Is Medium Real?

About 6 months ago I created a profile on Medium. To-date I’ve only published a grand total of 5 articles under this profile. I’ve also not done anything at all to spruik this blog. Yet, in the last six weeks two rather coincidental things have happened which make me wonder whether there is something fishy going on at Medium.

First, on May 21st, Medium announced that it was a network, not a publishing platform. With the announcement was a clear emphasis on the company’s objective of getting people to follow each other and interact with each other rather than simply using Medium as their personal soap-box.

Second, almost since the day that announcement was made, my Medium following has started to grow inordinately fast. Early on, (before the announcement was made) when someone new followed me on Medium I could see that interest reflected in the engagement with the content I had created — i.e., views and reads seemed to grow in line with followers.

But not so now. It seems that everyday now I’m being followed on Medium by a bunch of new people. Yet, none of them seem interested in reading the stories I’ve written. And I’m not someone who reads or tags a lot of stories written by others on Medium. So that’s making me wonder: what on earth are these people following me for?

To make things even more intriguing, I’ve also noticed a less quantifiable but equally pronounced change in the profiles of those who are now following me. A lot more seem to be in unusual places, and with unusual handles.

Here are some numbers from the past week:

- Number of article views: 4

- Number of new followers: 64

- Number of followers with shell accounts: 25 (i.e., zero activity)

All of this is making me question whether the new Medium ‘network’ is being stuffed full of bots and fake profiles, and if so, by whom.

I hope it isn’t. First, because that would mean that Medium’s stats are just as useless as the stats on Twitter followers. Second, because somewhere somehow these fake profiles will be translated into a real valuation when someone is asked to invest in Medium on the back of ‘proof’ that the network works. So any fakery involved will ultimately undermine and hurt others in the startup ecosystem. And third, because if it isn’t fakery, then there’s a really amazing case study here on what Medium has done to get its users to suddenly start acting more like a network and follow each other (for no apparent reason).

But first, I’d like to hear whether others have also had the same experience I have. So if you have, please :HEART: this story so that I can track what percent of viewers are reporting the same issue. Obviously, if you’re not seeing this issue yourself, please don’t.

Here’s hoping I’m wrong.

ADDENDUM: After more than 500 reads of this story it looks like roughly 10% of users have reported seeing this same issue. IMO that’s a much smaller number than one might expect from systemic inflation. i.e., Its entirely consistent with the explanations from Jessica and Evan that this is behaviour created by suggesting certain profiles for new users to follow. In other words, the idea that 10% of users’ profiles are being suggested to new users and hence displaying the above growth pattern is very plausible. Certainly a lot more plausible than any kind of inflationary action which would most likely have been targeted at the long-tail of low-activity profiles and resulted in a much larger percentage of users reporting the issue.

Thanks to the Medium team for weighing in, and to everyone who has taken the time to read, comment and recommend the story, thereby helping us better understand the issue.