Build Lightweight Sentiment into Medium

Tell me what you really think.

Visit the About page of Medium.com and you’ll see this:

Medium is a different kind of place to read and write on the internet. A place where the measure of success isn’t views, but viewpoints. Where the quality of the idea matters, not the author’s qualifications. A place where conversation pushes ideas forward and words still matter.

I love that. I love Medium. As someone who lives in DC and has worked for both campaigns, foundations and nonprofits, I value Medium not only for the quality of the stories it delivers to my inbox everyday, but also for the role that it is beginning to play in policy debates and the potential it has to drive serious, substantive discussions in the future. But it could do more.

Specifically, the Highlights function could do more.

Visit the About page of Medium.com and you’ll also see this:

Reading these stories is not passive. Every highlight you leave changes the way others interpret the story — and maybe even the way the author thinks about what they wrote.

Maybe, but not really. Highlights are a blunt tool that allow you to express . . . something . . . about the story you are reading. What that something is, well that’s not exactly clear. But it could be.

With a few simple tweaks, Highlights could become the vehicle to deliver lightweight sentiment as added context and nuance to all Medium stories and responses.


How would it work?

Rather than offer a single highlighting option (Medium Green), offer three colors, each one aligned with a particular sentiment:

  • Green = Positive/Agree
  • Red = Negative/Disagree
  • Gray/Blue = No Opinion Expressed

Make No Opinion the default and allow users to swap in a positive/negative sentiment only if they are strongly inclined to do so.

Benefits to Readers

  • Greater nuance added to lightweight interactions on posts when you don’t have the time or the inclination to write a full response.
  • Greater nuance added to your shares on Twitter with Medium-generated images of highlights.
  • Greater insight into what people in your network think and why they are highlighting content (and vice versa).
  • Greater nuance in how your Highlights are displayed publicly on your profile page, so readers have a stronger sense of your viewpoints and may be more inclined to follow you.

Benefits to Writers

  • Greater understanding as to how their ideas are (or are not) resonating with readers. This could be manually observed through sentiment-enabled highlights but also aggregated into a private sentiment score viewable in the analytics dashboard.

Benefits to Medium and Public Discussion Broadly

  • If hooked into a prompt for Responses, positive or negative sentiment could offer opportunities to push more readers into becoming writers (why do you agree/disagree).
  • Hooking responses into sentiment-driven highlights opens up an interesting way to thread complex conversations on the platform (super relevant in contentious discussions). For example, multiple positive/negative sentiment highlights that all result in public responses to a post could be grouped together in the Responses section, publicly surfacing a whole sub-discussion.
  • If Medium is the place for substantive public discourse, it would be highly beneficial to more fully understand the shape of that discourse, and voluntary sentiment can help with that — especially when combined with keyword tags and author data.

What do you think? Analytics experts, user experience designers, public policy experts and activists, Medium enthusiasts and staff (er, Ev Williams, Andrew McLaughlin and katie zhu) — is this a worthwhile feature?

  • Yes! We want our sentiment and we want it now.
  • No way, this is just more clutter and will encourage trolling!
  • Meh.

Highlight the answer that best describes your opinion.

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