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This review focuses on Medium, a favorite of many among the well-known brands in publishing. Founded in 2012 by the co-founder of Twitter and Blogger (now Google’s property), Ev Williams, Medium came to the game packing some serious credentials for this project. The buzz around the launch was largely positive and the growth trajectory, I understand, has been very solid.
Confessions: I’m a blogger and an operator of a blogging platform. I do not possess the skills of a programmer, so keep this in mind on any reviews I might do. With these disclosures, let’s get started, if you’re willing.
The first thing you notice about the platform is that Medium is a publisher, much like Yahoo News or Newsweek. The content is the bloggers who post there. The sleek, appealing, and modern design makes you want to immediately click on an article and start reading other people’s stuff and forget that you’re here to start writing. the page is simple, minimalist in look. All told, appealing.
I click on the Get Started button in the upper right corner. Immediately a pop up appears I inviting me to sign up using either Google or Facebook. No other option. I immediately don’t want to do either one of these. I just want to provide an email, in my case, a Yahoo account. Not going to happen apparently. At the risk of being called a whiner or some such, I have to declare my objection to this coercion. I’m not happy with the idea of being forced to open my Facebook account to, well, them.
I hem-and-hawed around and selected one of my many Gmail accounts and moved on. Since I’m doing this review for BPR1, I just need an account.
I’m welcomed and invited to ‘dive in’ and get started. Click the button and you’re taken to a screen to choose topics of interest to you. These will be used to select content that will appear on your, well, reading page, and sign in. I wonder what determines where my page will appear? I plan on writing.
Ironically, after you’ve selected these areas, the button reads Start reading. Again, I’m signing up to write. I have a hard enough time writing with any discipline much less immediately being led to read other amazing content that probably will put my feeble efforts to shame. Either way, I click it and move on.
My page is personalized with standard and specialized content based on my selections.
How do I start writing? Not immediately obvious. Seems they misunderstood why I was here. I click the blank image in the upper right corner, which opens a drop down menu; then New Story, which I assume to mean a new article (it does).
It opens a writing screen with cursor in content (versus title) section. Guess you’re to title after you’ve written. Note this configuration for later discussion.
I type in some content and the Title section disappears. Later, when I wanted to publish, I didn’t know immediately how to title the article. Finally scrolled up to the title region and the section reappears. The circled + is a menu, by the way, which reveals itself when clicked.
This feature allows you to add code, embed videos, or upload images. Very handy, and simple. I clicked the video embed, an instruction prompt appears. I copied a YouTube video link and pasted in the field and it rendered almost immediately. If you change your mind and don’t wish to drop a link in there, hit escape key and you’re out.
Formatting options are pretty slim, but there are a few nifty things you can do. One is the ability to write yourself a private note. To use the formatting function, highlight the text you’re interested in doing something with. Again, really basic here. Note the icon on the far right of the formatting bar. Clicking this allows you to write a note to yourself, say to confirm a link or reference before publishing. Could be handy. You will notice I already did one and it now reads star and “note to self’ on the right.
All your work is autosaved, so that is handy.
I went ahead and tried to publish this without a title and it allowed me to do it. That’s a bit odd to me. At least, give me a warning before I do stupid. While you can fix this after you publish it, it would seem that the appropriate time to ask is before publication, especially since there is a pop up that asks if you want to add tags, images, etc. before publishing.
Again, all this is fixable, but seems designed for mistakes here.
Before You Publish Your First Article
Just a couple of quick admin issues to talk about. The first is that there is a fair number of settings decisions to make before you get to rolling on Medium. Make that two dozen or so. Take the time to go through them. Issues of privacy, what kind of mail you’ll get, and from whom, social media connections and more. Only takes a couple of minutes and easy to navigate.
Second, profile setup details are routine and easy to navigate.
All in all, once you figure out the day-to-day goings on here, it is smooth and easy going forward. That’s nice. Let me run through some of my pros and cons here.
What I Like about Medium
1) Sleek, Easy Minimalism
This is a minimalist platform with a sleek modern feel. And, simple to use. The choices are few, which keeps it simple and you focused on the task of writing.
Easy to ‘Dive in’ and Get to Writing. It’s easy to import/embed images, videos, code and such into the page. Really smooth and thus, fun to use.
2) Built-in Audience Access
For most of us, we want to know someone noticed our work. So, claps, likes, and comments give us this. This network, this community, is integrated into every user’s account. Not to be too skeptical here, but one hopes the claps you get on Medium are real readers and not some bogus bots working the network. I mean, I have way more claps than views. How is this possible? Unless one of my viewers was vigorously clapping… so that means…. Ok, I’ll stop!
Either way, emotionally I don’t want to care. I received 12 claps in 24 hours of posting. That brings some warm fuzzies and makes me want to keep writing so as to get, well, 15 next time. Don’t want to sound too much like a rat in a cage, but it is basic reinforcement theory at work here.
This has to be the single biggest reason to write on Medium, at least for the average writer – less so for the hot shot writer who has a large following to begin with.
3) Potential for the Home Run
Upping the ante here is the possibility of accessing publications that will expand your audience access by a number of multiples, like 10x or 50x, depending on your current stats. I understand this to be quite difficult, but it is a carrot out there. Hitting the big time!
Adding to this, you can develop your own publication and thus create more unique branding for yourself. I’ll have more to say about this in the next section.
4) It’s Free
There’s always a cost, actually, but it is not money in this case.
What Bothers Me about Medium
1) Generic Stuff
(a) There is only one UI (theme) – white. Not sure it bothers me, but it may you.
(b) There is one editor with limited formatting options. This bothers me a bit more, especially the dearth of formatting options.
(c) Yes, you’re vulnerable to the whims and reliability of the host here, like in most blogging platforms. They could disappear tomorrow and your stuff is gone and your presence on the web with it. Some have recently disappeared – think Postagon.
2) Less Generic Stuff
(a) Can’t develop your own subscriber email list. They can follow you, much like a Twitter or Facebook, but you don’t own this list.
(b) There appears to be no way for you to control what other material to provide your reader. You know, additional content of yours you’d like to recommend? No, sorry. They would have to take the initiative to dig into your archive. Medium presents the reader the content for further reading.
(c) There are limited direct SEO controls for you here.
3) Kinda Dadgum Serious Stuff
(a) It’s all about Medium. That is the first thing I notice when I see my content page. Also, when I’ve seen published articles in other feeds/publications. Medium presents. It’s not about you. The Medium name will always be prominent, unless perhaps you are a publisher who was able to get a custom domain for yourself before they ceased allowing this option.
You still have the option to set up a publication on Medium as a medium.com/yourpublicationname, but not a yourpublicationname.com.
I know, all this seems a bit harsh. After all, the clean, sleek look and modern feel is really easy on the eyes and reflects cool and with it, just the kind of place you would want to be. And for you, perhaps it is.
Let me say it again. Medium is a publisher, and your blog post is the content for the publication.
(b) Medium is reader focused, not writer. Stay with me a moment. I draw this conclusion based the following: i) During setup, you select what you want to read, not what you will be writing about; ii) You lack control of your article pages; that is, you can’t readily recommend other posts to your readers; iii) Bringing competing content to your page invites readers to leave your page; iv) further, when the reader clicks that competing content, the page opens in the same tab – your page is lost to them. Good bye!
(c) Hard to develop your brand here. Because you are living under the Medium umbrella, your content is Medium’s content, with your name attached. On the one hand, it is harder for you to get your rankings up in an SEO sense. Here’s an article that takes on a few of these issues in more detail.
This constraint has become more obvious with the recent decision by the company to not support custom domains.
When it is all said and done, Medium seems better as a republishing platform, not as your primary repository, IF you care about these things.
Of course, if branding and rankings are less important to you, then this is all academic and not relevant to what you want to accomplish.
(d) You don’t own your content. I know, I know, Medium says you do. However, they use your content as they determine. In fact, the whole value proposition here is about distributing writer content wherever and however seems best to Medium and the needs of the community. So, call it joint ownership, at best.
For most of us, we have few people reading our stuff anyhow, so we’re happy that someone is going to get it out there. Intellectual property-smopperty, we say – who cares.
For creatives, who make their living by what they create, this can be a shadowy area and a concern. This has been a long-standing criticism of the platform’s terms of service.
(e) Viability. I hesitate to go into this type of discussion about whether a platform will be around tomorrow. I mean, any of them can disappear in a moment. But, the questions swirling around the Medium’s financial health has been ongoing for some time now. Leadership has wrestled with ways to build a sustainable business model. Announced layoffs in the early part of 2017 just added fuel to this rumoring.
The company introduced a form of shared subscriptions model later in the year, with top writers hauling in the bulk of the pool. All this is to partially address the cashflow issues and to generate more effort by writers to draw in their readers, and that for pay.
However this plays out, it is an issue and the ambitious writer should think about this sooner rather than later as to how to hedge risks.
Let’s wrap up here.
As far as a blogging platform, Medium is a beautiful and functionally efficient writing experience. I like it. If I had to pay for it, I would become a bit more cranky about what it offers me as to value for the price. But it hasn’t yet.
For me, philosophically, some of the downsides are really an issue. I could go all off on the whole elitist nature of the paywall concept, which should be especially an anathema to Medium with its collectivist and “for the community” philosophy – particularly so if the word out there is true that the top 1% of writers take nearly all the money. Of course, no one is inviting the 99% to go home as they are essential to keeping the traffic up and the party going – but I won’t go there. Oh wait, I sorta did!
Ok, I’ll calm down. If one is good with Medium’s terms of working for the platform, much like a journalist works for the newspaper or cable network, then many of these things fall away. That’s not me.
Again, it’s not about the writer, in the end.
Just my opinion.