Medium’s developing story arc

Buzzfeed News recently posted an article about Medium and their changing business strategy. It cites comments from founder Ev Williams’s post on Medium saying, surprisingly, that Medium is not a publishing tool. I have some thoughts on Medium as it is and where I perceive them taking it.

Originally published at digitalmundi.tumblr.com


About Medium

To those few who don’t know Medium, it’s essentially a website (née social network platform) where you can compose and publish your writing. “Writing” in the Medium paradigm is a somewhat general concept, as it could easily represent a blog of thoughts, pages of poetry and fiction, latest breaking news or long-form journalism from amateurs and professionals alike, and including visual content like comics and rich media embedded content like video and audio clips.

One of the core features of Medium is that it is an open platform that provides visibility, with measures in place to deliver relevant content to an audience. It increases the potential for creators and publishers to connect and engage with who they’d impact the most.

One of Medium’s successes is in its no-frills design — “no-frills” as in they keep it simple, straight-forward, and allow you to sculpt your writing and presentation with few distractions and minor effort to make it look great and be more impactful, removing the cruft that ensures your writing can come off as authoritative, trustworthy, and I’d even say more respected. When I finally became acquainted with Medium I felt that it was the next big content distribution platform in the vein of Flickr (photos), YouTube (video) and SoundCloud (audio), but for the written word (and image).

B.M. (Before Medium)

I think it’s important to look at what was there before Medium. Blogging had been around for a number of years, championed by sites and services like LiveJournal, Blogger, Movable Type and WordPress. The act of amateur digital blogging competed with the commercial environment for readers’ time and advertisers’ dollars by having compelling and entertaining content and market penetration for — generally speaking — free (or at least a fraction of the cost) compared to (mostly) more commercial enterprises having sub-par digital products, expensive advertising costs, and/or restrictive measures to consume (pay walls, excessive advertising screen real estate and functionality, etc.).

When Medium emerged, their modus operandi was to simplify reading and writing; to create an uninhibited platform with which to create and consume the stories of people, be they fictional or not, straight from the minds and experiences of their beings transported through the tips of their fingers. It does it immaculately so, and in ways I’d say which are distant to the likes of the competitors I listed above. They have so far supported this prerogative with dedicated content curators and creators, with strategies to encourage the development and publication of quality articles on their platform, and also with social networking means of distribution (sharing, recommending, liking, etc.).

So what’s happening with Medium now, then?

The Buzzfeed News article and Ev Williams’s own talk about a changing of priority for the platform, to facilitate more social connection and relevancy than to perform solely as a publishing platform — and Ev himself actually states he wrote about this in a prior internal article at the start of Medium. 3 years in they have a proven writing and publishing tool; it’s now the right time to engineer more features that strengthen the links and engagement to community, and no doubt in improving how to determine and deliver value and relevancy of content to its engaged audiences, registered and unregistered (preferably registered, it seems).

With Medium’s content strategy there was emphasis given to a particular measurement of audience engagement, the TTR, or “total time reading”. I’m guessing that this is determined by the total time a user spends reading the article (either from the start to finish, whether the finish equals the end or not) ascribes a particular value to that piece. Seems that Medium are scrapping this singular metric and are looking into something else. Who knows how their TTR algorithm figures out the difference between those who can read fast/slow, those who refer back for reference/study, and they may also take into account the total likes, recommendations and comment activity to further calculate a relevancy value to a potential audience (which I’d assume if connected through Twitter and Medium’s also run by one of Twitter’s co-founders, has some significant access to user demographic data).

So by having a tool where content creators can easily write and publish their work, further tools to evaluate the impact upon the audience, and then more features on top of that to connect that audience to the creators and add more value to the content, where would that take Medium?

A.M. (After Medium)

To be honest, I currently don’t foresee an “after” Medium, but a continual “during Medium”. I see a doubling-down on their strategy as being a respected and considerable quality-driven enabler of human culture, and often that is done through increased cultural value (improving relevancy of tools and content to its audiences). I see a lot of parallels between Flickr, YouTube, SoundCloud and Medium and can only surmise that in terms of being a repository of content, they will continue to enable content creators and curators to deliver product that can inform and entertain, and hopefully earn some kind of financial or cultural capital to elevate and sustain those illuminated enough to write and publish the kinds of works that are deemed relevant to engaged audiences.

Personally I’d like to see some kind of licensing service even arise from the platform. Already creators with significant creations are being noticed (as a small example a friend of mine, Nick Fulton, was spotted by publishing articles and is now a frequent contributor to Cuepoint, a music magazine powered by Medium). What could be interesting is if Medium were to turn itself into a content storage platform/digital publication platform (which it kind of is, minus any API integration) where third-parties could hook in and enable others to create and distribute more content (think of article syndication which already occurs with establishments like Reuters and Associated Press). Other third-parties (both digital and print) could license said content and convenient remuneration could transfer to the content creator, thereby sustaining an industry and its denizens. I’d postulate this method could be effective as it allows content creators to become free agents who could be published and paid from all over the world, and still retain a single point from which to develop their own voice and outlook, while being read (even via translation?) in various countries through a variety of publishers. This circumvents the advertising model which means that the publishers themselves could still happily work with advertisers.

Expanding on the licensing feature with regards to the publishing industry, content creators could also set prices for licensing, with extra features such as exclusivity and contracts for follow-up pieces. I have another writer friend, Glen Johnson, who is a freelance journalist working in politically unstable regions and who has lamented little and late payment by allegedly respectable news outlets, as well as strongly defended newsroom positions based on longevity of office and politics. Having a convenient service like Medium with the power to set (or negotiate/auction) one’s price per piece (or per channel) could disrupt the news foreign office system and encourage fairer (and more prompt) payments for content creators, through a mechanic which can quantify and qualify a writer’s efficacy and an audience’s demand for a particular point of view/expression. I’m just spit ballin’ anyway. One could take it further and call it a marketplace, where perhaps even film and television writers could expose their art and craft for fun and profit.

Medium’s existing features for networking are great (per-paragraph comments, writing responses, social highlighting similar to what one would see when reading ebooks on Kindle, basic consumption statistics per article) and I’m glad they are going to work on strengthening this connection. I still feel that content strategy should still be their modus operandi as well as the distribution of content, and I feel to do that means to incentivise and support creators and publishers to allow them to further publish new and existing material and understand how its received. I’m curious too as to how they’ll further develop the metrics to determine an article’s value and relevancy to an audience and how that may factor in Medium’s future as a social publishing and networking platform.