Medium – Ev Williams latest startup
Dave Winer has posted a pertinent, bulleted transcript of Evan Williams discussing Medium in a Podcast with Jeffrey Zeldman. Williams is perhaps better known as Ev. His byline on Medium is: I make systems—mostly things that encourage typing and thinking. (Blogger, Twitter, Medium).
Winer’s first bullet: “1. It’s a hybrid, at the intersection of blogging systems and commenting systems.”
It makes sense for Ev to revisit this corner of the Internet. He’s had success in the systems world. Blogger was sold to Google almost 10 years ago and Twitter continues to be popular. And now he wants to upend those two worlds – a system that creates an opportunity to write thoughts in more than 140 characters, and one that doesn’t require creating a blog.
Medium is designed to allow people to choose the level of contribution they prefer. We know that most people, most of the time, will simply read and view content—and that’s great. If they choose, they can recommend content to others, giving feedback to the creator and increasing the likelihood others will see it.
There’s often been this idea that blogging is in decline – I don’t agree. I enjoy blogging and I’ve always seen it as the thrumming center of good content strategy, but I am biased.
That brings me to Winer’s second bullet: “2. You don’t have to create a blog. This can be a huge barrier for some people. People who have something to say but view creating a blog as making a commitment [sic.] Technically they’re not right about this. Creating a new blog is no more complex than creating a new word processing document. But there’s a psychic overhead that stops a lot of people. I know this because I’ve been evangelizing blogs for many years. A lot of people feel this commitment and it stops them from contributing.”
Winer makes a good point about creating a blog being easy. Micro-blog platforms such as Tumblr and Posterous make it simple for those who don’t want to get into the machinations of creating a full-blown blog and hosting their own URL. Twitter and Facebook provide enough space to share one’s thoughts in their own different ways. Even Instagram let’s us expound upon a “moment” captured, and when sharing on Pinterest you can channel your inner Bronte or Hemingway in the description box. These tools allow users to go from being content “readers” or “observers,” to participants and creators.
I use all of those platforms but I still prefer yakking away at length here.
Back to Medium:
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.
These paragraphs read as either nonsensical or just jumbled thoughts (forgive me, I’ve been falling into the tautology trap lately…) The “torrent of information” that Ev mentions is completely unstoppable. Medium will simply add to the flow. And the “particular type of media “stuff” he mentions, “stuff” that “makes people laugh, smile, or feel something meaningful,” is everywhere on the Internet – 4Chan or Señor Gif anyone? And if I have a “[...] particular viewpoint on the happenings of the day (or of the past), hard-earned knowledge about how to do something better…” isn’t that personal? Isn’t sharing my hard-earned knowledge, news? It is news to my colleagues at work, or to my students, when I share something that they don’t already know. It stands then that it will be personal and news if I were to write about it on Medium.
Back to Winer:
“3. Like Twitter, this product is a simplification of what came before, a narrowing, and a focusing, but it’s still wide open. Zeldman kind of got tripped up by this, but Williams was very clear. Users can create new buckets or collections and call them anything they want. A bucket is analogous to a blog post. Then other people can post to it. That’s like a comment. But it doesn’t look like a comment. It’s got a place for a big image at the top. It looks much prettier than a comment, and much bigger. Looks are important here.
4. There’s no way for a user to control CSS or provide a template, or even choose a template from a library. This would make the product more complex. Not sure what their plans are here, but whether they offer these features will play a big role in defining the service.
5. It’s closest to Tumblr right now — another product that occupies the space between full-blown blogging like WordPress, and ultra lightweight blogging in Twitter. Clearly Twitter is moving more towards Tumblr. If Medium adds templates and CSS they will be aimed squarely at Tumblr.”
It’s a crowded space. Medium may be built on the idea of “ideas” but I don’t see how that’s a differentiator from all the social platforms available on the Internet. If I post an “idea” to the North blog or my Tumblr, Facebook, or even my personal website, why is that any different to posting it on Medium?
Time will tell.
[Update] I see that W+K’s MakeSharpStuff has partnered with Medium for book excerpt publishing. Now that makes sense.