Tag Archives: ev williams

Has Medium lost its way?

If you’re a longtime Medium user like I am, you’ve likely noticed a number of drastic changes to the platform in recent years. At first, the site put significant resources toward producing original journalism on the platform. Then it spun off its homegrown publications and started focusing on luring established media companies to adopt its CMS. It also launched a native advertising program, only to abruptly shutter it and lay off a third of the company’s workforce. Just recently it launched a paid subscription service and drastically revamped its homepage feed. So what is with all these changes? Has the company figured out where it fits in the marketplace, or is it flailing about, still looking for a sustainable business model? To answer this question, I interviewed Renan Borelli, director of audience development at MTV News. Enjoy.

The new evolution in blogging: combining longform with shortform

Ev Williams, co-founder of Medium

Ev Williams, co-founder of Medium

In August of last year, I wrote about how Medium, the blogging platform co-founded by Ev Williams (who also co-founded both Twitter and Blogger), is, in part, an attempt to bring us back to the web we lost. One can argue, as I did, that social platforms like Twitter and Facebook brought tremendous benefits to the internet. These networks created millions of casual bloggers (I use the word “blogger” loosely here) by providing a centralized platform from which to publish, thereby largely democratizing the spread of content on the web. The unfortunate side effect of this was that millions of independent bloggers gave up their own websites and settled into these platforms where they could reach a more consistent audience, even if it meant relinquishing the controls offered by a more robust CMS and the ability to write longform content. Sure there’s always been blogging tools still out there if you wanted to write longer pieces, but they didn’t offer the network effect of Facebook or Twitter, where your followers were constantly checking in looking for new updates. Your only way of letting readers know you had a new post up was through RSS (which never had high adoption rates) or by linking to it from Facebook or Twitter and hoping you could get enough shares or retweets to drive real traffic.

The enticing aspect of Medium, in addition to its slick design, is the ability to apply the network effect to longform blogging, allowing one to amass an army of followers so you don’t feel as if your content is playing to an empty room. Within a matter of months after Medium’s launch, we began to see the emergence of independent voices penning longform essays and blog posts, and it’s begun to feel like a return to the old-school blogosphere, the anti-establishment media that flourished and excited me in the mid-2000s.

Of course, Medium faced a dilemma — not everyone has a regular longform post in them, and its platform didn’t scratch that itch you have when you just want to sound off a few sentences on a topic without having to craft a carefully-worded essay around it. For that kind of insta-punditry, Twitter and Facebook still remained the only places to fulfill that desire.

Until now. Yesterday, Williams announced a major change to Medium’s technology, “We added a way to post right on the homepage of Medium,” he wrote. “Start writing instantly. If you get inspired to turn it into something bigger, click over to the full-screen editor. Otherwise, keep it simple and publish it straight from there.” I navigated over to the front page, and sure enough, there was a status bar waiting for me, not unlike the one sitting atop my Facebook newsfeed. Actually, it is slightly different: Medium’s status bar lets you do things like insert hyperlinks as well as bold and italicize words. You can also upload photos and arrange them within the text any way you want.

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And so we finally have the merging of shortform social media posts and longform blogging. And Medium isn’t the only network to combine the two. For a long while now, LinkedIn has provided the ability to post Twitter-like updates to a newsfeed, but last year it expanded its Influencers blogging platform to everyone, allowing its millions of users to post longform thought leadership posts directly to LinkedIn. Anecdotally, I can report that an increasing number of people within my own professional network have started posting there (I upload at least one piece a week), and the company recently announced that users are publishing 50,000 pieces a week. It’s also worth noting that Tumblr has always provided the ability to post shortform and longform content, though it’s primarily known for its shorter, image-heavy posts.

It’s hard not to be encouraged by such developments. Yes, there’s a very valid argument to be made that we’re still giving too much power to these large social platforms, but this is at least one instance where they’re giving some power — in the form of more control over how our content is presented — back to us. The question now is how Facebook will respond. We’ve heard rumors that it wants to offer some way for news outlets to be able to host their content within Facebook’s ecosystem, but does this mean everyday users will have the ability to post longform content to the social behemoth? Hopefully, these recent moves from Medium and LinkedIn will spur it to action.

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Image via YouTube

What Twitter can learn from Reddit

twitter reddit

If Twitter CEO Dick Costolo had to name his chief frustration, I bet it’d be investors’ unwillingness to look beyond the logged-in user. Wall Street analysts have hammered the company because its growth of monthly logged-in users has stalled while Instagram, with its 300 million users, sped past. Costolo has insisted that this number is, while not meaningless, at least very misleading, because it masks the overall reach of Twitter. “There’s also the hundreds of millions of people who come to Twitter and don’t log in,” he’s said. “And beyond that, there’s the world of a syndicated audience. That audience we reach across the entirety of the web.” What he means is that there are millions of users who don’t log in but perhaps visit the Twitter streams of their favorite celebrities, or they see tweets embedded in an article, or they’re watching television programming where the hosts are reading tweets live on the air. Twitter co-founder Ev Williams put it even more succinctly:

If you think about the impact Twitter has on the world versus Instagram, it’s pretty significant. It’s at least apples to oranges. Twitter is what we wanted it to be. It’s this realtime information network where everything in the world that happens on Twitter—important stuff breaks on Twitter and world leaders have conversations on Twitter. If that’s happening, I frankly don’t give a shit if Instagram has more people looking at pretty pictures.

If Costolo’s view is that these logged-out users are extremely valuable, a view I’m sympathetic to,  then what puzzles me is why Twitter doesn’t do more to cater to these users. To understand what I mean by this, let’s look at another social network that has a high number of logged-out, casual users: Reddit.

Now I don’t know exactly how many Reddit users log in in a given month, but I do know, based on stats it makes publicly available, that on any given day about 3.2 million users log in. For the sake of argument, let’s say that three times that number, roughly 10 million, log in at least once a month. According to Reddit’s official stats, it’s visited by 174 million unique visitors a month. That would mean that 94 percent of the people who visit Reddit every month never log in.

Reddit is extremely valuable as a tool for casual users, and to understand why, here’s a screengrab of its front page when you’re not logged in:

reddit

Now here’s what I see when I visit Twitter.com as a logged-out user:

twitterNotice the difference? A user who visits Reddit is immediately pulled in and able to extract utility from that visit. Someone who visits Twitter is prompted to sign up for a tool without any initial indication of its value.

I would consider myself a pretty involved Reddit user, one who regularly logs in, subscribes to subreddits, and even occasionally comments and submits posts. But I wasn’t always that way. For a long time I visited Reddit without ever logging in, perusing its front page for interesting links to click on. Then eventually I started clicking through to its comments and, while there, learned about interesting subreddits that I would need an account in order to subscribe to. Through its default subreddits, I was led down a rabbit hole that resulted in me obsessively reloading the Serial podcast subreddit and diving deep into comment threads.

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What if, instead of seeing a log-in page when you visit Twitter.com, you instead encounter a stream of “default” Twitter users. Twitter’s staff could either establish a list of 200 or so news organizations, celebrities, and interesting accounts, or it could hire an editorial team (or enlist a company like Storyful) to curate the most interesting content. Suddenly, Twitter.com becomes the go-to place for the real-time web, an alternative to Google News or any other web destination where users go for a distillation for news. And once Twitter has managed to hook these more casual visitors, they start to realize, ever so slowly, that they are only scratching the surface and can discover even more interesting content if they create an account and follow those users. And once they’re logged in, they realize how easy it is to create content and to opine on the content they’re reading.

In fact, Twitter may have already realized this missed opportunity. According to AdAge, it’s planning some kind of revamped homepage:

Among the pitches at CES was an improved home-page for logged-out users that would include paid products, according to executives Twitter pitched last week. To address flagging engagement, Twitter recently introduced a slate of features, including an “instant timeline,” to attract more users. The website shown last week included a series of tiles featuring Twitter content, both images and text, clustered by subject matter, like entertainment and sports.

Without seeing screenshots of this revamped homepage, it’s difficult to tell how robust such a product will be, but the news does indicate that Twitter, if it wants to convince investors of its utility beyond logged-in users, knows it needs to provide a venue for those logged-out users to congregate. If it does, then it has the opportunity to become the true homepage of the internet, and its significance as arguably the most important social network will be even more readily apparent.

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