One of the interesting things about Medium — the combination platform and publishing company that former Twitter CEO Evan Williams launched in 2012 — has been watching it evolve in real time, as it tries out new features and changes existing ones. In its latest evolution, Medium has added several new tools that feel very similar to the two things that Williams is probably best known for: namely, Twitter and Blogger.
When it first emerged, and for most of the time since then, Medium has been seen as primarily a place for long-form posts or articles, in part because the site has a clean and flowing design that encourages large images. Most of the content that the site itself commissioned and paid for has also tended to be long-form, and Williams has often talked about his vision for the site as being similar to a magazine.
Short and long
On Tuesday, however, Medium announced a number of new additions to the service, including a very Twitter-like instant post-creation tool that appears on the front page of the site, with a simple box and the phrase “Write here,” and allows users to publish quickly. In a blog post, Williams said he wanted to make it easier “to start writing whenever you have an idea — and also to make it feel like less of a big deal to do so.”
Another feature is more of a redesign of the individual author pages, profiles and tag pages — the latter being the new name for what used to be called topic “channels.” Now authors and editors can add tags to their posts and those posts show up in a feed that is arranged by tags such as Tech or Media or Photos, and then filtered by an algorithm based on how many users shared or recommended each post.
The redesign of tag and author pages turns them into more of a stream, Williams said — in fact, a very blog-like stream, with a mix of the shorter posts that the site is trying to encourage and longer posts that readers have to click through to view. Much like tweets, the shorter posts can be read within the stream in their entirety, and readers can click to recommend or share them without leaving the stream.
Although Williams didn’t say this, it seems fairly clear that Medium is trying to lower the barriers to creating content on the site — in much the same way that Twitter has been trying to decrease the friction between new users and the service, in order to increase engagement. Although Medium doesn’t really talk about numbers, it seems likely that it wants to broaden the reach of the site beyond just people who feel comfortable writing a 1,000-word blog post, choosing multiple images, etc.
A home for all kinds
In his blog post, the Medium founder suggests that the changes were made to counter the impression that Medium was just for long-form publishing, rather than a home for publishing content and ideas of all kinds, regardless of length:
“It was not our intention, however, to create a platform just for long-form content or where people feel intimidated to publish if they’re not a professional writer or a famous person (something we’ve heard many times). We know that length is not a measure of thoughtfulness.”
Given Williams’ experience with creating — or helping to create — both Twitter and Blogger, it shouldn’t be a surprise that he might want to take the best qualities of each of these platforms and build them into Medium somehow. But can a service be all things to all people? Can Medium support both long-form and short, Twitter-style content at the same time? Quartz editor Gideon Lichfield raised that question in a Medium post, entitled “Is Medium now >140 Twitter?” In a response, Williams says he believes it can do both:
“We go back and forth from the meaty to the light weight all day long on the web. Commentary and reporting. Snapshots and long-form posts. Our brains jump from one thing to another all day long, and we figure it out. Is it a challenge to do this under one system? It is?—?both from a design and brand standpoint. But we don’t think it’s impossible.”
The main differences between the new Medium and Twitter, Williams said, are that Medium isn’t intended to be for “status updates,” and it’s not really about social interaction (it does have comments, but they are called “notes” and they have to be approved by the author before they appear). And it’s also not real-time. The Medium founder said the changes were made because he believes “there’s a wide open middle-ground between what happens on social media and what happens in more formal publishing.” And that, Williams says, is where the site believes its home will be.