought, for them a means to make a fast buck.

I have twice now had a plea, please write for Medium for money, you are one of our best writers.

The first was last week, I had to respond by Friday, I did not bother. The second a few days ago by Ev Williams. He has also written a piece for Medium.

What I did not know, until I read What do doctors, teachers and writers have in common? is that Medium has already introduced a $5/month membership fee for new members which entitles them to exclusive content, access to the fenced-off-with-razor-wire ghetto, a modern day enclosure of the commons.

This is to forget what exclusive actually means. That exclusive club is not measured by those who get in, it is measured by those who are kept out, the excluded.

In the post Renewing Medium’s focus where Ev Williams announced pay for content, though not that there was to be a membership fee, he admitted Medium was attracting high quality writing, that is why people read it, therefore why change something that is successful?

2016 was our best year yet. Key metrics, such as readers and published posts were up approximately 300% year on year. And we witnessed important stories published on Medium — from world-famous leaders to unknown individuals — on a daily basis. We’re proud of Medium’s role in promoting intelligent viewpoints and new ideas no matter who they’re from, becoming the default outlet for thoughtful people who have something to say about the world.

If being paid was not the motivation, that led ‘from world-famous leaders to unknown individuals to write on Medium ‘on a daily basis’, then why is Ev Williams recommending a change that contributors be paid, enclosure of the commons which destroys Medium as a collaborate commons?

Those who contribute and interact, are creating a common wealth, something that is not for sale.

Dark Mountain is an anthology of essays, short stories, poetry and art. The content variable, the art poor, badly reproduced, the writing too often pretentious unintelligible drivel. Launched through crowd funding, now funded through subscription, originally an annual publication, now twice yearly. Contributors do not get paid, they receive a free copy of Dark Mountain.

cappuccino and Standart in Makushi

Standart is an excellent quarterly publication on coffee culture, can be found in coffee shops, or subscribe, 11 euros an issue. I do not know how the writers are paid.

These are hard copy publications, real costs, printing, distribution, shelving.

We are now postcapitalism.

  • Classic Marx: cost equals land, labour and capital.
  • Postcapitalism Marx: cost equals land, labour, capital and information.

Postcapitalism, a fourth factor has been introduced, information. The tendency of information is like water, to flow. If I know something, I cannot unknow it. It is only Draconian copyright and intellectual property rights that is stopping this free flow of information, and in doing so, has slowed innovation.

Information has zero cost. I can at zero cost, copy e-books and digital music, I can distribute at zero cost.

Products with a high information content, the price tends to zero.

This is why, as Charles Eisenstein discusses in Sacred Economics, few make money from the internet. Unless you enclose, you cannot make money from a commons, and when you try, because this is a global commons, the commoners simply up sticks and create a commons elsewhere.

It may not have been the intention, and clearly was not the intention, to create Medium as a collaborative commons. But, it has become through use a de facto commons, we as writers, contribute, others draw on the commons, by reading what others have written, often we are one and the same, writers and readers, one article leads to another, to another, to another, as we witness here.

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.

The question has to be why? Ev Williams has already said how successful is Medium without the need to pay writers.

But this is a myth that keeps being regurgitated, writers must be paid to contribute high quality content, even though the evidence is to the contrary.

Here but one example from Fox Kerry responding to Classic case of enclosure of the commons:

this whole next step might be a horrible blunder; it feels like it could. But you are quite wrong in assuming that people do not wish to be paid for what they write on Medium, especially if they feel it is high quality.

In Debt, David Graeber discusses that at the most fundamental level people cooperate, it is as though hard wired into our DNA.

Lost in the street, people are only too wiling to help and show the way. I have found this wherever I am. I am not charged a fee.

A workman asks his workmate to pass a tool. The response is not what am I going to get out of it?

The internet is built on Linux. Linux is open source software, people freely contribute their time, it is free to use.

I have been in discussion with others, launch of an on-line magazine The Little Bicycle Coffee Shop devoted to coffee culture, something similar to Standart. There has been interest, Medium seemed the ideal platform, now I am having second thoughts, anywhere but Medium if Medium is to be turned into a fenced-off ghetto.

And that is how we should treat a pay-for-access Medium, not as exclusive content, but as a fenced-of-ghetto, fenced off with razor wire, akin to the Trump Wall, enclosure of the commons.

Ev Wiliams is showing a compete lack of progressive thinking, or maybe he is simply driven by greed, with vulture capitalists breathing down his neck.

He has created something worthwhile, why therefore is he not looking at how to safeguard what he has created, not looking at how to destroy it?

Or to be strictly correct, he has created a platform for something worthwhile, a collaborative commons where the commoners can collaborate.

What Ev Wiliams has illustrated is the failure of hierarchical systems, the failure of dictatorship from the top. I was one of those privileged writers invited to be paid for their content. I was not though consulted on these changes.

A commons self-regulates, it adapts.

Had Ev Williams consulted, said we have created a successful platform, a creative commons, asked for contributions on how we safeguard the viability of the platform, he would have received many suggestions, that is how a commons self-regulates, adapts to changing circumstances.

And no, the last person I would have asked is Mark Zuckerberg, not unless you wish to be advised on how do I screw the commoners, abuse their personal privacy. Though Ev Williams seems to be doing a perfectly good job of shafting the commoners without seeking the help of Zuckerberg.

Turn Medium into an open coop, run as an open source platform.

Enable an option, people can pay for an article if they so wish. Show how much goes to the writer how much to finance the platform.

This model works for bandcamp, musicians can set zero price, pay what you would like when you download, listen for free on-line.

I have already recommended Medium Books. Crowd source the funding for books, real physical books, print at local nodes, distribute in the normal away, e-book available for free, pay what you like.

An example would be Pensar desde los comunes, Spanish edition of Think Like a Commoner, crowdfunded then printed locally, with free e-book. Translation from English to Spanish by Guerrilla Translation, a P2P translation collective and cooperative.

Follow the example of Dark Mountain and Standart, collate collections, which can be supported through subscription for a hard copy, printed at local nodes, provide the tools to make possible.

And how do we pay if we wish to pay?

Use an alternative currency such as faircoin and fairpay card.

If an autonomous market in Heraklion can use alternative currencies, then it should not be impossible for Medium to do the same.

To charge five dollars per month, that is $60 per year. To put that figure in context, annual subscription for Standart is 40 euros, for Dark Mountain £30 for an annual subscription.

I would urge do not pay what amounts to extortion, to pay you are supporting the creation of a fenced-off ghetto.

I will not be paying, and I would encourage others not to pay.

To pay, is to say it is ok to create a fenced-off ghetto, that enclosure of a commons is ok.

And I am one of the privileged writers invited to be paid.

To date two invites, one from Medium last week, a couple of days ago from founder Ev Williams. There has been no consultation with writers and readers.

I was one of the writers invited to be paid, to be on the inside of the fenced in ghetto. And yet even I was not consulted.

All Medium does is provide the platform, it is writers like myself who contribute freely, who provide the content. We write to be read, not to reside within a fenced-off ghetto.

What is depressing, is no thought has been given to how to keep Medium viable, without destroying its very nature. commons

Postcapitalism the future is collaborative commons, sharing, gift economy.

Does Medium wish to be part of this future or an interesting relic, something that had potential but its potential never realised, another dead end at the end of a digital cul de sac?

Light on a Dark Mountain

The machine is stuttering and the engineers are in panic. They are wondering if perhaps they do not understand it as well as they imagined. They are wondering whether they are controlling it at all or whether, perhaps, it is controlling them.— The Dark Mountain Manifesto

Keith Parkins

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Writer, thinker, deep ecologist, social commentator, activist, enjoys music, literature and good food.

Light on a Dark Mountain

The machine is stuttering and the engineers are in panic. They are wondering if perhaps they do not understand it as well as they imagined. They are wondering whether they are controlling it at all or whether, perhaps, it is controlling them.— The Dark Mountain Manifesto