Tag Archives: medium

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.

Why every blog post should be crossposted to LinkedIn and Medium

medium plus linkedin

Earlier this month, I completed a 1,500 word feature story on why the scholarly publisher PLOS is teaming up with Reddit on an ongoing science interview series. I had put a good deal of work into the piece, interviewing editors at PLOS, scientists who had been published in its journals, and moderators at Reddit. If I had written this article a year ago I would have simply published it to my blog and then devoted all my energy toward directing my social media followers to the piece. If I was lucky, a tweet of mine would float across the screen of someone influential on Twitter who had thousands of followers, and his or her retweet would direct a flood of readers to the article. But just as often as not, my article wouldn’t attract much notice and it’d lay stagnant on my blog, boasting only a handful of tweets and likes.

But my philosophy on web publishing has changed drastically in recent months, so in addition to publishing the story to my blog, I also uploaded it to LinkedIn’s publishing platform and to Medium.  The version on my blog did rack up a few influential shares, including a retweet from Gawker founder Nick Denton, but it ultimately attracted only about 100 views, which by itself would have rendered the piece a failure.

But on LinkedIn and Medium, the results were much more encouraging. A few hours after I uploaded it, an editor at LinkedIn plugged my piece into its Pulse channel on education, which currently boasts hundreds of thousands of followers. Within moments, my LinkedIn app on my phone began pinging me with updates as the story racked up comments and likes. Overall, it generated 106 likes, five comments, and 1,075 views.

While most the activity on LinkedIn occurred within the first 24 hours after posting, Medium was more of a slow burn. For the first day the article slowly collected recommends (Medium’s internal share function), and then began picking up traction on the second day after I submitted it to the influential Thoughts on Journalism publication. Ultimately, the article attracted 12 recommends, but because Medium is an influencer platform, it led to shares from outside networks. Of the 1,500 views of my article, 500 came from Facebook, 400 from email, and nearly 300 from Twitter.

All together, the piece attracted over 2,600 views, and that was before it went on to be reprinted by MediaShift and the Daily Dot. If you work at a major publication like BuzzFeed or the New York Times, 2,600 views might not seem like a lot, but for an independent writer who has no institutional backing, it’s a respectable audience (some of my articles on Medium have gone as high as 5,000 views and one article of mine on LinkedIn received over 50,000).

Increasingly, I’m seeing more and more writers follow this strategy — continuing to publish posts to their own websites but then crossposting to LinkedIn, Medium, or both. For years, we’ve been warned away from such tactics. You may have heard the term “digital sharecropping,” which Copyblogger once called “the most dangerous threat to your content marketing strategy.”  Put simply, digital sharecropping is when you place too many resources into growing your following on outside platforms you don’t completely own rather than focusing on your own website, of which you have complete control. And this makes some sense; in a world in which Facebook regularly changes its algorithm and Twitter can revoke API access, placing all your eggs in another company’s basket exposes you to a certain amount of risk.

But at the same time, anyone who has had any experience in publishing knows how difficult it is to drive traffic to a standalone website, especially if that website isn’t updated 20 times a day. The harsh reality is that only a tiny fraction of your social media followers will click on a link to an outside website, and most prefer to interact and consume content that’s native to the platform they’re browsing. So if you’re only publishing, at most, a few articles per week and don’t have an enormous social following, chances are your content is getting lost in the noise.


The opportunity that platforms like LinkedIn and Medium offer is they have an already existing audience and they allow you to amass a following that will increase your content’s likelihood of discovery. Millions of people visit the home pages of LinkedIn and Medium each day, and their publishing tools provide you the opportunity to place your content in front of those readers and generate real engagement when they click into your article.

There’s another argument typically made against digital sharecropping: that it hurts your SEO. The thinking goes that if you post the same content across multiple sites, Google will penalize your personal website and only index the content that you crossposted on more authoritative sites. This argument was recently boosted when Google changed its algorithm to punish aggressive guest posting.

But it turns out many of these concerns were overblown. Google engineers have repeatedly said the search engine only aims to punish spammy guest posting that exists to build backlinks. Blogger Ryan Battles recently conducted an experiment in which he consistently crossposted his content to both LinkedIn and Medium and found that all versions of the article continued to be indexed.

Of course, if your create content in order to sell advertising against it, publishing to Medium and LinkedIn will do nothing to generate new revenue and may even decrease traffic to the website where you’re selling said advertising. But the vast majority of people who create content on the internet do so either to elevate their own personal brands or to market a product or service. For those content producers, the goal is to expand their audience, regardless of where that audience consumes the content. If you fit into this latter category, then by ignoring Medium and LinkedIn you’re potentially turning away thousands of readers for each article you write. You should go to where the readers are, not assume they’ll come flocking to you.


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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.


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

How Medium is using the mullet strategy to attract new users


I don’t think I invented the phrase — I likely read it somewhere and then absorbed it through osmosis — but for several years now I’ve been referring to something called the “mullet strategy” when trying to explain how some platforms and social networks have attempted to attract new users. A Google search reveals that Jonah Peretti, a founder of both BuzzFeed and Huffington Post, used the neologism as early as 2007. As described by Grant McCracken in 2008, with the mullet strategy, “the front page of the website is ‘kept sharp’ by professional editors while the back of the site is given over to the unedited, unsubstantiated ‘venting’ of unpaid visitors.” Or, put another way: “Business in the front. Party in the back.”

The approach was used early on with both Daily Kos and the Huffington Post. In the case of Daily Kos, Markos Moulitsas, the site’s founder, employed professional bloggers to write for the front page of the liberal, grassroots blog, and then anyone who commented on their blog posts had to sign up for an account that also gave them their own blogging platform. Their published blog posts, however, were not automatically promoted on the front page; they were relegated to a subdomain, with their headlines highlighted on a small sidebar on the Daily Kos front page. Whenever a user-generated blog post was particularly well written, however, one of the paid front-page bloggers could pluck it from the ether and promote it on the main blog. This strategy worked so well because it attracted readers with the professional-grade material and then converted them into more engaged users who gladly generated content for Daily Kos for absolutely no pay. Occasionally, when one of these unpaid users consistently produced professional-quality content, Moulitsas would hire him or her to write for the front page.

Huffington Post employed a slightly more selective approach. Though it used thousands of unpaid bloggers, you couldn’t publish to HuffPo unless you happened to know someone who worked there. This way, getting your own HuffPo byline felt like you were being invited into some exclusive club, making it easier to overlook the fact that you were creating content without pay. Arianna Huffington famously would hand out accounts to people she met on her speaking tours. This higher bar of selectivity ensured a better batting average when it came to the quality of content.

The mullet strategy has continued to be adopted and improved upon over the last several years. One of its most interesting iterations was rolled out at Forbes, where chief product officer Lewis DVorkin has recruited over a thousand writers, some salaried staffers, others paid based on traffic generated, and the rest completely unpaid. The strategy paid off, reviving Forbes from a state in which it was barely able to make rent to a profitable entity.

The beauty of the mullet strategy is that it effectively tackles the user acquisition problem. Every new platform that relies on user generated content depends on influential users who make the platform indispensable, thereby attracting larger numbers of users to try it out.  But it’s a Catch 22; the platform needs the influencers to make it indispensable, but these users won’t become addicted unless it’s already indispensable. Facebook solved this problem by attracting early adopters from prestigious schools, so that by the time it trickled down to other universities the social network was already populated by their contacts. Twitter similarly had an early adopter advantage, having attracted influential tech enthusiasts very early on. But not every new platform can reach this critical mass, so that’s where the mullet strategy comes in: you’re essentially paying those early influencers to populate your network with content with the hope that the masses will come clamoring to join the club.

Medium has employed what is, in my mind, the most scalable mullet strategy yet. All the other examples I listed, while brilliantly executed, were confined in scope. Daily Kos, while allowing anyone to sign up, only really appeals to those interested in politics, and of those, only people who consider themselves liberal. Forbes and Huffington Post, with their more selective approach, can only manage so many bloggers before quality control becomes impossible. And let’s face it: none of these outlets are technology companies, and so their users aren’t creating content on their platforms because their content management systems are amazing.


Medium, on the other hand, is a technology company, and it has built a gorgeous, easy-to-use CMS. It also isn’t limited by subject matter. It is therefore just as scalable as any other social network, from Facebook to Twitter to LinkedIn. And it’s solved its user acquisition problem in two brilliant ways.

The first is that it allows you to sign up for Medium using your Twitter account, so that from the very moment your account is live you’re already following people you’re interested in and you also have followers of your own (these are drawn from your twitter followers who have also signed up for the platform). You’re not landing in a ghost town and scrambling to find people to follow.

The second is that very early on Medium hired editors from glossy magazines that specialize in premium, longform content, and gave them substantial editorial budgets to begin recruiting freelance writers. Suddenly, people were landing on Medium before they even knew what it was and before it was even open to new users. This of course attracted the curiosity of journalists, who began penning articles trying to suss out whether Medium was a magazine or a platform. Eventually, our curiosity would get the better of us and we’d set up an account and try it out. Medium has essentially solved the “cool kid” and social graph factors at the same time — first direct users to the site with high quality content, and once they’re there, encourage them to sign up. And then once they have an account, there’s all their friends and followers waiting to consume their content.

It’s a strategy that all future platform creators should pay attention to. In a world where every day a new mobile app or social network promises to crowdsource the solution to some life problem, there are only so many influencers with so much time to invest in a new tool. So when you receive your millions of dollars in investment from venture capitalists, set aside some of that money to pay your early adopters. Because without them, you’re just a night club with no line out the door, in which case you might as well send your DJ home early.


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How do you maintain a cohesive online identity when it’s scattered across so many platforms?

One of the themes I touched on yesterday in my article on how Medium is trying to bring back the web we lost is that we’ve essentially outsourced our identities to multiple corporate entities (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest) who control the format and type of content we can produce. In addition to this blog, I maintain at least somewhat-regularly-updated profiles on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, Foursquare, and LinkedIn. With your eggs spread across so many baskets, it can be difficult to every truly master a particular platform, and it makes it difficult to provide a holistic representation of yourself. Dave Winer, an early pioneering blogger, recognizes this incongruity and wants to find a way to unite his online identities under one roof:

Today there are lots of ways to scatter all kinds of stuff to the wind. If you do a search on a person, you’ll get a lot of random stuff, but for most people there’s no single place that represents the person.#

So for me, until further notice, my blog is where all my scatterings come together. Usually it’ll just be stuff that I’ve created, but occasionally I’ll point to something from someone else that’s connected to what I do.

How Medium is trying to bring back the web we lost


Two years ago, Clive Thompson was duped by an erroneous Wikipedia edit. On the day Yahoo had announced that former Googler Marissa Mayer would ascend the throne as CEO of the struggling company, Thompson visited her Wikipedia article and discovered, much to his shock, that Mayer had five biological children. This fact, he later realized, was false. But rather than filing it away as an interesting anecdote that proved the unreliability of Wikipedia, he tracked down the user who had corrected the entry and, upon interviewing her, came to the exact opposite conclusion. In a post uploaded to the blogging platform Medium this week, he explained how the speed with which an error was scrubbed clean is proof that a collaborative network of millions of editors ensures increased trustworthiness on the encyclopedia.


Clive Thompson

It was just the sort of post that, in the mid 2000s, he might have written and published to Collision Detection, Thompson’s personal blog. With its small but loyal readership, Collision Detection was his repository for the assorted curiosities and niche interests that didn’t make it into his long feature articles for outlets like the New York Times Magazine and Wired. But something happened as the journalist neared the end of the decade; he started blogging less.

“I used to blog two to three hours a day and now that time is spent hanging out with my children,” he told me in a phone interview. “And then I started writing a book and that just killed my time.”

But there was another entry to Thompson’s life that may have had the largest effect of all: Twitter. Suddenly, he and millions of other people who would have otherwise uploaded their thoughts to blogging platforms had a quick, easy medium with which to broadcast. “I noticed that all these people who had blogged a lot during the mid-aughts, they started only blogging intermittently, like maybe an essay once every couple months,” he said. “And I talked to them all about this, and they all said the same thing, that Twitter is the place where you could be like ‘here’s my one thought’ and then link somewhere. I no longer needed to write a one-paragraph blog post about it, and Twitter scratched that itch and gave it a larger audience than it might have had.”

This reminds me of Anil Dash’s excellent 2012 blog post, “The Web We Lost.” In it, he describes a time in the not-too-distant past when most of the web’s writers published to their own blogs and websites, websites where they had complete ownership and control of their content. “A decade ago,” he wrote, “Technorati” — a blog search engine — “let you search most of the social web in real-time … with tags that worked as hashtags do on Twitter today. You could find the sites that had linked to your content with a simple search, and find out who was talking about a topic regardless of what tools or platforms they were using to publish their thoughts.” (It’s worth nothing that the day that I write this, Google has reportedly shut down its blog search engine, which had eventually supplanted Technorati. I don’t blame them; blog search became pretty anachronistic once the blogosphere merged with the rest of the web.) Much of the blogosphere back then was made up of independent writers who often served as a welcome reprieve from the mainstream media.  Most journalists considered “blogger” to be a pejorative term, and the blogosphere held a counterculture vibe that faded as nearly every major news outlet began to launch its own blogs.

It makes sense that so many abandoned their blogs for Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites. These platforms offered an extended network where your writing actually had the opportunity to be read and commented on. Publishing a blog post on your personal blog sometimes felt like launching it into the ether. Unless you wrote every day it was very difficult to amass an audience. Many bloggers complained of burnout or wrote posts apologizing for lengthy hiatuses. With Facebook and Twitter you had none of that; you could go several days without posting and then have a network of friends and colleagues waiting to engage with future posts.

But by migrating to these platforms, we gave up much of the control of how our content was presented. We couldn’t hyperlink and we couldn’t arrange photos within text. With Twitter we couldn’t even write more than 140 characters, and though this can be a good thing in some respects, many ideas deserve way more space than a sentence or two. Facebook has always had terrible internal search functionality and is pretty much a black box to outside search engines like Google. The blogosphere, while still flourishing in some ways, has seemingly become the domain of professional writers and corporate media companies. It’s rare that I find myself wading into the WordPress.com and Blogspot ghettos where the web’s remaining independent bloggers still reside.

So imagine my surprise when, a few months ago, I discovered that many of those bloggers I read regularly in the mid 2000s would begin blogging at Medium under the banner of a group blog called The Message. There were 12 writers on the initial team, and they included Clive Thompson, Anil Dash (who, in addition to publishing a popular blog, was the first employee of Six Apart, the inventors of one of the early blogging platforms), Andy Baio (of Waxy.org fame), Kevin Kelly (the founding editor of Wired) and Danah Boyd (who began blogging in 1997, before the word “blog” even existed). The group screamed out “2006 Dream Team” so much so that I half expected John Gruber and Jason Kottke to be listed among the authors.


Evan Hansen

But as I began to read the blog and then later spoke to Evan Hansen, a senior editor at Medium who was the initial instigator behind The Message, I realized that it was more than just an arena for early 21st century Web 2.0 nostalgia, but part of Medium’s larger goal of bringing back the web we lost. “I think people do miss the longer stuff,” he said in a phone interview. “And we kind of walked away from it and went into the shorter, more disposable media, and we lost something along the way. I think that Medium is capitalizing on that feeling. The place for longer writing has been lost, so we’re creating that again.”

Hansen is a former editor of Wired, and he left the magazine in 2013 to join the tech startup and serve as kind of the A&R — artists and repertoire, a music industry term for the person responsible for finding new talent. “You go out and find interesting places and bands and sign them to the label,” he said. “That’s a big part of my job is finding interesting people we can bring into the Medium fold.”


The idea for The Message bore out of the observation that Medium had a somewhat unique commenting system that very few users were capitalizing on. “We launched a collaboration layer a long time ago where we could share a link to a draft layer and people could comment on it,” Hansen explained. “You could get feedback before you publish it. It was a cool idea, but we weren’t seeing a ton of engagement around that, so I thought what if we could create a model for people so they could see what it looks like when we create a collection with a bunch of your friends or people you respect.”

Rather than compiling all the comments on a story at the bottom of a piece, Medium allows you to annotate by paragraph, making it easier to respond to specific points within a post. On an Anil Dash post on the nature of what’s considered public information, for instance, a commenter was able to nitpick a particular paragraph where Dash asserts that you’d be able to legally park a drone outside someone’s window. All comments go immediately into moderation and the author chooses which to make public. “It has scale issues,” Thompson admitted. “If I had a thousand people commenting, I wouldn’t have time to curate them and I’m not even sure how you’d visualize [the comments]. They’d just be spilling off in the distance.”

Example of a Medium comment

Example of a Medium comment

The collaborative nature of The Message is one that its creators hope will spread to other group blogs run on the platform that aren’t authored by professional writers. The overarching goal is that eventually, through a network effect, you’ll see communities sprout up with vibrant conversation, similar to what you used to see more regularly on group blogs that coalesced around certain topics and specialties. “We kind of anticipated a best case scenario and worst case scenario,” said Hansen. “Worst case is everyone kind of ignores each other and it kind of dies out of atrophy. Best case scenario is that people really build off each other and create these deeper conversations and ties, and it’s really gone in the latter direction.”

So what will lure users away from their Twitter and Facebook havens to return to a more robust blogging platform like Medium? Well, for one, everyone who uses it reports that the underlying CMS is a serious advancement of the technology, both in how it allows you to present information and ease of use. “The Medium CMS produces really good looking stuff,” said Thompson. “You look at it and it feels like a reading experience. It has nice typeface, really ample white space, and it makes it easy to design something beautifully.”

But Medium’s success or failure rests on whether it can ultimately create a network effect for its users so that it eliminates the problem that other blogging platforms have faced. That is, if I write something, will anyone actually read it? The more people you get on the CMS, the greater chance a user will get other people to subscribe to his feed, and then he has a reason to keep coming back. Facebook achieved this network effect through exclusivity — starting with only allowing in Ivy League college students and then slowly branching out. Medium is trying to attract users by hiring professional writers who produce high quality, beautiful content with the hope that readers who come to consume the media decide to stick around long enough to create their own content.

Whether this strategy will work is unclear. I noticed when clicking through posts on The Message that comments were sparse (one thought that occurred to me is that many people might not realize you can comment on paragraphs, given that you have to click on a rather small icon to see existing comments). But regardless of whether The Message or other professionally-curated blogs on Medium do attract a wider user base, I’m enjoying reading the writers who brought so much interesting content to my RSS feed nearly a decade ago. I have no doubt that social networks like Facebook and Twitter deserve much credit for bringing millions of people into the collaborative web, but the golden days of Web 2.0, when the blogosphere was a Wild West of pajama-clad bloggers, will always be an era that I’ll miss.


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Images via Smarterthanyouthink, Twitter,

Felix Salmon wants to build a media company not dependent on pageviews

Felix Salmon, the financial columnist who quit Reuters to work at the television channel Fushion, took to Medium to explain his move and how he wants to diversify the channel’s revenue streams so it’s not beholden to diminishing CPM advertising:

So here’s the idea: let’s say we can serve up high-quality Fusion-branded content to a new generation of digital natives, and that they love that content. If and when that happens, it’s going to be a lot easier for the cable companies to persuade that audience to pay for cable TV if their cable lineup also includes Fusion. The content won’t be the same, of course — but the brand will be. And the cable companies are going to want the Fusion brand on their lineup because that’s the only way they’re going to be able to seem relevant to anybody under the age of 32. The result: Fusion has negotiating leverage with the cable channels, and becomes very valuable.

Here’s where things start getting really cool. What this means is that it doesn’t matter where people consume our digital content: it only mattersthat they consume it. So while everybody else fights with each other to get millions of unique visitors to their websites, we will be happy to go reach the audience wherever they are. Of course, we will have an excellent website of our own — the amazing Hong Qu is hard at work building it as we speak. But in no way will we feel constrained by that website. If our audience is on Instagram, we’ll make 15-second videos for them on Instagram. If they’re on Upworthy or BuzzFeed or Vox or even Snapchat, we’ll try to find a way to reach them there, too. It’s what I call promiscuous media: put everything where it works best.