Every weekend I seem to have a new idea for a Medium post. Today, for example, I thought about responding to recent Clay Shirky and New York Times pieces about the value of college. However, I rarely end up publishing any of these ideas. This has really been bugging me because I want to support the Medium team (and write more, in general), so I spent some time thinking about what has been getting in my way. These are my thoughts…
In order to attract the best ideas, my hunch is Medium will need to be the *best* at something that publishers want. Off the top of my head, there are three things that are most desirable to content creators: presentation, feedback, and distribution.
The presentation is great
Currently, this is Medium's greatest asset, and what attracts me to writing here. You make my posts look beautiful – seriously, gorgeous – without any work on my part. Heck, I even like writing emails in Medium because the compose UX is so amazing.
That being said, I don't think you're after the types of writers who value this. They're the ones who already maintain their own personal blogs and appreciate Tumblr's customizable Themes. There's a bigger opportunity to attract the folks who don't publish their own ideas because creating and maintaining a blog is heavyweight, and building a following (i.e. audience) takes time. The CEO of General Electric only has a few thousand Twitter followers and doesn't maintain a personal blog, for example. He should want to publish on Medium, instead of writing an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, and it won't be because his post will look good.
I don’t really want feedback
Previously, I thought the lack of feedback was preventing me from posting on Medium. But I actually don't think that's it.
You have designed Medium to be beautiful — to make my words beautiful — in order to encourage the best, most quality ideas. A side effect of this is that I only consider publishing fully-formed thoughts on Medium. Ideas and observations that I feel confident sharing and hope are distributed to the largest audience possible. It takes a lot of time, and many, many drafts, to write something of quality, and if I make that investment I want to optimize for reach, not reactions. Thus, while it's nice to receive emails about folks recommending my post, and I look forward to the day when there are Notes on my content, what I desperately want are Retweets – not Favorites and @replies (if you use the Twitter analogy).
Take my post, A False Dichotomy, for example. I spent a whole day writing the initial version and had two people, Libby and Jason, revise it (something I never do). It rose to the top of the IMHO Collection, initially receiving a score of 9-something, and I received multiple emails and DMs from folks who appreciated it (i.e. many Favorites and @replies). A huge success, right? It didn't feel that way. I had no concept of how many people read my post or how it was distributed, making me wonder if it would have been distributed to a larger audience if it were a guest post on TechCrunch, PandoDaily, etc. The positive kudos made my day but when the dust settled I had little to show for my work (my Twitter Follower count didn’t budge, for example).
If I take the time to write someting of quality, nothing matters more to me than optimizing for the audience that will read it (both who and how many). That’s why I wrote so many guest posts for Pando Daily, despite having a personal blog. The rest is trivial, in my opinion. Despite the disgusting UI, I'd post on LinkedIn if I thought it would be distributed widely.
How can Medium offer me a better (note: not necessarily bigger) audience than any other publishing platform? I’m not entirely sure, but here are a few ideas:
Where are people coming from? (i.e. not only, How many?)
LinkedIn-style Audience Data
Who, exactly, is viewing my content? Despite having zero-idea how to actually use LinkedIn, I find myself returning fairly frequently to see who has viewed my profile. I’d take one view from Ev over 100 from people I don’t know. So would advertisers (see: The Economist).
Possibly the most awkward part of publishing is the self-promotional aspect of it. After pouring your heart (and time) into a post you desperately want people to read it. Should you tweet it? Once? Twice? What about retweeting someone who linked to it? Post it to Facebook? Agh, more decisions, after spending so much time writing the damn thing! (Decisions which will influence other people’s perception of me.) The great thing about posting to Hacker News, or a well-read tech blog, is that you get access to a seed audience which will ensure that it is distributed widely – via Facebook, Twitter, email, etc. – if it indeed deserves attention (without begging people to read it yourself). Similarly, Medium should grant me initial distribution without doing any (external) self-promotion myself. Give me a shot, coach!
OK, that’s all!
I’m sure much of what I wrote is already on your radar, but I hope this was still somewhat helpful. I’m happy to elaborate (by phone or email) if you have any follow-up questions. Also, as I recently told Ev, many folks have been praising Medium (Collections, specifically) to me over the past few weeks. You’re clearly building something very special and unique, and I’m excited to watch it grow over the coming years.
Keep up the good work,
P.S. I’d welcome similar insight into why you don’t start branches everyday, if you have any thoughts on the matter?