What message should I take from Medium?

Because there’s not enough places for people to be published without getting paid, we now have Medium, “a better place to read and write things that matter.”

Medium has been on my radar for a while thanks to the occasional mention in my Twitter feed, but it was only recently that I visited the site to read an article written by an industry peer.

I really enjoyed what she wrote because it was personal and original, but otherwise I wonder how Medium is different or better than any other online platform. After perusing some recent Editor’s Picks, I can’t say the content is any more compelling than what I’ve read on other digital-first / digital-only media outlets or on traditional, main stream media sites. Much of it reminds me of the link bait I come across on Twitter.

Contributing content to Medium is limited right now, even if you do register. What the criteria is for being allowed to publish on the site is a mystery to me; it’s certainly not quality of writing because with rare exception, of the 10 articles I read, most were either  self-indulgent, pointless ramblings or poorly written grammatically and structurally. Overall they lacked depth.

I also encountered the same voices from elsewhere. I’m not sure why Facebook’s product design director needs another platform to post a profanity-laced and ultimately empty rant about design. I don’t want to read another blog by Jeff Jarvis. He gets enough attention already. And I definitely don’t need yet another blog post by a self-described entrepreneur giving advice about growing a startup.

It’s not that I didn’t enjoy any articles because I did find one or two, but even those were on topics or concepts I’d read about plenty of times before and these just provided someone’s personal perspective, not new knowledge. One could argue that’s valuable in and of itself, but to me it represents a larger frustration I have with online content: for every one real article that delves into something in a meaningful manner there’s at least a dozen articles or blog posts that have summarized it or “curated” it. I suppose that’s better than an opinionated blog masquerading as a news article by a writer who thinks linking out to other articles is an adequate substitute for picking up the phone and interviewing a source.

What also struck me about Medium is that I’m not sure who the target audience is. “A better place to read and write things that matter” is nebulous and ultimately meaningless. When I was in journalism school we were always reminded by professors to remember who the audience was when pitching and writing stories for the student newspaper. That rule has stayed with me to this day. Who is supposed to be reading Medium? Entrepreneurs? Artists? Application developers? I have no idea and I’m unclear if I should be taking the time to browse through it.

Online content is a lot like cable TV, which I recently cancelled: there’s hundreds of channels but nothing on, and Medium strikes me as just one more place that adds to the noise I have to “channel surf” through to find the occasional gem. Unless it really defines what it is, and soon, Medium could easily find itself the flavour of the month in a sea of online soapboxes.

Gary Hilson is a Toronto-based freelance writer, editor and content strategist storyteller.

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