Thoughts on Medium


NewCo and I are very invested in Medium — we very much want it to thrive. Here are a few suggestions that might make it better.

I know, they don’t use this one anymore. But it’s what I think of anyway, and works better on the home page. So there.

Over the years I’ve had an increasingly deep relationship with Medium. In the past 18 months, the relationship has become more of a marriage. The publication I started, NewCo Shift, lives there. I even consulted with Medium, briefly, earlier this year, so yes, I do own shares. I’m invested. I’ve pretty much migrated any of my “new” writing to Shift on Medium, leaving my careworn site Searchblog to slowly rot into the fecund soil of the independent web.

I trust the 5,600 or so posts I poured into Searchblog will persist, as long as I pay my hosting fees (and they’re steep, damn it). Can I say the same of the 250 or so pieces I’ve recently written on Medium (I think this one is #251, in fact)? Or of the thousand+ or so we’ve run on Shift? I don’t know, but I’m now invested in the platform’s continuance. With that in mind, here are a few, randomly organized ideas that I think would make the place better.

OK, onwards. Again, no particular order.

  • An intelligent “Show me everything” feature. By necessity, Medium does not show you everything from every author or entity you follow. Instead, it chooses stuff for you — both in its daily email, and in how it builds the page for you when you visit (if you’re logged in). But if you could choose to see everything in a continual feed, every so often you might check that feed out, and be surprised and delighted by what you found. When that happens, Medium should take note and adjust the algorithms that choose what you see.
  • More transparency into the audience, generally. Who are these folks reading my/our stuff? Because it’s hard to actually see everything an author or publication is creating, audiences feel scattered, not strongly tied. That undermines the essence of what made old school publications, and old school blogs, so powerful. That essence is community.
  • Related: email functions for authors. Anything Medium can do to strengthen the bond between writers and readers is good for all three parties (author, reader, and Medium).
  • Sharing inside the paywall. The Information has figured this out. If you are a paying member of Medium, and can read all that juicy content behind the paywall, you should also be able to share an open URL for a story to your network. Maybe limit it to one story a day, or a week, but this benefit would make Medium members feel like first mover/discoverers, and expose paid content, which always lacks true social quotient, a way to be truly discovered. It’d also be a hell of a funnel for member conversion.
  • More branding for Medium. Tens of millions of people read a Medium story every month, but most of them have no idea they are in fact on Medium, and there’s a far deeper and potentially quite satisfying experience to cultivate there. I can’t tell you how many people I run into lately who tell me they read my blog, but in fact, they read a Medium post. When I tell them they can register for Medium and follow me, they seem puzzled. I’m not sure how to do this elegantly, but I figure Medium is good at elegant messaging. Building the Medium brand is important, because what Medium is trying to do is important.
  • Related, raise the metered paywall from three pieces to five, or better, ten. Ten is what Google suggests, and regardless of your opinion on that company’s intentions, they do have a shit ton of data backing that decision, I’m guessing. It’s also what the NYT does. Three pieces doesn’t give a “hummingbird reader” enough to go on. Plus, chances are the reader has no idea they’re on Medium in the first place, so when they hit that fourth piece, the demand for conversion to membership may strike them as utterly alien.
  • More understanding and metrics around what constitutes a “good” story in MemberLand (my name for the member area of Medium). This includes a general sense of currency (this is dangerous but important). Do 100 “claps” equate to a dollar? A dime? More? I know it’s early, and the ability for anyone to put a piece behind the paywall is very new, but how it works is quite opaque right now. This discourages a reliable economy of work being created.
  • Along those lines, develop your writers and publications as you would developers on a platform like the iTunes or Windows. (I’d say Facebook or Twitter, but they’ve chosen a non developer path, except for exploitation of data and advertising revenue streams).
  • Tell your (lack of) advertising story. It’s really, really f*cking strong. It ladders so deeply into the most important current narrative of media: The dark gravity of advertising has utterly distorted our national dialog. (For more, see this, and Rick’s series Which Half Is Wasted, available only in MemberLand!). Facebook, Twitter, and Google are inextricably burdened by this very fact. Medium is the only platform at scale where that dark gravity is not driving the story. Shout it from the rooftops.
  • Don’t lose faith. This is a long battle, and while it may seem like you’ve been at this forever, Rome wasn’t changed in a decade. Keep at it. The web would be so much poorer without you.

Well, that’s ten. What are your suggestions? I’ll add them into the main body of this piece if they strike me as brilliant (or appropriately provocative). Till then…well, keep on writing.

Update: Ideas from readers (I’ll keep adding as long as you keep responding!):

LINDA CAROLL: “We need better stats here.We can see referrers for any given story, but that’s it. I logged into Medium one day after a 2-week break and noticed I had over 7000 visitors that day. No idea where they came from. No spikes on any of the most recent stories.”

JLELSE: “IMO a big problem of Medium is also, that the whole platform is too focused to US-content. As a German user you have to accept that the feed is full of Donald Trump and American politics, which is of no interest to me personally.”

NELSON LOWHIM: Blockchain (yes!).

LESLIE LOFTIS: “Medium chooses poorly. It seems to choose what it wants me to see rather than what my reading habits suggest I’d like to see. It also does not differentiate between articles and comments making it difficult to see content for comment clutter in the main feeds. …The way I used to use Medium to discover other writers I can no longer do unless I have a larger chunk of time. Publications that I regularly read and liked I have to go searching for.”

ROB QUARTEL: “To your earlier point about adding an “All” option, I’d suggest a variation aimed at breaking down the silos which so characterize individual media feeds and personal associations these days: Find a way to send randomly selected articles that reflect a different or countervailing point of view from that generated by the current selection algorithms — which are built to reinforce individual biases. It doesn’t have to be about politics — it can be about topics as far afield as agriculture, GMO’s, etc.”

GUILLERMO NAVAJA: “Medium membership’s pricing model should have a different price according to the country, like Spotify’s ( Also, Medium should be more open with global stats of user the size of the user community (anonymous, registered and paying) in each country. That way, a publisher can know the size of the target community.”

EMILY WARNA: “I’d say some sort of direct messaging system — doesn’t have to be as open as Twitter/Instagram, but useful for when having questions that wouldn’t fit into a typical response.”

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