How Can We Change The Medium? –

Facebook is for keeping tabs on friends, Instagram for selfies, Snapchat for secret talks, Twitter for news, Google Plus for alone time, and I guess Medium to learn how to live better.

Is it me or somehow the most recommended stories on Medium have either to do with startups, life or productivity? Sometimes, all three topics are squeezed in a single story — How to be super productive in your startup and change your life… or something like that.

People are constantly trying to find a way to hack their lives to greatness. Medium doesn’t help much with the solution, but we surely read an uplifting article and forget the problem (for sometime).

The stories on film, politics and sports somehow get left out. Of course there are people on Medium who write great stories on these topics, but they don’t get a lot of attention compared to the sensational, easy to digest, and hip topics.

Even I wrote stories about startups without knowing a lot. I had just started to build a company and shared my experiences in an all knowing tone and behaved as though I’ve figured it all out.

After that my company bombed and I finally got some perspective — like me, there are countless people who show their (pseudo-)expertise on Medium to build followers (like Twitter) so as to market themselves/their products (again… like Twitter).

Medium is essentially about to become (read has become) a marketing platform. I just hope that day doesn’t come when the difference between Medium and Twitter is just 140 characters.

Should we change it? I think so. Can we change it? I have two small perspectives.

A Platform With Invisible Followers

Followers add a lot of bias. Followers give celebrity status. After that even if one writes shit, people read… and believe. Sure we can follow someone to keep track of his/her writings, but I don’t think that there is any need to show the number of followers in the profile page.

I’d suggest Medium to only display the people we follow thereby letting others know that their articles are worth reading. If we can undo the follower bias, I think everybody becomes a writer and nobody really becomes a celebrity. On top of that, concepts of followers, subscribers , etc., have become cliched now. I think it does more harm than good as it gives more importance to the user than the content. In any content driven site like Twitter or Medium, ideally content should be the king.

Yes I agree that it’s a good social boost to become a celebrity, but if this motivation discredits the whole platform, then why do we need it? There are good writers, thinkers, designers, journalists, analysts out there who are in for the feedback, responses and discussions. Keeping only the serious writers would make more sense.

Medium had set out to be different. This is one way of making a difference.

Giving More Importance to Reads Than Recommends

Like number of followers, recommendations are a huge bias. Often we might consider the articles with less recommendations to be less popular and prefer to read the ones with more green hearts. The ones with less recommendations often get lost.

Which one from the above search result would you prefer to read?

I am not suggesting that the ones with less recommendations are the good ones and all those with more are not so good. I’m suggesting that recommendations might not be a good way (or the only way) to rank articles. Recommendations seems to encourage writers to focus on writing more sensational pieces just to be heard. It is not in tandem with writing to share ideas and information.

But recommendations do boost a writer’s self esteem and hence give encouragement. We all need validation, especially new writers like me. So we can’t really throw away recommendations altogether.

I think total recommendations in a story should be made invisible. Also, the heart doesn’t appear unless you’ve read the article. The reader might just scroll through the page without reading it, but even this would be better than putting the heart out front and thereby encouraging us to tap it even before reading the first line of an article. Adding some friction to recommending might actually make it better. If the user takes some effort to go and recommend it, the article actually might be worth a read.

I would prefer number of reads over recommendations. When we read an article, we don’t have to voluntarily do anything which is better than voluntarily recommending an article without reading it.

Author: Abhishek Chakraborty

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