A happy Medium

Why we chose a writing community over self-publishing our blog

Since taking on the role of managing Dynamo’s editorial content last fall, one of the primary platforms I work with is our blog. Beyond developing an editorial strategy, managing staff contributions and maintaining a regular publishing schedule, one of the aspects I also decided to evaluate was which blogging platform made the most sense for us to use moving forward.

The last version of the Dynamo blog was created in the fall of 2014 on Tumblr, as a popular blogging platform that we could easily integrate into our existing website. While Tumblr served us well for a while, it became clear that it had certain limitations with respect to our new objectives and that there were better alternatives out there.

Our decision centered around choosing between two options, either a self-hosted custom blog or Medium. There wasn’t immediate consensus amongst our editorial contributors. We weighed the pros and cons of each:

In the self-hosted camp, the main arguments focused on ownability:

  • We would own all the content and data
  • It’s completely visually customizable
  • Readers stay within Dynamo experience / ecosystem
  • Long-term sustainability — we know that a custom platform will exist for as long as we want it to
  • General independence
  • Control over tags, categories, types of content and structure

I have to admit, I was in the self-hosted camp. While I have personally experienced the popularity of Medium as a blogging and publishing platform lately, I am skeptical of most trendy new social platforms. As a bit of control freak, I also like the idea of being fully able to manage every aspect of our content, from a visual and practical perspective. My colleagues, however, had some good points in favour of switching to Medium, namely:

  • The ability to following authors and publications
  • Zero web development necessary
  • The fact that it’s not a static platform, it’s always improving
  • An optimal writing experience and design
  • Related / recommended content
  • A built-in design & tech community

With a proliferation of places to read long form articles these days online, Medium seemed like the best option for writing and getting visibility within our field of digital design primarily for startups. Unlike a self-hosted blog, Medium is a community of sorts, with a significant number of readers and writers working in tech, design and startups, aka our backyard. For every lightweight listicle (and there are still too many in my opinion), once in a while, you do come across a surprisingly great article, whether in the “Weekly Digest” emails or your Home feed. I don’t have a lot of patience for the melodramatic click-bait titles that tend to populate the “Top Stories” section (10 Apps you can’t live without! / Something with swear words! etc.) but acknowledge that if you dig a little deeper, there are often insightful articles that might not be able to reach such a wide audience elsewhere, such as the journalist Martin Belam’s piece about the challenge of getting Guardian readers to pay attention to stories about the recent attacks in Lahore, vs. the proliferation about similar incidents in Brussels. While not directly related to my work, it is interesting to think about the responsibility not only of media and digital publishers in terms of shaping a story and public opinion, but also the responsibility of the reader.

Mechanically speaking, so far the transition to Medium has been fairly smooth, as we had been already cross-posting on Medium for some time. The change has prompted us to come up with a better name for the blog, stay tuned for that announcement soon! In the meantime, there are a few features that would make this experience even better:

  • The ability to track changes when editing a writer’s draft submitted to our publication. As our Editor, I think it’s always useful for writers to know what I’ve edited, thereby hopefully learning something about grammar, syntax or tone. This is very easy to do in Google Docs, and until Medium incorporates something similar, I will continue to request first drafts in Google Docs.
  • The ability to import posts from Tumblr. With 122 posts on our Tumblr blog from 2014–2016, it would be a pain to re-publish all of these manually. But we don’t want to lose all of this great writing! Our interim idea is to re-publish our top posts, with a disclaimer indicating their original publish date.
  • A less buggy editing process. I’m not sure if other Editors have this issue, but when working on drafts submitted to the Dynamo publication, I am constantly getting error messages that my edits could not be saved. Another reason to edit primarily in Google Docs for the time being, although I would love to skip this additional step eventually.
  • Categories. One of the top requests when brainstorming about a new blog design was the ability to create filterable categories, distinguishing between our more technical posts, community news, case studies etc. A workaround that we’re considering involves a preview page on our site à la Metalab, with category filters and direct links to Medium.

So in the spirit of open-mindedness, we’ll see how this goes after a few months and keep you posted on whether we’re sticking with Medium or moving on to something new. There is always something new.