My Love-Hate Relationship With Medium

Mark Lowenstein / August 5th, 2016

By day, I am a wireless industry analyst and consultant. By night and on weekends, besides being an exercise and outdoors enthusiast, I write running guides. A few years ago, I self-published three books on running the Boston area. In late 2015, I started a new project called Great Runs, which is a guide to the best places to go running in the world’s major cities and destinations. It’s geared toward travelers who run and runners who travel. This time, I decided to develop the content online, but I wanted more than a traditional blogging platform. A colleague recommended Medium, the online publishing platform started in 2013 by Twitter co-founder Evan Williams.

This has been a love-hate relationship from the get-go. By turns, liberating but also maddening. I decided to focus a column on Medium because of its potential as a next generation instrument for writers and readers: ease of use, democratization, and social journalism. But Medium also embodies a lot of what’s wrong with the Web, as well.

So here’s what’s fantastic. Medium is essentially a Version 2.0 blogging platform, allowing anyone from amateurs to professionals to corporations to post a story. Within five minutes, I was signed up and writing. The site is easy to use and visually elegant. Medium has kept things very simple, with limited formatting options. It’s easy to insert images and they align and look beautiful. Content is auto-saved nearly constantly. I’ve hired some freelancers to develop content and it’s easy to add them to Medium and edit their work. Write a piece, press ‘publish’, and ba-bang, it’s out there for everyone to see. Social media sharing tools are well integrated.

Authors are also interested in community, so the main Medium site has a list of tabs including Editor’s Picks, topics of the day, and “For You”, which seems to choose articles based primarily on folks I follow on Twitter, LinkedIn contacts, and perhaps some relationship to tags in my stories (running, fitness, travel, etc.).

So, in many ways, Medium has been great. I’ve got more than 50 city guides up on the platform and the responsive Great Runs ‘site’ looks great on PsC, tablets, and phones. I didn’t have to get a publisher or hire a Web/WordPress/App developer.

And now for the downside. First beef: discovery. With what I think is some pretty good content and a well-defined target market, getting my stuff discovered on Medium is hard. Really hard. The whole idea of a blog or ‘social journalism’ as I think Ev calls it, is to build an audience. Yes, your Medium content is easily shared with your Twitter followers or your Facebook friends. So, it’s great for Lululemon, which already has a huge social media presence. They now have 10,000+ ‘followers’ on Medium, and tons of folks recommending their content. For brands, established authors, and the companies who are seemingly flocking to Medium, it’s great. Because they already have an audience.

Medium offers very little in the way of guidance or tutorials to help one get discovered. There is nobody one can talk to, unless you’re an established brand or company who wants Medium to host your content. I’d bet many writers would be willing to pay a modest fee, or sign up for a premium membership with Medium, for some help building an audience/following and getting their content discovered.

My second major beef is monetization. As a side note, I am curious how Medium itself plans to make money. But as an author on Medium, there is presently no way to make any money from content. Blog sites, WordPress sites, and so on, all have some opportunity to run ads, host sponsors, or sell content. But on Medium, nothing. Not even the ability to direct one’s Medium audience to a site where content could potentially be monetized in some way.

I’d even welcome some communication from Medium, a roadmap of sorts, indicating, like so many other Internet-based businesses, they are ‘building their audience’, with plans to monetize that audience in the future. Admittedly, not every writer wants to monetize their content on Medium — some just want an outlet to easily post content, or want additional exposure for their brand. But I can’t see how this is sustainable long term for Medium itself as a business, or for ‘amateur’ authors.

Third, Medium is awful as a content management system. In fact, it’s not a CMS at all. There are practically no tools or options for organizing your content. Suppose you have 25 stories on your Medium page. There’s no way to list them alphabetically, by date, or any of the ways one thinks about organizing content. For those visiting your Medium page, it’s just one long scroll of stories, listed in seemingly random fashion. Medium did recently introduce tabs, for homepage navigation, but there’s no way to organize content within a tab. Maddening.

Fourth, Medium’s lack of help and support options is frustrating. I realize they are a startup (albeit well-funded), this is the Web, and this is the way of Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, WordPress, and the like. One can send Medium an email with a question or a problem, but one senses their customer support operation is a boiler room staffed with folks who mainly deal with FAQs and technical issues. Really, there’s no ability to speak with a professional who can help you make Medium an effective platform or, for that matter, how you can help make Medium more effective as well. ​

Given all these shortcomings and the lack of any real knowledge or roadmap on where Medium is going, I’m starting to give up on Medium. I’ve hired a WordPress developer and am starting to migrate content to that site. I’m feeling very 2005.

In the end, some of Medium’s greatest benefits are also its biggest liabilities. Anyone can write on Medium. Which means anyone can write on Medium. There needs to be some delineation between the individual who wants to just post the occasional story on Medium and the individual/brand who want to use Medium for at least semi-professional or business purposes.

Mark Lowenstein

Mark Lowenstein is Managing Director of Mobile Ecosystem, an advisory services firm focused on mobile and digital media. He founded and led the Yankee Group's global wireless practices and was also VP, Market Strategy at Verizon Wireless. You can follow him on Twitter at @marklowenstein and sign up for his free Lens on Wireless newsletter here.
  • jfutral

    And heaven forbid you should also be a somewhat regular commenter on other stories. All those comments get mixed in with your stories. I hear that is one thing they are wanting to address, but it isn’t flawless yet.

    I’ve given up on Medium as my primary blog platform. I repost material there just for the off chance of a wayfaring wanderer, but it is no longer my primary platform for all the reasons you mention and few others—such as lack of some system to interact with those who have expressed interest in one’s writing by following. As it is, timing is everything. If they are not online when you post (or even as prolific as some of the writers on Medium, and I’m not), the chances are slim to none your followers will even know you posted a new article.

    I long ago accepted that my audience is niche and my focus esoteric. Medium did not and does not help in reaching these people. I have to depend on myself and fellow travelers to spread the word. So I stick with Svbtle.com as my primary for the time being since nothing is gained by sticking to Medium.

    Joe

    • Space Gorilla

      I seek out paid services whenever possible, you almost always get a better experience, because there’s a profit motive at work.

      • jfutral

        The whole community/social aspect of this was very enticing. I haven’t found a paid service that offered the same on this scale. It is a superior reader engagement service, and best when the writers engage, too. But the celebrity gang usually don’t even post the material themselves or don’t want to be bothered engaging anyone.

        They are working out a “paid/get paid” service which, again, benefits everyone but the most common writers on Medium, and Medium.

        It really is kind of sad. So much potential. Ultimately, really, only accommodating the big writers for all their lip service to the little people.

        Joe

  • obarthelemy

    As purely a reader, not a writer, I like Medium’s daily suggestion emails. They’ve got a better signal-to-noise ratio than my RSS feeds, mostly because they don’t include 10 dupes of any minor Mobile rumor or news, and cast a wider net than my usual tech sites. I’ve taken to reading fairly random Medium stories instead of playing easy games when on short breaks.

    As an observer, I’m puzzled, as I always am with free+cloud stuff (that includes everything these days: FB, Google, Snapchat…). There’s no guarantee on anything whether confidentiality, security, backups, availability, monetization, features, account suppression.. nor of course any roadmap about how that’ll evolve over time (which would be fairly worthless anyway since most everyone’s end game seems to be “get bought up”, all the more now with MS also entering the cloud/social acquisitions game). I had moved my whole family to tumblr before they got bought up and nerfed into oblivion, now where’re using Skype groups, at least that makes clear content is transient…

    At least Google lets me Liberate/backup my data. I’m not sure who else does ?

    • jfutral

      “since most everyone’s end game seems to be ‘get bought up’,”

      Right. Even as they sit and say “We’re not for sale”… until they are.

      Joe

Protected by Gerben Law