Has there ever been an internet company that has had so many attempts at finding an identity as Medium? In eight years there have been paywalls, memberships, editorial teams publishing Medium ‘magazines’, features teased then half launched before vanishing…for most people but not all and now a set of new features that seems to basically break down as WordPress.com (or maybe Squarespace) behind a Paywall. This is a particular departure as one of the few consistent things about Medium was the minimalist, clean nature of the publishing platform. A kind of Google homepage for blogging.
I published my first post on Medium seven years ago this week. Eventually I moved the majority of my web writing to it for about five years before moving back to WordPress last year when the weird paywall limited peoples free access to more than a handful of stories kicked in. It wasn’t like I was losing readers or anything – I don’t have that many(!) – but it felt like one pivot away from the open web too far.
I still run Web of Weeknotes on the platform and to be honest I don’t think that would have attracted anywhere near as many devotees if it wasn’t for Medium. For all its flaws it is an incredibly frictionless way of getting your words up on the web and it is still the nicest blogging experience as a writer in my experience.
To this day I believe it saved blogging – albeit a new, sanitised version of it – when longer form web writing was becoming rarer online. It gave new people a platform for their voices. Now do I wish that some (many) of them had stayed quiet….well that was always the risk with blogging anyway and new blood to shake up all the ‘veterans’ talking to each other in a cobwebbed corner of the internet was/is fantastic. Many of those new voices moved to their own platforms or newsletters – Medium was a jump-off for many or a tool for the occasional writer who didn’t want the hassle of their own domain.
Sure it had miserable accessibility support for years, the comments feature is still shambolic, week to week you never seemed to know how it would treat images and the aforementioned paywall stuff feels like a desperate attempt to monetize something that is a fundamental foundation of the web – words and links. Plus with millions of link newsletters out there now the curation is also available for free. In general I’ve never been convinced on their whole claim of bringing an audience to writers – I’ve never had a massive ‘hit’ but a few posts got several thousand readers and they seemed to be mainly from my own expanded networks rather than anyone new (apart from slightly spammy folks!). Maybe that only works if you sign-up to their ‘distribution deal’ and basically sign over your words and hide them from the rest of the world? Who knows.
I do wish Medium well with this latest change – selfishly I don’t want to try and unpick Weeknotes(!) but also blogging is my first love online and anything that encourages people to take the leap will always have a certain amount of support from me…even if it is a little grudging.