Tag Archives: medium

Medium may not last

On Monday, I launched my Kickstarter project about independent microblogging, with a focus on owning your own content and making blogging easier. On Tuesday, Lindy West left Twitter in a post about Twitter’s inability to deal with harassment. On Wednesday, Ev Williams announced that Medium would lay off 50 employees.

The message is clear. The only web site that you can trust to last and have your interests at heart is the web site with your name on it.

That’s the main goal with Micro.blog. Build a service and write a book that makes independent blogging more approachable. No one knows exactly what the web will look like in 10 years, but we can take the first step to get there. If you’ve been frustrated by the ad-based silos and waiting for a reason to post to your own site again, I’d love your support.

Mullenweg on Medium and the open web

Matt Mullenweg comments on whether choosing Medium is a good long-term bet:

In making the decision to hitch their horse to Medium’s wagon while fording a river, they’re probably betting on Medium not going out of business, which I agree there’s only like a 10% chance of happening. However I think there is a 97% chance that Medium’s business model will change in the future because the path they’re on and these publishers are dependent on will not sustain their current costs or the investment they’ve raised.

10% chance of going out of business compares poorly to Matt’s Automattic itself, which as I’ve written about before is one of only a couple web publishing companies that I think could last 100 years. If your goal is to write something that many people can read for years to come, why risk it on an uncertain platform?

There’s a longer video interview with Matt from WordCamp Europe last month, where he goes into more detail on the role of Medium and WordPress. Highly recommended if you’re interested in the open web, or just curious how progress is made in the WordPress community.

Medium subscriptions

Glenn Fleishman writes for Six Colors about Medium’s subscription features that will let publishers charge readers:

It’s absolutely clear the revenue side is an experiment, and Medium labels it as such all over. There’s no guarantee it will work for its early partners or pan out in the long run. But it’s the only publishing option that combines so many things in one place without any over-the-top cost or commitment on the part of a periodical.

While Medium is certainly doing a lot right, and I still think it’s not a bad place to mirror content, the “long run” Glenn mentions is really what we should think about when considering Medium. I have no confidence that Medium will last 5-10 years.

If my whole business was based on blogging, why would I trust Medium to control something so crucial? With iOS development, we have no choice but to use the App Store. Writing on the web isn’t like that, and voluntarily giving up both control of the publishing platform and 20% of revenue strikes me as very short-sighted.

The Ringer will use Medium

Bill Simmons announced on his podcast last week that his new media site The Ringer will use Medium. He said they’ve been working with the Medium folks on it, although I don’t know if that means using existing features that are available to anyone, or if Medium has built anything custom just for The Ringer.

Digiday has a story about this, and about the larger context of how Medium is doing and evolving:

“At one point last year, a former staffer said, Medium decided to move away from funding publications directly and instead fund initiatives meant to grow audiences in specific areas such as women in tech and the election. Last year, it closed down Re:form and Archipelago, a home for personal essays. Its remaining verticals have been roped into Medium’s effort to generate more conversation with readers, with tactics like prompts at the end of articles.”

I’ve written several times about how Medium is worse than your own blog for building an audience, and worse for the open web if it continues down the Twitter-like path as a centralized social network. But encouraging larger publishers to adopt Medium is good, because custom domains will come along for the ride. Owning your domain and URLs is the first step to owning your content.

Silos as shortcuts

As a follow-up on Twitter and links, I want to point to this great post from Rian Van Der Merwe about platform silos as “shortcuts”:

“The point is that publishing on Medium and Twitter and Facebook gives you an immediate shortcut to a huge audience, but of course those companies’ interests are in themselves, not in building your audience, so it’s very easy for them to change things around in a way that totally screws you over (remember Zynga? Yeah, me either).”

My current thinking on Medium is that it’s a shortcut to building an audience for a single post, but doesn’t really help build a true audience. In other words, you will get more exposure, and maybe one of your posts will be lucky enough to be recommended and included in Medium’s daily email, but after someone finds it they aren’t as likely to read your other posts and subscribe to your entire site.

We can’t talk about silos like Twitter and Medium without talking about cross-posting. Noah Read says:

“While it is relatively easy to post to a blog, syndicating that content to Twitter, Facebook, or Medium still requires additional configuration, which many users won’t do. I think it would be in blogging software’s interest to make these POSSE features a standard part of their core product. In order for the open web to not lose ground, ironically they will need to play nicer with closed platforms than they are likely to receive in return.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about this too. For beta users of my new product, I’ve been telling people to use IFTTT to wire up cross-posting to Twitter. But that’s another step that will be confusing to people — an opportunity to lose interest and give up. Cross-posting should be a core feature.

Medium.com updates

Ev Williams announced a batch of new Medium features recently:

“There’s always another level. Another level of polish and power in our product. Another level of breadth to our content. Another level of dialogue and discussion. And another level of progress. Today, we are announcing a slew of updates to bring Medium to the next level and in the process make it more powerful, more fun, more democratic, and more essential.”

Those updates include new mobile apps, @-mention support, a publishing API, and editor improvements. There’s also a new logo. (I know they put a lot of thought into this, and it’s a strong idea, but to me the logo’s design is so clever it’s actually kind of distracting. A little more subtlety in how they’re using depth could improve future iterations.)

Daniel Jalkut blogs about what’s included (and what’s left out) in Medium’s new API:

“One of the most unique aspects to Medium’s API is the provision for specifying a canonical URL and license on a post being submitted to the service. The canonical URL refers to another web location that should be considered the original, or most authoritative version of a post, while the license designates whether the post’s copyright terms stipulate a post is sharable as public domain or under a particular Creative Commons license. These attributes together indicate that Medium expects and encourages users of the API to contribute content that is not intended to be exclusive to Medium.”

While I generally think the trend to centralized writing platforms is bad for the web, I’m happy to see these changes from Medium, especially the API and expanding custom domain support. Medium has grown very slowly and carefully. I expect we’ll see quicker iteration on these new features now that they’re officially out.

In the process of experimenting with Medium posting, Dave Winer shared his take on post title support:

“It seems they have arrived at what I think is the correct answer: posts can have titles or not, and the content system has to be prepared for either case. That’s where this blog was in 1999, before other blogging tools and Google Reader pushed the world toward requiring titles. And then Twitter came along not having titles at all, and the intersection between all the kinds of blog-consuming environments became almost empty.”

I’m very interested in this because microblogging shouldn’t include titles. While Medium is mostly traditional essays, clearly comments don’t need titles, and Medium’s quick-posting UI encourages short posts. I hope this approach will get more RSS readers to gracefully handle title-less posts.

Evan Williams on indie web sites

From a rough transcript of an interview with Evan Williams:

“The idea won’t be to start a website. That will be dead. The individual website won’t matter. The Internet is not going to be about billions of people going to millions of websites. It will be about getting it from centralized websites.”

I’m concerned about this. Evan is reading into the current rise of centralized services and thinking it’s more than a short-term trend. But I believe strongly that the open web will bounce back.

Putting all of our writing in one place like Medium goes against our hope of permanence, because there’s no guarantee Medium will be around in 20 years, and so all of that content will disappear from the internet if it fails. At least with independent sites and custom domain names we have a chance. We have control, so it’s in our hands to succeed or fail, not left to the whims of Silicon Valley startups.

Startup life and Medium

Pretty hilarious guide to San Francisco startup life from Padlet on Medium. Here’s just one small part:

“Markets are chockablock with these desk+gym hybrids — standing desks, treadmill desks, cycling desks. This is why I feel bullish about my swimming desk idea — a big water tank with an infinity pool and a computer bolted on one side. Noise cancelling scuba masks, snorkels, and fins come as standard equipment.”

I’ve been fascinated with Medium lately, and have cross-posted a couple recent posts over there to better understand it. Is it a blogging tool? Sort of. Is it a social network? Not exactly.

While you can follow other users there, I find that even with the 100+ people I’m following, the posts I see on Medium are almost exclusively popular essays written by people I don’t know. They’re recommended enough that they show up in Medium’s daily emails, or on the home page, or linked from other blogs I read. But it’s like if you signed in to Twitter and only saw retweets.

This may explain Medium’s design changes to encourage quick, microblog-like posts, in addition to full essays. Longer blog posts just aren’t written often enough to make for a meaningful social network.

Future-safe weblogs

It’s a common theme for Dave Winer to write about preserving our writing on the web. Today he outlines some criteria for judging whether a web host will last:

“The concern is that the record we’re creating is fragile and ephemeral, so that to historians of the future, the period of innovation where we moved our intellectual presence from physical to electronic media will be a blank spot, with almost none of it persisting.”

I think about this in 2 parts. The first is publishing your weblog to your own domain name. This ensures that your writing doesn’t go away and links don’t break when your web host goes out of business, because you can copy your content somewhere else and map your domain to that new location.

The second is some kind of host that will last forever. This is an unsolved problem. Hosting fees need to be paid, domain name registrations need to be renewed. It may be too big a leap to ever get there, but we could settle instead for better mirroring of content. I’d like to have my content mirrored automatically to GitHub Pages, for example, and maybe even Medium.

Imagine the life of a printed book from the early 20th century that has now survived generations. How was this possible? Many copies must have been printed, because some will inevitably be lost or destroyed. And when a library or bookstore is closed, copies of the book must be transferred to a new location.

This all follows naturally with a printed book, but to adopt the same pattern for digital works, we must go out of our way to create a system of mirroring and long-term storage that tries to match what happens in the real world automatically. It’s a great challenge.

Unfortunately very little has changed on this topic since I wrote about permanence 3 years ago. But we can change that. Open formats and auto-mirroring will be a key part of my new microblogging platform.

Medium as the new Twitter

Daniel Jalkut had some fun recently, exploring whether Medium’s improvements to posting are turning it into a next-generation Twitter:

“Medium is now the most Twitter-like service on the web, was founded and is run by one of Twitter’s creators, and answers most of the gripes that people have had about Twitter over the years.”

My gut reaction to this was that Medium creates more problems than it solves. In a reply on Medium:

“Medium is really interesting, and beautifully designed, but it’s not progress over Twitter unless you’re annoyed about the 140 character limit. It’s still totally centralized, has no API, and works against wanting to host and control our own content. Basically a step back for the open web. (Although I think there’s real value in mirroring content here.)”

Medium also feels like it wants to be a desktop experience right now. It’s not optimized for mobile in the way that Twitter has been from the beginning. There’s good stuff happening there, but I want to see more tools that encourage blogging instead.

Typed.com and the state of blogging

Typed.com from Realmac Software looks great. Set to launch later this year, crowdfunding for the project has already passed $67k.

Ben Thompson wrote recently about how blogging has changed:

“Twitter has replaced link-posts and comments, Instagram has replaced pictures, and Facebook has replaced albums and blogrolls; now Medium is seeking to replace the essay. None of this is a bad thing: literally billions more people now have a much simpler way to express themselves online thanks to the ease-of-use that is characteristic of any service that seeks to focus on one particularly aspect of communication, a big contrast to a blog’s ability to do anything and everything relatively poorly.”

It’s a good post, although I’d say that even if those changes aren’t “a bad thing”, they can have bad consequences. Medium is a beautifully designed site and there is some great writing published there. But if it discourages people from owning their own content and writing at their own domain name, then it is a step back for the web. The best use of Medium is to cross-post there, to expand your audience, but not as the primary location for your writing.

If you’ve read between the lines on my posts about microblogging and open APIs, you may have guessed that I’ve also been working on a blog platform, although (I think) of a much different kind than Realmac’s Typed.com. I believe we need more blog platforms, not fewer. Accepting that Twitter and Facebook are the only way to publish online is like collapsing all the publishing systems down to a couple centralized tools. That approach is convenient in the short term but ultimately bad for the web.

The best and most diverse writing on the web still happens on individually-owned blogs. It’s linked to from Twitter, but it originates on blogs. If you’re not blogging than your writing doesn’t have the reach, doesn’t have the permanence, doesn’t have the impact that it could have.

And 2015 is going to be great for blogging. I’m looking forward to trying Typed.com and also sharing some of what I’ve been working on. If you want an early heads-up, sign up on the announcement mailing list.