There's a new publishing startup that's gotten some people excited because it's different than the things out there—especially since those things have given us the chaotic Internet society we live in today. It's called Medium and it was created by Evan Williams and Biz Stone, the guys who started Blogger and Twitter. It only exists in private beta so far, but has been called "the next big thing in Web publishing" by Computer World and Williams himself described it as an "evolutionary leap" in publishing in an introductory blog post. The idea is that the Internet has given a lot of people a voice, but what's out there isn't all that great. Why? Clutter for one thing. Medium will fix that, changing the way things get published, say Williams and Stone. But, others are a bit more skeptical about the revolutionary possibilities behind this new platform.
The reason this is different than the tools around today, like Tumblr or Twitter or Word Press is that it supposedly values quality, while also lowering the barrier to being a blogger. "Posting on Medium (not yet open to everyone) is elegant and easy, and you can do so without the burden of becoming a blogger or worrying about developing an audience," writes Williams. It's "easy" because you don't have to think up and design your own template or even theme. All the posts get put into "categories" (like: Been There, Loved That), which organize authors' writing and images around an already existing idea. Medium solves the "quality" problem by having a voting system, which favors better stuff, pushing it to the top. Unlike on most sites, things don't show up in chronological order. This, as Williams explains, will save the Internet because:
Still, some things haven’t evolved as much as we would have expected. Lots of services have successfully lowered the bar for sharing information, but there’s been less progress toward raising the quality of what’s produced. While it’s great that you can be a one-person media company, it’d be even better if there were more ways you could work with others. And in many ways, the web is still mimicking print concepts, while not even catching up to it in terms of layout, design, and clarity of experience.
In other words: Medium will make the Internet easy, beautiful, and high quality all at once.
Or at least that's the promise. The people who live and work in this electronic world aren't quite convinced.
- What kind of people will want to leave their current platforms for Medium? "I’m unclear who, beyond an initial crowd of try-anything-once types, will want to publish via Medium, as lovely as it is," Neiman Lab's Joshua Benton writes. People who want to retain ownership of their stuff, for example, won't want to give that up to some sort of group collective. Who gets the book deal for the Been There, Loved That, for example? And the droves satisfied with the ease (and ugliness) of Facebook won't migrate either. "Is there an audience between those two poles that’s big enough to build something lasting?"
- How will it make money? Right now Medium has no ads on it. It might not care about that at the moment, but eventually, The Awl's Choire Sicha points out, it will. " It's great to build a fun product! But it's not like people are going to spend millions on making something and have it be a happy write-off in three years," he writes. Tech blogger Anil Dash suggests "native" advertising will be the savior. Sicha doesn't have faith in that, arguing that this "native" stuff will be more annoying to users than what we have now. "If they don't cook up some wacky subscription model or something surprising (I won't rule that out!), they'll likely be running advertising that has a high opportunity to be deceptive—or at least, intrusive in a way that no display ad could ever be," he writes. That doesn't sound like evolution, but more like a mutation.
- This isn't that different than what's out there now. Medium looks and works like Pinterest, Tumblr and Reddit. Tech blogger Mathew Ingram called it "a cross between Tumblr and Pinterest" on Twitter. "Right now it just seems like a Frankensteinish PinTumblReddit," wrote Gizmodo's Mario Aguilar. It's a blog that sorts things differently than blogs out there today.
Though, just because this particular iteration of the future may not work, the idea of changing the values of this Internet through a changed medium has inspired. "There are seeds of a backlash against the beautiful chaos the web hath wrought, the desire for a flight to quality. There will be new ways beyond ease of use to harness the creative powers of the audience," writes Benton. Even if Medium doesn't define that revolution, it reminds us that the Internet is not dead, and that it continues to evolve.