What we’re trying to do with Medium
It’s been just over two months since we opened the curtain on the preview version of Medium. Since then, we’ve been kind of quiet (but busy). I thought it might be a good time to shed more light on what we’ve been up to—as well as what we hope to accomplish—with this little project.
A Place for Ideas
Let’s face it: There is plenty of media in the world already. And no matter what happens to traditional media economics, there’s nothing to stop the torrent of information rushing from smartphones, corporations, and new-fangled media startups onto the Internet, available for the world to see.
While it continues to be more and more efficient to put media-type stuff out there, we think there are big improvements to be made in a particular type of media “stuff”: That which is not necessarily personal and not necessarily news. That which we might just call ideas.
What kind of ideas? Many kinds: A particular viewpoint on the happenings of the day (or of the past), hard-earned knowledge about how to do something better, a story that makes people laugh, smile, or feel something meaningful. If you have thoughts to share that you want to impact or influence people with—beyond just your friends and beyond 140 characters—we want to provide the tools and the place.
Everyone Has Ideas
Medium is in closed beta right now. (Everyone can read, but only those with special access can post.) That’s because we’re still working hard on the code and designing the first version of product. (Having some users helps this process tremendously—having a lot of users complicates it.) But to be clear: Limiting access is not our approach to quality.
The ethos behind Medium is one of openness and democracy—like the Internet itself. Eventually we’ll be opening so anyone can post and create collections. But that’s not all…
The beauty of the Internet is it allows anyone to put their thoughts out there and potentially be heard. But breaking through the noise is not easy. Whole public companies have been created to arbitrage attention online with the cheapest content possible. Knowing these kinds of tricks, building up a large following over years, and/or being hooked into the right social network is as important (or more so) than having something great to say and saying it well if you want to impact and influence today. It is our goal that content reaches its right audience on Medium more quickly and efficiently than it would on isolated islands on the web—no matter who it’s from.
That said, we don’t expect everyone—or even the majority of people—who enjoy Medium content to publish on the platform. Not everyone has that inclination. However, for those who do even occasionally feel that need, we believe Medium can be a great outlet. Unlike a blog, Medium gives you context into which to share your ideas—e.g., if you’ve got thoughts on product design, a crazy story about something that happened to you, or (to go meta) ideas for Medium itself, we have a place for that where those interested are most likely to find it.
And, importantly, Medium makes no expectation of ongoing commitment. Medium is not obsessed with the new. Things are not reverse-chronologically sorted by default. And you won’t have to post “Apologies for not posting in a while…” every time you get too busy to post for a couple months.
Time Is Precious
A couple more notes on not being obsessed with the new. You may notice that collections on Medium are by default sorted by “Recommended.” You may also notice a “Recommend” button at the bottom of each post (if you’re logged in). What we’re doing is ordering things by our best guess of the relative quality/interestingness of the different items—according to the people who have seen them.
How we calculate the ranking is an algorithm that will change over time (kinda like Google’s PageRank but obviously much more simplistic at this point in time). It’s not a direct popularity ranking. It takes in a variety of factors, including whether or not a post seems to actually have been read (not just clicked on) and whether people click the “Recommend” button at the bottom of posts. The ratio of people who view it who read it and who read it and recommend it are important factors, not just the number. (This is an attempt to level of the playing field for those who don’t already have large followings and/or a penchant for writing click-bait headlines.)
We now live in a world of infinite information. Most of our systems weren’t designed for this world. Even if you had the best recommendation system ever, and everyone stopped publishing interesting stuff tomorrow, you’d never get through all the content you’re interested in. You need a place to start. So our goal is to help people pay attention to the most valuable stuff first and to have the best ideas win.