By Adam Fraser
There has always been something a little enchanting about Medium. The blogging platform founded by Evan Williams (also a co-founder of Twitter) in August 2012 announced itself to the world as a place for “little stories that make your day better and manifestos that change the world.”
Goldilocks content – not too long, not too short. Medium length. Optimal length around 7 minutes to read.
There is always the sense that writers bring their best stuff to Medium. Its system is designed to reward the quality of the content rather than the prominence of the author. It has become a second home for a number of niche tech and culture blogs like Matter, Backchannel, The Nib and The Message.
Last month came a somewhat sudden change of tack. A post from Evan Williams on Medium had the headline “Medium is not a publishing tool”. Suddenly it seemed Medium wanted to be a social network.
There was always a social element to Medium – blog posts can be liked and shared and readers can up vote content a la Reddit. However the announcement seemed to materially change the strategic direction of the business.
In his post, Williams talked a lot about the power of networks. In relation to Twitter he said:
“a tiny percentage of the value Twitter brings comes from the software itself. It’s all about the network — the connection with other users and the content they create.”
and skillfully summarised:
“Connections allow the whole to become greater than the sum of the parts and allow new paths to discover and build meaning.”
In relation to Medium it started with a “blogging tool” and now wants to focus on the network effect:
“we’ve shifted more of our attention on the product side from creating tool value to creating network value.”
“That’s why I say Medium is not a publishing tool. It’s a network. A network of ideas that build off each other.”
Wlliams talked network. Commentators immediately called social network. An increased focus on notes, highlights and interactions between users. Arguably a hybrid between Tumblr and Twitter will emerge. In a follow up post, Williams claimed this wasn’t a major pivot and was always part of the plan, but the change in emphasis on the website has already been notable to many.
Change is certainly afoot at Medium. The previously sole target KPI of “Total Time Reading” seems to be shifting to more traditional social media type targets such as “engagement”.
We all know that change is the only constant and that businesses need to constantly reinvent themselves to stay relevant. But I cant help but have a tinge of sadness about the change in direction. It just feels a little like the local library is being redeveloped into a bowling alley and entertainment precinct.
At its core Medium was always about the quality of the writing. New features and connectivity are welcome but personally I hope it doesn’t stray too far away from its roots.