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“Just Writing” Isn’t Enough

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Just Writing isn't Enough

New blogging platforms and services are popping up all over the place to simplify the process of writing and publishing on the web, as if it wasn’t simple enough already.

One of these services is called Medium, self-described as “a better place to read and write things that matter.” The design is minimalistic, the typography is great, and most importantly, the content is high-quality.

It also encourages collaboration with a pretty unique commenting system, called “Notes” on Medium, that allow other users to laser-target a certain bit of content in an article and leave feedback on it.

But what is it actually like to write for Medium? An insightful article I read recently was Why I Left Medium by Kenneth Reitz.

The Draw

Reitz cited the following reasons for switching his blog over to Medium.

  • Great typography
  • Encourages collaboration
  • Forces photos for every post
  • Responsive design

Yep, it certainly does have great typography. Just look at a post on Medium. It’s so easy to read, on any device (this is where the responsive design part comes in).

I’m not sure why forcing photos on every post would be considered something positive. It sounds more like a burden to track down a relevant, copyright-friendly photo to attach to every single one of your posts.

I thought we were putting the focus on writing?

The Downsides

Reitz ultimately left Medium in favor of a self-hosted WordPress blog because of some of Medium’s limitations.

  • No content embedding
  • No analytics or referral data
  • No custom domains
  • No custom post URLs or “slugs”

All you can do is keep writing, and have your articles hosted on Medium.com. And repeat. And that’s it

You Do More Than Just Writing

The problem with Medium is, chances are, you do more than “just writing” on your blog.

  • You embed stuff. Tweets, YouTube videos, Instagram photos, SlideShare presentations. WordPress makes it really easy to do that.
  • You check your stats. You see what content is popular, what isn’t, and tailor your future content strategy using that data. Whether it be through Google Analytics, Woopra, Jetpack (if you use WordPress) or literally any other analytics service.
  • You have an identity. You have a domain name that represents your name, your business, and/or your organization. When your URLs are structured like https://medium.com/about/9e53ca408c48, it’s kind of hard to stand out.

Speaking of URLs, does “9e53ca408c48″ accurately reflect the content of that URL? Unlikely. WordPress makes it easy to design your URLs in a meaningful (and SEO-friendly) way.

My point is, when you self-host a WordPress site, you can do pretty much whatever you want with it.

Conclusion

The only really unique/innovative feature I see in Medium is its notes feature (as opposed to traditional blog commenting) which is supposed to encourage “collaboration” among other writers. Time will tell how well that actually works.

Everything else design-wise, all the way from the smooth responsive design and the super-clean typography, can be replicated with a solid, responsive WordPress blogging theme.

I like minimalism and simplicity just as much as the next person, but I think “restrictivism” would be a more appropriate word when it comes to Medium and all of its limitations.

I’m not trashing Medium. On the contrary, I think it’s a pretty cool service with cool people behind it. I’d personally never use it, but I’m pretty gung-ho on self-hosting your own websites for (what I hope are) obvious reasons.

Sure, if all you want to do is write, and not worry about absolutely anything else, Medium would be perfect for you. But chances are, “just writing” isn’t enough.

  • http://www.WordSkill.com donnacha of WordSkill

    The notes feature might, as you say, be Medium’s only truly innovative feature but it is one Hell of an important one. For various reasons, mostly revolving around the problem of lowering the barrier to engagement, it is much better than traditional WordPress commenting.

    For years, long before Medium, I’ve been searching for a good paragraph commenting plugin and, more recently, I had hoped that the success of Medium would prompt developers to try a WordPress version but, so far, I am unaware of any.

    Ironically, I think Medium got the idea from the old CommentPress WordPress plugin which, sadly, no longer receives much active development, looks quite bad and is tricky to modify.

    I would love to see someone bring this concept up-to-date for WordPress, it has a ton of commercial potential as a unique theme or plugin, I have several stalled projects that it would be perfect for.

    • Leland

      Hey Donnacha, first of all, thanks so much for leaving a comment. You probably hear this a lot but, you’re one of my favorite people in the WordPress community to read comments by.

      I do agree with you about Medium’s notes feature, my main concern is that people are so used to just scrolling down and leaving a comment on the entire article, they may have trouble grasping the concept of leaving a note on a specific sentence instead.

      Before I posted this I asked if there were similar solutions for WordPress. Highlighter came up. Spectacu.la discussion is another. I’ve never heard of CommentPress before now, but there is clearly room for improvement in bringing similar functionality to WordPress.

      • http://www.WordSkill.com donnacha of WordSkill

        Oh, that’s very kind of you to say, thanks Leland, I enjoy your writing too, you’ve got a very engaging style.

        The real strength of Medium/CommentPress-style commenting, rather than just being a drop-in replacement for normal blog comments, is that it encourages new forms of interaction, particularly in terms of group collaboration, proof-reading and annotation, where being able to tack a comment (and ensuing discussion) onto a specific paragraph will be clearer and save everyone a lot of time.

        Thanks for pointing out Highlighter and Spectacu.la, I had not been aware of them.

        Highlighter seems technically impressive but doesn’t quite connect with the potential for greater engagement which I sense could be unearthed if comments could both be paragraph specific and run alongside the post, for all to see, as opposed to starting discussions in a group somewhere else.

        Spectacu.la didn’t impress – threaded, AJAXified comments, I guess that is all good stuff, improving upon traditional commenting, but it doesn’t come close to the radically different approach of Medium.

        Looking at CommentPress again, I guess that remains the closest that we, in the WordPress world, have to Medium, it is just a shame that more developers haven’t spotted the opportunity to build on and improve it.