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My love-hate relationship with Medium

By turns liberating and maddening, Medium has potential as a next-generation instrument for writers and readers. But it also embodies a lot of what’s wrong with the web.

The Stanford Dish Run is one of many scenic routes detained on Mark Lowenstein’s Great Runs site on Medium.
Lam L. / Yelp

A version of this essay was originally published at Tech.pinions, a website dedicated to informed opinions, insight and perspective on the tech industry.


Clarification: In this opinion piece, reposted on Recode on Monday, Mark Lowenstein asserts that "as an author on Medium, there is presently no way to make any money from content." A Medium spokeswoman responded and disagreed, saying, "for individual creators, we recently launched our beta creative exchange, which enables writers and brands to work together to create great content — and make money. It is currently in closed beta but individuals wishing to participate in the future can sign up here. Creators are also free to request micro-payments and secure independent sponsorships should they choose, which several have done."

In the essay, Lowenstein also wrote that Medium 'is not a CMS at all," to which Medium replied, "It appears he is unhappy with our CMS capabilities for individuals, but Medium is in fact a content management system."

By day, I am a wireless industry analyst and consultant. By night and on weekends, besides being an exercise and outdoors enthusiast, I write running guides. A few years ago, I self-published three books on running in the Boston area. In late 2015, I started a new project called Great Runs, which is a guide to the best places to go running in the world’s major cities and destinations. It’s geared toward travelers who run and runners who travel. This time, I decided to develop the content online, but I wanted more than a traditional blogging platform. A colleague recommended Medium, the online publishing platform started in 2013 by Twitter co-founder Evan Williams.

This has been a love-hate relationship from the get-go. By turns liberating and also maddening. I decided to focus a column on Medium because of its potential as a next-generation instrument for writers and readers: Ease of use, democratization and social journalism. But Medium also embodies a lot of what’s wrong with the web.

By turns liberating and maddening, Medium has potential as a next-generation instrument for writers and readers. But it also embodies a lot of what’s wrong with the web.

So here’s what’s fantastic. Medium is essentially a Version 2.0 blogging platform, allowing anyone from amateurs to professionals to corporations to post a story. Within five minutes, I was signed up and writing. The site is easy to use and visually elegant. Medium has kept things very simple, with limited formatting options. It’s easy to insert images, and they align and look beautiful. Content is auto-saved nearly constantly. I’ve hired some freelancers to develop content, and it’s easy to add them to Medium and edit their work. Write a piece, press "publish" and ba-bang, it’s out there for everyone to see. Social media sharing tools are well-integrated.

Authors are also interested in community, so the main Medium site has a list of tabs including Editor’s Picks, topics of the day and "For You," which seems to choose articles based primarily on folks I follow on Twitter, LinkedIn contacts and perhaps some relationship to tags in my stories (running, fitness, travel, etc.).

So, in many ways, Medium has been great. I’ve got more than 50 city guides up on the platform, and the responsive Great Runs "site" looks great on PCs, tablets and phones. I didn’t have to get a publisher or hire a web/WordPress/app developer.

And now for the downside. First beef: Discovery. Despite some pretty good content and a well-defined target market, getting my stuff discovered on Medium is hard. Really hard. The whole idea of a blog or "social journalism," as I think Ev calls it, is to build an audience. Yes, your Medium content is easily shared with your Twitter followers or your Facebook friends. So it’s great for Luluemon, which already has a huge social media presence. It now has more than 10,000 "followers" on Medium, and tons of folks recommending its content. For brands, established authors, and the companies who are seemingly flocking to Medium, it’s great. Because they already have an audience.

Medium offers very little in the way of guidance or tutorials to help one get discovered. There is nobody one can talk to, unless you’re an established brand or company who wants Medium to host your content. I’d bet many writers would be willing to pay a modest fee, or sign up for a premium membership with Medium, for some help building an audience/following and getting their content discovered.

My second major beef is monetization. As a side note, I am curious how Medium itself plans to make money. But as an author on Medium, there is presently no way to make any money from content. Blog sites, WordPress sites and so on all have some opportunity to run ads, host sponsors or sell content. But on Medium, nothing. Not even the ability to direct one’s Medium audience to a site where content could potentially be monetized in some way.

There needs to be some delineation between the individual who wants to just post the occasional story on Medium and the individual/brand who want to use Medium for at least semi-professional or business purposes.

I’d even welcome some communication from Medium, a roadmap of sorts, indicating, like so many other internet-based businesses, that it is "building its audience," with plans to monetize that audience in the future. Admittedly, not every writer wants to monetize their content on Medium — some just want an outlet to easily post content or want additional exposure for their brand. But I can’t see how this is sustainable long-term for Medium itself as a business or for "amateur" authors.

Third, Medium is awful as a content-management system. In fact, it’s not a CMS at all. There are practically no tools or options for organizing your content. Suppose you have 25 stories on your Medium page. There’s no way to list them alphabetically, by date or in any of the ways one thinks about organizing content. For those visiting your Medium page, it’s just one long scroll of stories, listed in seemingly random fashion. Medium did recently introduce tabs, for homepage navigation, but there’s no way to organize content within a tab. Maddening.

Fourth, Medium’s lack of help and support options is frustrating. I realize that it is a startup (albeit well-funded), this is the web, and this is the way of Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, WordPress and the like. One can send Medium an email with a question or a problem, but one senses that its customer support operation is a boiler room staffed with folks who mainly deal with FAQs and technical issues. Really, there’s no ability to speak with a professional who can help you make Medium an effective platform or, for that matter, how you can help make Medium more effective as well. ​

Given all these shortcomings and the lack of any real knowledge or roadmap on where Medium is going, I’m starting to give up on Medium. I’ve hired a WordPress developer, and I’m starting to migrate content to that site. I’m feeling very 2005.

In the end, some of Medium’s greatest benefits are also its biggest liabilities. Anyone can write on Medium. Which means anyone can write on Medium. There needs to be some delineation between the individual who wants to just post the occasional story on Medium and the individual/brand who want to use Medium for at least semi-professional or business purposes.


A leading wireless industry analyst and consultant, Mark Lowenstein is the managing director of Mobile Ecosystem. Most recently, Lowenstein was a member of the senior leadership team at Verizon Wireless, where as vice president of strategy he led the company’s efforts in product and business planning, market segmentation, national pricing and customer intelligence for both consumer and enterprise markets. Reach him @marklowenstein.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.

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