Medium Gives Twitter Referrals Preferential Treatment

If you’re not familiar with the details of what the term “zero rating” means you’ve likely still encountered it in some manner. The concept has been applied by wireless carriers to help lure customers concerned that streaming services, social media and so on are eating too much of their monthly data allocation. So a company like Verizon will sell its services by promising customers usage of something like Netflix or Spotify won’t count against their data package. Those select services are given a “zero rating” classification, with the costs absorbed/subsidized by one or both companies involved.

Such practices have raised the ire of those in favor of net neutrality protections because it’s the kind of deal that can only really be made by companies of scale. An upstart video service might not be able to afford such an arrangement and so will be used less often than Netflix, which can. The wireless companies are choosing winners and losers based on who can pay and while it seems like such deals would be good for customers, they’re actually not.

When it comes to media paywalls such arrangements have been in place for years. It used to be that articles on sites like WSJ.com were locked to non-subscribers, but could be accessed via search. So if you clicked a headline and found you couldn’t read it, you could copy the headline, paste it into Google and find a link that worked. As more companies paywalls are erected by more companies, such workarounds have been eliminated or discontinued.

Medium.com has, for a while now, allowed publishers using that platform to decide to make some articles available only to those paying a $5 monthly membership fee that’s not publication or author specific but applicable to the entire site. Non-paying members could access up to five locked articles a month before they were shut off, though they could still view unlimited articles not put behind the metered paywall.

Now founder Ev Williams is changing that, announcing recently that all stories would be free without limit…as long as the referring click came from Twitter. Coincidentally, Williams was also a cofounder of that social network.

That sounds like a good deal for Twitter users, who no longer have to worry about being hit by a “you’ve read as many stories as you can” message when they click on a Medium.com link.

Unstated by Williams is how that change – just the latest pivot in the site’s monetization strategy – will impact publishers. Medium has raised $132 million in funding since it was founded in 2011, most recently doing a Series C round in mid-2016, and has plans to do more with a valuation of $600 million. So it’s not clear how much cash it has on hand given it can’t find a revenue model that works for more than eight months at a time, epochs marked by the appearance of glowing profiles of Williams that talk at length about his desire to save journalism, the internet or both.

In May of last year, coinciding with yet another change, the title of the latest such profile was the ambitious “And for His Next Act, Ev Williams Will Fix the Internet.” Disappointingly, this latest change is just the kind of thing that will destroy the internet.

Any time you give preferential treatment to one platform or another, something dies. Wireless companies are killing competition in media services by offering the biggest players in a category zero-rating classification on their networks. Facebook is killing legitimate news and civil discourse by prioritizing sensationalistic trash.

If there was a heyday on the internet, it was the early days of Web 2.0 when links were love and we embraced the open web and all the possibilities and potential it offered. One of the best examples of that was Blogger, the first publishing platform founded by Williams, since unlike other early blog software it didn’t require installation on a server.

Instead Williams wants to make Medium into an extension of Twitter, it seems. That’s unsurprising given his involvement with both, but by extending a benefit to Medium that’s not available to others he’s 1) seeking to prop up a product (Medium) that has struggled to find an identity over the last several years, unable to define itself as a publisher or platform, and 2) seeking to play a role in deciding who wins and who loses on the internet, since with such a system in place people may be more likely to click on a Medium link than to one on The Washington Post or other sites where a fully-functional paywall is still intact.

Those aren’t the sort of decisions that should be made by someone who wants to fix the internet. They are the sorts of choices, though, made by someone with a vested interest in advantageously changing the experience on only a portion of the web. It’s the same sort of thinking shown when Facebook introduces Instant Articles to siphon traffic away from publishers. That wasn’t good for the open web and neither is this.

Why Are We Dependent on Platforms?

There’s something that wasn’t sitting quite right with me about this post that was published to The Writing Collective, a showcase publication for writers on Medium. The writer, whose intentions are good and who shares some solid (if anecdotal) advice on content promotion, essentially makes the case that by publishing – or republishing – posts on other platforms other writers can achieve better spread of their material and expose it to a broader audience.

What seemed to irritate me about the advice is that it comes from a place where content reach is so dependent on different platforms to begin with.

We’ve apparently completely lost the notion that you should be writing for 1) an audience and 2) the web as a whole. Those were core principles in the early days of blog writing and management. You wrote for both a select group and for anyone online because you wanted the former to engage, share and take your material seriously, while the latter were addressed through core search optimization tactics that would bring your material to the forefront *because* that first group had already helped it become a go-to resource.

Now we have to talk about platforms. But platforms are antithetical in many ways to the open web and inherently limit the audience that can see it.

If you publish on Medium, good for you, but by doing so you’re saying your primary audience is made up of Medium users. The same goes for Tumblr, LinkedIn and other owned platforms. Those sites – specifically the companies behind them – have set up “surface to other users” as the primary value proposition to those they want to attract or retain as content creators. Facebook makes the same pitch whenever it rolls out a new native content offering such as Facebook Watch and others.

You may distribute links to what you create on those platforms on Twitter or elsewhere, but the advantages of doing so seem to diminish every day and will only continue to do so.

That’s because it’s not in the interest of those platform-owning companies to encourage interoperability with competitors. At some point Medium will turn off the ability to easily share material with Facebook. Or Facebook will stop displaying links to Medium in an optimal way.

This platform-centric environment we find ourselves in isn’t doing anyone any favors. Managing the kind of promotional system the writer of the linked post outlines sounds like a full-time job in and of itself. And as I’ve said repeatedly, the companies that own the platforms are not guaranteed long and fruitful corporate lives. When Yahoo finally sunsets Tumblr people will find they’ve lost years and years of content, engagement history and more. Less serious, though no less real, are the consequences of the platforms making changes to their discovery algorithms, which can turn a top-performer into a nobody with the flick of a switch as the system they had optimized for is no longer in place.

WordPress, which I use almost exclusively, is indeed a platform. And it’s no more assured in perpetuity than any other piece of software. But while it does have a “Follow” feature that is meant for other WordPress publishers and users to easily track their favorite blogs and sites, that’s never been a main component or aspect of the value of using it. Instead that value is derived from the fact that it uses URLs, encourages linking and otherwise has at its heart a commitment to open access and freedom from the tyranny of the network.

There are advantages to cross-posting material across platforms, I know. I recently did just that with my recent story of my experiences working at Starbucks for the last two years, publishing that in full here as well as on Medium and LinkedIn because I wanted to give my story the maximum possible audience.

Even as I understood that tapping into that spread would be advantageous I felt the necessity of doing so was, for lack of a better word, icky. Those platforms aren’t where I want people to solely engage with me or find my content in full. Instead I want those external networks, in particular LinkedIn, to drive traffic back to this site, where I control more of the experience and where people can find out more about me.

It’s essential that we return to the “write for the open web” ideal that was prevalent so many years ago. This isn’t just a longing for the good old days, it’s a plea for us as writers – and creators of all sorts – to understand and embrace that doing so has long-term benefits that vastly outweigh the short-term spikes in engagement and readership we might see elsewhere. Platforms that want to own the entire user experience remove us from the rest of the web, exercising too much control over our entire online life.

As writers, we have the power to unshackle ourselves and our readers from that kind of control.

I Won’t Outsource My Success

There have been a couple stories in the last few weeks about how a new novel or TV show or something has been announced after the writer and his/her material was found on Wattpad, a platform that has positioned itself as a place for aspiring writers to share their work.

The site seems to have been launched years ago as a response to the bevy of stories to that point about how Reddit posts or Twitter accounts were spurring book deals and TV productions. These “plucked from the internet” case studies largely relied on something going viral or becoming otherwise notable outside of those platforms. So Wattpad and a few others came along and quickly started signing deals with media companies, who would officially turn there when looking for new talent and ideas.

Sounds great, right? Like something everyone should be participating in if they want to achieve creative success?

Yeah, not for me. Just as how I removed all my posts from Medium because I was sick of playing that site’s games and being subject to a filtering mechanism I had no control over, I took down everything I had posted to Wattpad.

The decision was rooted in this mindset: I refuse to cede any more control over my fate to a platform that 100% does not have my best interests at heart. That’s the case on Facebook, Medium and just about every other platform that operates some manner of filtered feed between the creator and reader.

I get that by pulling my material I’m actively decreasing my chances of being discovered. But honestly, do any of us want to operate in a system where one player has an outsized amount of power? That puts them in the position of deciding who wins and who loses. It’s not a level playing field, as the platform operator is likely to only surface what it thinks its partners in the media industry will find viable and interesting, not what represents a truly unique or important voice.

My dissent from this system is, I know, largely meaningless and symbolic. No one is going to notice if it’s just me taking some kind of principled stance in defiance. If more people, though, took back control of their own fates by using non-managed platforms a la WordPress, then we better democratize discovery. That will have important long-term repercussions and being to reclaim some agency over what does and doesn’t rise to the top.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Medium, Spotify and the Problem With Editorial Platforms

I know it’s shocking, but last week Medium pivoted again. With little or no warning, it informed publishers using the platform that it was discontinuing their ability to offer paid memberships to readers, cutting off a source of revenue and audience-building for many outlets. The rationale for this latest shift is that Medium felt the memberships offered by individual publications created confusion when Medium itself offers a paid membership tier. That product allows publishers to put some material behind a paywall that extends to the entire site.

That’s reasonable and understandable. It’s conceivable that someone could have been confused when they became a Medium Premium member but then were asked to also become a member of a specific outlet. Still, the capriciousness with which Medium repeatedly treats these changes is remarkable. Over the last three years it’s experimented with one sort of revenue model – both for itself and publications – after another, only to shut down those efforts and leave publishers with their cheese hanging in the wind.

This kind of “let’s just see what works” attitude would be fine if the stakes weren’t so damn high. Journalism is under assault more and more every day, whether it’s from the Google/Amazon/Facebook triopoly that is sucking up all the ad revenue in the industry (the online ad market actually shrunk for everyone but Google and Facebook according to a recent IAB report) or from a president who casually tosses out the idea of revoking the credentials of journalists who publish negative stories about him.

As I’ve stated before, Medium’s problem has long been that it doesn’t know what it is and so has never quite defined what rules it should play by. It wants to be a platform, open to everyone to come and publish their essays and announcements of venture funding. It also wants to be a publisher, curating interesting stories and making other editorial judgments.

The best platforms, though, are both open and dumb. The best publishers are closed and smart. Trying to be open and smart means you’re going to be effective as neither a platform nor a publisher.

Interestingly, that’s the same problem that seems to be cropping up on Spotify. The streaming service announced last week it would be removing the music of R. Kelly from certain playlists and other promoted slots. That music was still available on the service but, in the wake of another wave of allegations of serious sexual assault against the rapper, it wasn’t going to push it to the forefront in any way. This was couched as part of a new “Hate Content and Hateful Conduct” policy. Of course there are issues with how universally or stringently this policy is going to be enforced given there are scads of musicians and artists whose music or other conduct doesn’t pass moral muster in many ways.

In both cases you have corporations making, in some manner, judgments that impact the financial future of those impacted by their decisions. Medium is about to leave another batch of publishers dangling and looking for ways to fill in an unexpected revenue gap. Spotify will put a restrictor cap of sorts on the potential earnings of problematic artists.

Of the two, Spotify’s is perhaps the more defensible. Entertainment vendors of many sorts have long made decisions on what is or isn’t appropriate for promotion. Record stores, when those were a thing, might stock a particular album known to be offensive in some manner but might not put it in the “Hot New Releases” section because they want to sell it but not act as if they were endorsing what was happening. Just recently, Bill Cosby’s sexual assault conviction resulted in not only the stripping of various honors and memberships but in cable channels and streaming providers pulling “The Cosby Show” from their lineups.

Even with Spotify’s slightly understandable position, it’s worth noting how much power “smart” platforms have. If it wants to get out of the editorial game altogether it could stop curating and promoting certain playlists or albums and let people explore and build their own experience. Make the front page customizable by each user instead of a selection of recommendations.

Medium too could simply just cut this out and stop promising to save the internet, dropping the facade of truly being interested in the future of journalism. Let people build their own front page experience and stop using engagement as a way to surface new material to them outside of search.

Neither is likely to do so, though. Nor will Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Apple or any other site/network that wants to “aid in discovery” or some such. They’ve all sold people on the idea that they have the best recommendations. Plus, if they stopped presenting these recommendations they’d have little or no justification for collecting the amount of user data they currently do, which would impact their own advertising revenue.

Give me dumb platforms any day of the week.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Abandoning the Cult of Medium

With the turn of the calendar over to the new year I, as I stated before, decided to reevaluate some things I was doing online. Over the last couple weeks, I’ve rejiggered my personal editorial calendar a bit, deleted over a dozen inactive online profiles and made other changes. One of those was to stop publishing daily on Medium.

I get Medium. And I like the site and think it’s a good publishing platform, albeit one that doesn’t hold a candle to WordPress. There are a couple really good writing-oriented blogs, many of them with a vast number of contributors from the community, that I enjoy reading. Most of the site’s issues stem from its belief that it’s both an outlet, looking to pay writers and producers directly, and a platform, where the publisher has more control over everything, including monetization.

What I’ve noticed in reading those writer-centric blogs is that so many of the tips and tricks and advice about becoming a better writer or optimizing your personal branding are focused solely on doing so on Medium. If you skim or read for more than 48 hours you’ll encounter several – if not more – posts on how to become a top writer…on Medium. How to build your freelance business…using Medium. How to optimize your productivity…on Medium.

That’s all well and good and if that’s what you’re trying to do, more power to you. But it’s starting to seem a bit zealot-like as if there’s this whole group of people who are devoted to the religion of Ev and feel it’s their calling to spread the word to the unwashed. That attitude eventually turned me off for a few reasons.

First, 15 years in the social media/content marketing industry has made me sure of one thing: Platform-specific tactics almost never work out long-term. The required thinking is too narrow and is often inapplicable elsewhere. Plus, what works today isn’t guaranteed to work tomorrow as these platforms can change their systems at any time based on their own priorities and goals, not that of the user. Just ask any media company that pinned its hopes for survival on Facebook.

Second, tips and tricks are fine, but they’re 1) Not often immediately actionable and 2) More or less the same as the last 78 such lists I’ve read. This isn’t a problem that’s unique to the Medium crowd, of course. Much of the advice being doled out by social media “experts” via blogs, Twitter or other platforms often has me checking to see if it was published recently or in 2004 as it sounds exactly the same. I’m more interested in experiences and the lessons drawn from them, which are the kinds of “tips” I’ve tried to share.

Third, they’re cheap. Sorry, but that’s the truth. It’s easy to pound out the 14 (everyone always advises you to go with an unexpected and unusual number) ways to focus on your writing because all you have to do is reword the and reorganize the lists you’ve read from others, being seen as insightful and helpful despite the fact it’s all been said many times before.

Finally, I’m tired of being lectured to by people offering all the insights they’ve gleaned from the 300 posts they’ve published and refuse on principle to take part in conversations with such people. This may sound egotistical, but I’m in the big leagues, man. I’ve been writing a blog since 2004 and have more posts that I’ve published on my own sites or those of my employers as well as ghostwritten posts and more than I can possibly count. I’ve had more posts deleted by blogs I’ve written for that have gone out of business than you’ve had hot meals. Sit down and let the grownups talk

This is my experience and my perspective. If yours is different, good for you. Keep doing what’s working. Myself, I was feeling it was just adding pressure I didn’t need in my life. It wasn’t enough I was trying to succeed in various ventures, I now felt I wasn’t doing enough to succeed..on Medium. That’s alright, I realized, I’m good without that box being checked. And so while I still want to do something on that platform, I’m going to do so slightly differently and on my own terms.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

At Least Medium Is Trying Something Different

A few days ago Medium announced it was opening up the ability to put stories behind a membership wall to all publishers, letting them get paid based on the engagement on those stories. It’s understandable that many would be skeptical given Medium has changed course a number of times over the years and still can’t quite define what it is or what the core value proposition it offers is.

Regardless of that seeming lack of focus, at least Medium is zigging while the rest of the media world is zagging. As advertising dollars are eaten up by Facebook and Google, which take in 60% of the ad revenue in the U.S., publishers are trying to shore up whatever revenue they can and so are turning to subscriptions, hoping that more reliable income will help keep the industry’s head above water. What’s odd is that it’s then turning to those same two players for help. Google recently announced plans to help encourage subscriptions and Facebook is expected to do so before the end of this year.

Medium, it seems, is hoping to find more Netflix/Spotify-esque success. Paid members get all-you-can-eat access to any paywall-blocked content they want to read, regardless of who publishes it.

While Medium is certainly collecting its own forms of data on visitors – how else would it accurately curate the Daily Digest email of stories it believes you’ll be interested in – at least it’s not taking that data and selling it to advertisers who will track you across the web. Compare that to the countless efforts by YouTube, Facebook and others to tie online ads to physical sales through GPS tracking. Or Google’s recent promise to publishers to share search history with publishers so they can more narrowly target ads.

Medium’s formula may not be perfect, but at least it’s trying something new and interesting. It wants to be a platform that pays writers and is encouraging posting of engaging material by paying out based on that engagement. There’s a good chance this only attracts the kind of low-level thinking that’s easy to clap for but doesn’t provide much long-term value to the reader or feature truly innovative thinking, but it’s a step in the right direction. If it can attract enough paid subscribers, the return for writers could be decent, if not substantial.

Regardless, I applaud any effort that doesn’t automatically default to “more and increasingly intrusive advertising.” There are enough players on that particular field and it’s a game that only benefits the few that are powering the tech and sweeping up all the reach (meaning Google and Facebook), not the people actually producing the content. That’s the big difference and what makes Medium’s latest model all the more attractive.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Quick Takes: Content Marketing and Media News for 10/10/17

  • Twitter is reportedly working on a “Save for Later” feature that would presumably compete with Pocket and other services. The goal seems to be to make the product more all-encompassing and therefore stickier to users.
  • An update from eMarketer reports that U.S. adults will spend 12 hours consuming media each day, with half of that time going to digital media.
  • Flipboard is opening up its system so any publisher can apply to create a new Flipboard Magazine, including taking advantage of RSS-powered delivery to ease the process.
  • “Happening Now” is a new Twitter feature collecting updates around a single topic, beginning with sporting events. This might be fine for casual users (which is important) but power users have largely been turned off by Twitter’s algorithm-powered efforts to date, preferring the old-fashioned firehose.
  • Snapchat is launching Context Cards, which will let people swipe on someone Snap to find out more information about that location, including tips and recommendations powered by Foursquare.
  • Medium is incentivizing the use of its platform by offering all writers the opportunity to put their posts behind a membership-exclusive wall and subsequently earn money for them.
  • Things got really weird when Mark Zuckerberg decided a VR tour of post-hurricane Puerto Rico was a great opportunity to promote Facebook Spaces.
  • Media monitoring firm Brandwatch is buying influencer campaign planning tool Buzzsumo to help flesh out analytics and other products.

Quick Takes: Content Marketing and Media News for 9/22/17

  • Hulu is committing $2.5 billion to the arms race it’s engaged in with other streaming companies who see original content as the key to success.
  • An analysis by Parse.ly shows Flipboard is second-only to Twitter in terms of sending referral traffic to publishers on mobile devices.
  • The pilot of the new supernatural comedy “Ghosted” will premiere on Twitter days before it airs on TV, part of a deal between Fox and Twitter.
  • Brands are adding social media influencers to their marketing rosters to harness and own their creativity and I will be over here never stopping hitting my head on my desk.
  • Interesting thinking here about the future of AI in the news industry, both as part of production and consumption.
  • Pinterest is finally rolling out “Sections,” allowing people to create sub-boards to more finely tune their saved and shared links.
  • No surprise that thanks in large part to the (largely) free nature of the platforms, social media is a big part of the marketing plans of small businesses.
  • Audience ad targeting on Pinterest just a lot more detailed.
  • The RIAA is out with a mid-2017 report showing just how much money it’s making from streaming services, a big change from the download model of not too long ago.
  • I’m actually quite shocked at the percentage of traffic to Nordstrom’s that’s reported to come from influencer marketing programs.
  • Medium continues to pivot, including plans to hire editors and curators as part of its next iteration, though Ev Williams still doesn’t have a clear answer to what the site/platform is.
  • Female influencers aren’t huge on Snapchat, preferring Instagram and even Pinterest.
  • Facebook is introducing a new way to target offline retail customers with ads and tie those ads to physical sales. This is super-creepy and not far off from what I predicted here.

Content Marketing Updates for 8/25/17

  • Snapchat has introduced Crowd Surf, a new system that uses artificial intelligence to find when many people are sharing video from a concert and assemble also those clips into a single video.
  • Facebook has redesigned its “trending news” section for mobile reading, making it easier to sort through updates and including related stories from a variety of outlets.
  • A redesign of the mobile News Feed in general is designed to emphasize visibility into who’s engaging with a post, where a link might take you and more to make the whole process, presumably, a bit more transparent. It also updated a number of features in the Camera app.
  • A new green dot will show you when someone has been active on Tumblr recently, letting you know who might be available to chat.
  • Instagram has added comment threading to help keep conversations going more naturally.
  • LinkedIn has introduced a new native video creation tool for the mobile app that will be rolling out to all users over time.
  • I’m not going to be switching over to Ghost anytime soon, but it’s great to not only see someone innovating in the blog platform space but also doing so in an open-source manner.
  • Twitter’s Explore tab will begin showing people topics they may be interested in sorted in a way that’s based on their usage of the platform. That’s an attempt to make valuable, relevant information more prevalent, especially to new users.
  • Interesting statistics here on why young adult shoppers prefer the experience on a brand’s own website as opposed to that of a retailer.
  • Could be bad news for Snapchat as influencers identify it as the one they are or are most likely to drop in favor of Instagram and others.
  • Facebook is selling in-stream spots separate from bundled News Feed buys, something that was apparently high up on the list of requests from agencies.
  • The photo you’re responding to on Instagram will now appear as a sticker in the photo you take as the response. Sure, why not.
  • Facebook’s latest target in the News Feed: Video clickbait. Specifically, it’s taking aim at some of the slimy tactics disreputable publishers engage in to trick people into playing their videos.
  • Apparently we’re more prone to make rash, impulsive shopping decisions on our phones than we are in person or on our desktop computers.
  • After bringing GIF-like previews to YouTube, Google is now introducing six-second previews of videos directly in search results to, it says, help inform people as to what they’re about to click on.
  • YouTube is curating a “Breaking news” section across platforms to help people stay connected and/or know what level of panic and despair to maintain.
  • Digital video advertising is growing ever bigger in absolute dollars, but as a percentage of overall digital ad budgets it’s remaining pretty flat.
  • Chat bots are something marketers need to educate themselves on ASAP.
  • Facebook’s new tool lets brands directly boost posts from influencers they’ve engaged in branded content campaigns, keeping the original person’s branding on the post. Ad execs, though, worry that this will lead to influencer posts being suppressed in the feed, diminishing reach unless dollars are spent.
  • Snapchat is the latest platform company to announce it will be moving into providing a home for exclusive scripted video content.
  • Some early success stories coming out of Facebook Watch, though I have to wonder how much of that comes from these videos being given preferential treatment in the News Feed.
  • You can now take 360-degree photos and video from within the Facebook app itself.
  • Publishers in the Medium Partner Program will have the option of making stories available only to members and then be paid based on engagement and reach. That also includes a metered paywall limiting non-members to a set number of “free” posts they can read per month.
  • As part of its effort to help restore trust in what news is shared on its platform, Facebook will display media brand logos next to stories from that site.
  • New updates to the Musical.ly app include a section of recommendations based on what you’ve watched and enhanced user profiles.
  • Email management software is the most common tool used by content marketers, followed by content management systems.
  • Snapchat will let advertisers control whether their ads appear alongside all content or just that produced by the company itself and its media partners.
  • You can now edit Anchor’s new videos and share snippets.

Medium’s Pivots Throw Off More Publishers

Last year Medium made a big push to line up a number of high-profile publishers to migrate to its site. It was part of Medium’s ongoing balancing act between being a straight-up publishing platform a la WordPress and a publishing company with a number of brands under its umbrella. It attracted The Ringer, Film School Rejects, Think Progress and others and made a big deal of how it would handle ad sales as well as offer other attractive features to take some of the pressure off those publishers so they could stop worrying about business and keep working on content.

Earlier this year Medium’s Ev Williams announced the company was pivoting and that it would shutter many of those logistical support operations. Since then FSR – and now The Ringer – have announced they will leave Medium and go elsewhere. FSR decided to go back to WordPress while Bill Simmons’ The Ringer has opted to seek hosting and ad sales help from Vox Media.

Lots of headlines were generated as various sites talked about how and why they were choosing Medium and the future of that site seemed to be bright. But the shift in focus this year has called it into question and the doubts are only growing with each new publisher that abandons it for greener (literally in terms of dollars) pastures.

As I’ve said many times before, this is just the latest in Medium’s seemingly endless lack of ability to answer the question of exactly what it is. There’s no doubt it’s a decent publishing platform, but it’s not as powerful as WordPress or other tools. The main attraction seems to be the network and how the site handles discovery, promising to surface content to interested readers in ways that WP and others don’t. But at the same time it’s tried to be the modern version of something like Time Inc., a company that has publications in its portfolio. It’s not quite that, though, since it doesn’t have the same oversight or editorial role.

If Medium won’t provide the kind of support for big-name publishers then the best bet it can make is to continue working to attract independent writers and bloggers. For that it will continue to make the same “we’ll show off your work to friends” pitch it’s been making for years.

In that sense it’s the very culmination of the “blogging is free” mindset that has been plaguing the online world since the early days of Web 2.0. Whereas staring a WordPress or other blog brings with it a number of design and other considerations (especially if you’re a brand looking to start a corporate blog), Medium is simple: Just sign up and start publishing. There are no look and feel factors to deal with.

The problem that’s unique to Medium, especially when compared to something like WordPress, is that you’re subject to Medium’s terms and conditions. Yes, that’s true on WP as well, but with WP’s open source commitment you’re pretty safe if Automattic, which manages it, should go under. WordPress will go on because it’s embedded in a large community. Barring a bigger change in strategy, if (or when) Medium goes under then that’s just it. You will likely be able to export your posts for usage elsewhere, but that network will be gone.

The Ringer, FSR and the other publications that are exiting Medium have found that a company that can’t decide between being a platform and a publisher is committed to no one who chooses either option. Medium once more faces a moment where it has to decide what it is and wants to be before any path forward can be taken.