What do you do when you’ve already launched two incredibly successful publishing platforms? If you’re Twitter co-founders Evan Williams and Biz Stone, the answer is simple: work on another one.
Just over a week ago Obvious Corporation, the company that developed Blogger and Twitter, unveiled Medium, a collaborative publishing tool designed as a simple way for users to express themselves online with images and text. At first glance this basic premise suggests that Medium has little to offer that is not already provided by other blogging sites. Indeed, GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram commentedthat Medium “feels like a cross between Tumblr and Pinterest.” The site’s format is agreeably simple, with both text and photos organised on a grid-based layout. Medium, like Tumblr, provides a simple article template for each post, and a lack of superfluous visual elements and advertisements contribute to an overall sense of elegance and efficiency.
Where Medium aims to differentiate itself from its closest competitors is in its attitude to content and its relationship with contributors. In an introductory noteposted on Medium’s website, Williams explains that although “[l]ots of services have successfully lowered the bar for sharing information… there’s been less progress toward raising the quality of what’s produced.” The platform aims to emphasise the importance of what is written, not who wrote it, by grouping submitted content into "collections," each of which have their own theme and template. The collection system means that individuals are free to post as much or as little as they wish, “without the burden of becoming a blogger or worrying about developing an audience." As Joshua Benton succinctly put it in an article on Medium for Nieman Lab: “Topic triumphs over author.”
Williams and his team have eschewed reverse chronological ranking of posts, which is a key characteristic of Twitter, in favour of a Digg-esque voting system. Editorial control is placed in the hands of users, who can help a blog entry climb to the top of a collection by clicking on the “This is good” button found at the bottom of each post. How effective this system will be in highlighting quality content remains to be seen. News and blogging sites frequently struggle to find a balance between the new and the interesting, and Medium is likely to be no different on that score.
Reaction to the Medium "prototype" has so far been cautious. Media commentators have generally been impressed by the site’s aesthetic qualities, but are scepticalas to whether the venture is unique enough to become a runaway success. It’s true that the growing number of blogging platforms claiming to offer high-quality content, such as Branch and Svbtle, could eat into Medium’s potential user-base, but Stone and Williams have a pretty decent track record in making a success of personal publishing tools. True, when Twitter was launched it was so unique that it faced very few direct competitors, but it nonetheless had to combat the widespread belief that “twittering is for twits”before it could become the social media behemoth it is today.
For the moment Medium is in its "preview" stage, and only a small group of the founders’ friends and family are able to post contributions, but this will soon be expanded to those who register to the site. Once that happens it will be interesting to see how many users Medium is able to attract (and retain) and what kinds of projects they use it for.