You won’t believe number 7!
This article and its Addenda might seem somewhat strange to include here on my own site, but they do contain some of the journey that eventually led me here, and I have referred to them elsewhere, so having everything in one place makes sense.
I decided I wanted to start writing articles in the spring of 2016. I asked around among my friends and heard that Ghost was the new hotness. And Ghost was pretty good as far as the actual articles. My pal Julius set up a sweet template for me, so everything looked good. And they supported footnotes, which I am a pretty hardcore user of, and which Medium still does not.¹
But by February of this year, the lack of community on Ghost had started to bother me. It might have been because of Facebook. Facebook had by then hit rock bottom, where it still lives: advertisements for stuff I will never want, lame quizzes, clickbait articles, and idiotic political opinions now make up the majority of my feed.²
And those community features that Ghost lacked were ones that Medium offered. When I posted an article, people could like it, highlight passages, and/ or leave responses. Those things were good—like the things you could do on Facebook sort of, but in an environment with just a bit more weight, where 10-minute reads might actually get read.
Community is the wrong word. Facebook provides some sense of that, but it’s designed for relatively superficial exchanges—I don’t mean that as a dig, it just is—and I felt that the things I wanted to talk about were not necessarily appropriate to that forum, and indeed, would alienate some significant portion of my social graph.³
What I was looking for was more what I would term intellectual exchange. Facebook seems more oriented either to validation or to argument. I don’t necessarily want either one of those things; my articles often involve criticism, and I’m happy to take what I dish out. I do a lot of research on many arcane topics, and try to be thorough, but that doesn’t mean I’m right.
Anyway I moved my earlier articles over from Ghost to Medium, and started posting new ones.
There were problems from the start. Some of my Facebook followers’ browsers crashed when they clicked the links to my Medium articles. The way images appeared (or didn’t) in the feeds was a mystery, and Facebook posts also did not play nice with them.⁴
Nonetheless, new people—people I did not know, and so were under no obligation to—began to follow me. There were likes as well, and after a while, became a Top Writer in Culture. Not long after, I also became a Top Writer in History. My follows gained momentum.
But then a funny thing happened. Back in September my follows completely flatlined and have remained flatlined since. This struck me as suspicious because it happened exactly at 1.2K. I checked my profile to see if I’d fallen off the Top Writers lists; I hadn’t. I begrudgingly became a member of Medium hoping that would unblock me; there was zero effect.
Now, I’ll cop to the fact that follows might not be the most important metric to track, and indeed, my recent series on Bruce Lee spiked other stats like reads and applause (the latter a lame recent replacement for likes). Nonetheless, this flatline means to me that Mr. Medium is not a fan of the content I’ve been adding to the site. What they’re trying to “curate” is something else entirely.
Now, I have always—please rest assured—understood that my articles are nobody’s flavor of the month, but there has clearly been a shift in how content is being served to Medium users. It might be some nameless faceless “editors”, but my money’s on AI; an algorithm that spoonfeeds tasty garbage into waiting mouths.
It turns out, that even before I had joined Medium, back in January, there had been a shift in the company, announced by CEO Ev Williams, together with major layoffs. The mission-statementy core of this piece, one that some applauded and others picked apart in the responses, was this:
We believe people who write and share ideas should be rewarded on their ability to enlighten and inform, not simply their ability to attract a few seconds of attention.
Though I agree wholeheartedly with the last part of this credo, the use of the term rewarded is what jumps out to me. As I’ve already suggested reward, at least in the financial sense that is clearly meant here, was never my aim. Further, there are several implications to their goal:
- Rewarding writers really means rewarding Medium—money changes hands and we’ll take our cut.
- Medium doesn’t want to do anything crass like have ads, so instead we’ll curate content, and put the stuff we think people will shell out for behind a paywall.
- Since paywall content is what drives our revenue, that’s what we’ll promote—everyone else can suck it!
- We have no idea what’s good even though we track stats like category Top Writers; everyone likes linkbait listicles, right?
They weren’t even very efficient at ruining their platform for anyone looking for anything enlightening or informative: it took nearly nine months to roll out these exciting changes, but they are definitely in full effect now.
In addition to limiting the discoverability of my content, I’ve also seen it in what they serve me—regardless of the kinds of people I follow, or what I’ve liked, applauded, highlighted, or responded to before, I get Drake. I have nothing against Drake, but neither do I have anything for him.⁵ I vaguely know who he is, and am 100% not intrigued to know any more.
So, the TL; DR is:
Congratulations, Medium; you went from being pretty cool to worse than Facebook in only a few months.
I remain committed to writing these articles, but they need a new home. I wish I had seen Williams’ message before I joined since the red flags it raised were so clear. If you’ve followed me here, I thank you, and I’ll let you know where I land. Maybe I’ll move back to Ghost.
Read the Addenda to This Article
- As you can tell from this article. Obviously there are footnotes, but hyperlinking to them and then back to where you were in the article is what’s missing. There is a way to do it in Medium, but it’s impossibly arduous.
- Of course some of you are still fighting the good fight on FB, for which I thank you.
- The numbers of people following links to my articles bears out this premise.
- The way pics in articles are chosen for headlines, focus points selected, etc. in Medium is pretty fussy and arcane. Then Facebook ignores all that, peers into the links you post, and randomly chooses pics. Sometimes they let you choose among them, but typically not.
- It was Drake’s Birthday, apparently.