I've had an invite to write on Medium for a while but have chosen to keep my writing to here for now. But I do think that it's a fascinating platform and, one year after launch, it seems to be continuing to gain momentum. Quite apart from anything else, it's been notable the number of shortlisted entries on Post of the Month over the past few months that have been published on Medium rather than personal blogs.
Medium fascinates for a number of reasons and there's been a few links (that I've recently featured on Fish Food) that talk about how difficult it is to define and different it is not just as a media model, or tool, but as a company.
Alex Madrigal wrote a great Atlantic article asking What is Medium? From the outside, he said, Medium's strategy of creating a beautifully simplified interface, slow release of invitations to participate, paying for and promoting (a small minority of) contributors and contributions, has successfully built the idea that Medium is more than just another blogging platform ('it was a place to be seen'). Yet as a seemingly loose collection of potentially highly shareable posts that have a distinctly wide variability in quality (some extremely good and some really not), where author identity plays a low key role, it defies definition by any conventional model. If it is a whole new kind of magazine or publication what are the boundaries or limits about what it doesn't do? If it is becoming a platform does it need to solve a potentially looming quality question about what gets onto the platform and what gets left out? As Madrigal says:
"Perhaps Medium can continue to do precisely what it has been doing, and their brand value will continue to grow while these major questions remain unresolved. The center will hold because there is no center. In a world when every post stands on its own, atomistically, perhaps it's silly to think a publication can't be incoherent. Maybe a platform can sometimes be a magazine, when it sends out a newsletter of its best content, or when a visitor comes to its home page, but not to an individual story."
So does the fact that Medium is "chaotically, arrhythmically produced by a combination of top-notch editors, paid writers, PR flacks, startup bros, and hacks" mean that it is actually the "publication for our particular moment"?
Anil Dash riffed on Alex Madrigal's article by saying that Medium’s nature "isn’t confusing by accident — it’s confusing by design". Medium, says Dash, is blogging in form, but not in structure. The diminished prominence of author identity and the inability to follow individual writers, the easy flow between related pieces, and the shift away from the reverse chronological format that has defined blogging and its descendants like Facebook news feed and Twitter's timeline means that if it resembles anything it looks most like YouTube.
"Medium matters because it helps to define whether great writing finds a sustainable expression on the web in the post-banner-ad era. Medium matters because it pushes blogging, the native medium of the web, to a new stage of evolution after a decade of relative stagnation...And Medium matters because of what it is: Something that looks really familiar, but is actually quietly something truly new."
And then there was this fascinating interview with Medium employee Jason Stirman talking about their radical approach for building and structuring their organisation based on the principles of Holocracy. Stirman talks about how they're adopting a wholly different operating system for their company based on maximum autonomy (no people managers, distributed decision making, consensus seeking discouraged), organic expansion (rather than trying to squeeze requirements into existing resource), explicit transparency, a real focus on the elimination of tensions. It's a structure "built around the work the company needs to achieve its purpose”, and a hierarchy of 'circles' rather than a hierarchy of people (which reminded me of my research into the benefit of working through small, nimble, agile teams). It feels like a refreshingly different and attractive way of building a company.
Medium seems to have clarity on the vision of what problem they are setting out to solve, and they seem to be taking very different approaches to fulfill that vision. Does it really need to rigidly define exactly what it is from the beginning? Perhaps one of the most interesting things about Medium is that it's kind of making it up as it goes along and maybe that's no bad thing.