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Ask HN: Why have most tech and startup-related bloggers moved to Medium?
81 points by carlesfe on Jan 5, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 54 comments
In the last year I saw how many tech and startup-related people moved their blogs to Medium, from wordpress, blogger, Google+ or even self-hosted.

I'm asking this with no agenda and (hopefully) trying to avoid a flame war.

I was wondering if there are any substantial gains by moving your content to Medium, or is it mainly because of the fad/coolness factor. Maybe it is the community? In any case, I'd like to investigate further into this.

Do you have a first-hand experience you can share? Have you seen an increase in visits or quality of contributions by moving to Medium?




(Disclosure: I'm an advisor.)

Some of this is selection bias, since the most popular blogging platforms (depending on how one defines it) could be Tumblr or WordPress. But within the community you mention, Medium has a few traits that earned its place as the forum for these posts.

First, there is distribution built into the platform. Recommendations can get a piece in front of a lot more readers, especially when a piece gets promoted in an email or through notifications in the app.

Next, there's the writing experience. I've used pretty much every major English language blogging platform and Medium has the simplest, smoothest writing experience, in part because they remove so many design and formatting options, while still leaving the ones most people want.

The final key reason is the one that geeks here will probably find most annoying, and that is what Medium signifies in culture. It's come to represent a certain kind of writing that, when good, is quite thoughtful, but when self-serving (as were many early, high-visibility Medium pieces), can be insufferable. But platforms come to signify meaning; marketers write thinkpieces on LinkedIn, fanfic writers gravitate to Wattpad, and people with illicit data dumps find their way to Pastebin. There's no reason any of these sites couldn't host any piece of writing, but each community is a place that represents something.

I've been blogging for almost 17 years, and being busy is the only thing that's really kept me from moving my blog to Medium. I understand others have legitimate qualms about using hosted services, but given their APIs, I'm not worried about that. And a tool that's robust enough to host the White House's transcript of the State of the Union will definitely handle my dinky blog.


My qualm with Medium isn't the idea of a hosted service, or the bloat, or even the annoying preciousness you allude to, but the degree of reader surveillance baked into the site. It pings back your exact scroll position in the document very frequently, and the behavior is neither advertised or (last time I checked) something you can disable.

I'm kind of surprised you're a Medium advisor given that you are not the biggest fan of surveillance culture yourself.


It's interesting you pointed out the scroll position in particular.

Of all the things the site likely tracks, the scroll position is probably the least malicious, however it is the most present. It has a real time 'we are watching you right now' feel to it which is possibly why it irked you more than the fact that they probably just logged your country, IP address, screen resolution, OS and browser version, language preference and keyboard layout.

I imagine they use the scroll data to determine abandonment of the article, which is very valuable to marketers and writers.

I wouldn't be surprised if the scroll data and other usage metrics are part of Medium's monetization strategy.


> logged your country, IP address, screen resolution, OS and browser version, language preference and keyboard layout

I've got some bad news for you friend, all of that is tracked by every site that uses google analytics. Medium post [1] about abandonment: 7 minutes is optimal. They have plenty of other posts about writing good content based on their user metrics.

1: https://medium.com/data-lab/the-optimal-post-is-7-minutes-74...


Scroll data is also great for gauging how much time the user is actually reading vs just has a webpage open. I imagine they could feed that data into recommendation algorithms with the aim of increasing average time on site.


They tell you how many viewers read your post in the post analytics.


Sure, tracking how far down the page you read is a form of surveillance, but it's an incredibly anodyne one. It's possible to be upset about the government reading all your emails, and still find inoffensive a private company tracking (via an SSL-encrypted tunnel) how users interact with content they serve.


" I've used pretty much every major English language blogging platform and Medium has the simplest, smoothest writing experience, in part because they remove so many design and formatting options, while still leaving the ones most people want."

    "I contend that text-based websites
     should not exceed in size the 
     major works of Russian literature." [0]
But does it have to be so weighty? cf: "The Website Obesity Crisis" discussion of 4 days ago.

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10820445


Fad/coolness factor. As a result, the quality of Medium articles is highly variable, which is a source of personal frustration.

I published my anti-Product Hunt post there to get a sense of Medium's system nowadays: https://medium.com/@minimaxir/the-questions-on-transparency-...

It's nothing special. Yes, it looks pretty, but if every blog looks the same, then no blog is special. Regardless, there is not as much control as my Jekyll blog, anyways, which I need.

Also, the commenting system is hilariously bad to the point of it being a dark pattern: you have to click on each comment to reply or see who even liked each comment. You also have to click a comment to see any replies to the comment, and this nests infinitely. To see a comment 3 levels deep, you need to visit 4 different, slow-loading pages.


I would also go with the Fad/Coolness factor. And if that is why you are posting stuff there you are going to have a really bad time in a few years when it isn't so cool anymore. Been around long enough to see this happen many times before. In six months or six years Medium will just be that place where some people post, but all of the 'cool kids' are posting over on the new platform 'A' because it is incrementally better. If you are really lucky Medium will end up like Blogger with a perfectly okay reputation and is actually still getting improvements, if your unlucky in two years you will have one months to manually scrape any stuff you want before the site is shutdown.

The same can be said of so many things. Most brands are not great forever. Remember when having a [insert email provider] email address was a thing? How about storing your photos on [insert service here]? And don't forget about [video upload site] or [source control site]. If you have the time to migrate from one service to the next go right ahead and play the game every few years.

How many more years do you think it will be before you will feel silly that you have code still on SourceForge? How about HotMail, GeoCities, MySpace, or AIM? What about GitHub, Picasa, Gmail, Twitter, or Facebook? Or dare I say even HackerNews?


if your unlucky in two years you will have one months to manually scrape any stuff you want before the site is shutdown.

You can download your Medium content with a single click.

Remember when having a [insert email provider] email address was a thing? ... And don't forget about [video upload site] or [source control site]. If you have the time to migrate from one service to the next go right ahead and play the game every few years.

Gmail, YouTube, Github. If they all gave you the same access to your content as Medium, and one of them were to disappear tomorrow, you will have had to "play the game" once every nine years on average per service. I doubt your worst-case definition of "every few years" is a common one.

If you are really lucky Medium will end up like Blogger with a perfectly okay reputation and is actually still getting improvements

You should disclose that you blog at Blogger. It doesn't help me personally make sense of the rest of your comment, but it might be relevant to others.


Yup I have a blog on Blogger, it isn't the best, it isn't the worst. It is a lot better than other services that I have used in the past that eventually died off. I am really there only because I was there yesterday, but like others I also have been thinking of moving, but haven't done anything yet. I do want to give thanks to Google for buying them and letting them just get better over time rather then every few months trying to figure out a growth monetization strategy that ultimately would kill it.

You might be right, perhaps it isn't every few years, but if a service only lasts on average 9 years, but you have n services how often will you be forced to migrate something? I feel like I don't have too much, but once or twice a year I have to migrate some data (free and what I pay for) and while when I was younger and had lots of free time it was fun to be forced to migrate to the shiny new thing, now it is just time I would like to not have to waste for what will ultimately (usually) be very little improvement to the core offering.


I've noticed that too, now that my posts are mirrored to Medium. It's a lot of work to read comments.


I've read that Google will penalize a site with identical content elsewhere on the web. Is that still the case? I could see why you wouldn't care either way, just curious.


their commenting system is absolutely horrible.


I think you may underestimate how much of a hassle WordPress is for people who are in tech the industry but not technologists themselves. I have what should be, by 2015 standards, a blog with a small level of traffic very predictably on every blog post. It broke several times a year, catastrophically, due to out-of-the-box settings of Apache/PHP on a 2 GB VPS. I threw thousands of dollars of engineer time at that and, more recently, $2k or so a year of hosting costs to avoid having to play amateur sysadmin at 3 AM because Jimmy Wales had tweeted a link to me.

"A textarea which you can tweet a link to that doesn't break" is a product people want to buy, either with money or with the social transaction costs of adopting Medium as your main writing presence. (I cannot conceive of why a serious author would do that but then again I write more on Twitter than my blog these days so...)


Wordpress.com and Tumblr, the destinations for startup/tech blogging before Medium (especially Tumblr), do not crash under pressure either.

...huh, that's the first time I've thought of Tumblr in years. I guess Tumblr really is dead after Yahoo bought it.


With almost 600M monthly visits, Tumblr does not look like dead. At least yet.

http://www.similarweb.com/website/tumblr.com


Tumblr definitely used to crash for me back in 2010/2011 when some of my posts got about 30k views.


> I guess Tumblr really is dead after Yahoo bought it.

Kids these days use it to swap emo/selfharm/anorexia/weird porn pics. It ain't dead yet, but mostly is to us "older generation" ;)


I agree wordpress is a lot more of a hassle than medium. Wordpress is way more powerful and I think medium fills a different niche. What kind of problems were you having? I've never experienced downtime or critical issues with tens of wordpress deployments.


I feel like he answered this question in the comment you're replying to. He deployed it on a 2GB VPS --- this, a thing that basically renders one of a couple hundred HTML documents out of a database --- and when Jimmy Wales tweeted a link to his blog, it crashed.

I also feel like this is a problem that approximately everyone in tech is aware of. Most of us can fingerprint the blog software you're talking about with the string "error establishing a database connection".


Ev Williams (founder of Medium, Twitter, and Blogger) is well-connected in the tech and startup communities due to his past companies, so he was probably able to easily convince a lot of famous tech/startup people to switch. Anyone can build a slick new blogging platform (and many have) - only Ev (and others in a similar position of privilege) can actually jumpstart its adoption among the tech elite.

TL;DR: success begets success


"Ev Williams (founder of Medium, Twitter, and Blogger) is well-connected in the tech and startup communities due to his past companies, so he was probably able to easily convince a lot of famous tech/startup people to switch."

Good point, also don't underestimate Medium is a progression of Twitter. Simple sign-in with ready made Twit handle recognition.


My Angular 2 vs React post from Medium is currently on the front page of Hacker News and Reddit/r/javascript. I give Medium's platform some credit for that. Their tagging system helps get the ball rolling. It seems to provide enough eyes that someone is likely to submit it to the big aggregators. For many smaller bloggers, it's hard to get over that hump. I hit the front page a couple times on my personal blog, but most the time my posts just didn't get enough initial attention to create any buzz. I've been very impressed with my reach on Medium compared to my ~3 year old, post once/month .NET/JavaScript blog. In just one day today, my post got as many views as my biggest post of all time on my blog.

That said, there are cracks showing. Medium has begun removing features many loved. They pulled the full-bleed images that elegantly faded away as your scrolled down. They removed public inline annotations by the author. And any comments people make inline now cannot be made public anymore (very frustrating). All were unique features that drew me there. They're trying to simplify, but I feel they went too far.

That said, the writing experience is seriously luxurious compared to Wordpress. So that combined with the increased reach has me hooked...for now.


I would challenge your statement 'most tech and startup-related bloggers' and suggest this is just the availability heuristic in action.

Basically, some high-profile bloggers have moved, and the fact that they are high-profile means you notice the move more. I would suggest that in fact, most bloggers are probably just using Wordpress, as has been the case for most bloggers for a while, although I would really like to see some numbers that can confirm this either way. Also, of course, how you categorise bloggers as 'tech and startup-related' will skew the figures as well...


Excuse me, English is not my first language and I said "most" when I should've said "many".


No problem, it was well-written enough that I wouldn't have guessed that! But, in that case, sure, I think you're seeing selective bandwagon-jumping because medium is trendy. I will be curious to see how many people publish on medium just once or twice as an experiment, and then revert to their original platform, versus those who make a permanent change, though.

As I said, I have no hard figures, so this is mostly conjecture on my part, and I'd be interested in actual data...


Self reinforcing startup feedback loop is my guess. Also I suppose with the rise of social media being more accessible through search there's less importance on having your own domain to create authority.

At least medium has got past the problem of nearly everything on it being garbage int he last year. Before the last few months I would actively avoid reading anything there but now it appears more like a platform and 30% or so of what I've seen has been at least close to worth reading.


Here's an entire article on it. Basically, they get more reach on medium then self hosted

https://m.signalvnoise.com/signal-v-noise-moves-to-medium-c8...


"I was wondering if there are any substantial gains by moving your content to Medium, or is it mainly because of the fad/coolness factor. Maybe it is the community?"

Wednesday September 23, 2009, there was a similar questioning by Joe Hewwitt of sharecropping with the Apple iPhone. [0] This is the bit I wrote on blogging:

If you don't want to be reliant on commercial services like MT or even the free ones like Wordpress there is nothing stopping you getting your own machine with a full stack of software using your own software. Dave Winer does this at scriping.com

You don't need to be in the system to use it. For each example I've given above users had the choice to work entirely within the restricted stack and somehow subvert it.

So is there gains? Well convenience for one. You don't have to own a server, admin the site or maintain the code nor worry about distribution. The question to ask is, "Are you willing to pay the price if/when Medium change the service or close it?" Do you want to emulate the Dave Winer [1] and Joe Hewitts of the world or be a sheeple?

Of course the original post I made hosted on my own, albeit crappy site: ~ http://seldomlogical.com/sharecrop.html

[0] "Joe Hewitt: On Middle Men" ~ https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=941085

[1] Dave Winer, "Happy 20th anniversary to Dave Winer – inventor of the blog" http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/oct/12/happy-20th...


This is interesting if for no other reason than Winer has commented[0] that he is mirroring content on Medium at this point.

[0]https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10839457


"mirroring content on Medium"

Cheap CDN and exposure :) though as he noted, lots of x-posting rather than a straight API call.


Built-in distribution, period. No other platform gets you as many readers w/o doing any self-marketing.

The design and functionality is nice, but I think it would still be similarly successful if it looked like Geocities.

Thought experiment: If you kept the design & functionality, but took away the distribution, would it be in the deadpool? My gut says yes.


It's not very wise. They have the ultimate control over your content and your readers...and one day, they can take it away from you.


Besides being trendy it gives you a dead simple way of getting out a pretty good looking blog without having to design or setup anything yourself.


Speaking for myself, I haven't switched to Medium but I find that I probably get readers on Medium when I cross-post there that I wouldn't have gotten otherwise. I don't cross-post everything there but if I write something that I think might be interesting to a broad readership I do.


I think it's just trendy.


I've been wanting to migrate my (self-hosted) WordPress sites to something that generates static pages (based off of my own templates). I likely won't ever do it, though, simply due to the time required to convert the hundreds of posts/articles I've previously written.

IIRC, Medium has an API which should make moving to a different platform easier, should one choose to do that in the future. One would certainly feel less "locked in" and be more willing to try such a platform if the cost of moving was so low.


I've made some Rails ActiveRecord models that to talk to the Wordpress database.

Using them and the page caching gem / feature, you can get the static page effect you are looking for.

Additionally, you can have all the Rails goodies (Haml, Sass, Coffeescript, layouts/partials, etc) for use in your Wordpress development needs along with the Wordpress authoring tools.

I have it working in my project, and took a half assed attempt to turn it into a gem. This is waaay premature, and missing lots of the stuff I have flushed out in my project (post_content formatting, short code completion, categories, tags, etc):

https://github.com/fowkswe/pressar

If anyone is interested, I'd be willing to fold the other functionality in and get the 'gem install' working.


Because blogspot sucks, github is too geeky and wordpress bloats


I think it's probably straightforward: Medium is very focused on providing a venue that is attractive to them whereas the others you mentioned are not nearly as focused. And the team behind Medium is top notch.

Having a founding role in Blogger, Twitter & Medium probably makes Even one of the great entrepreneurs of our time, certainly in media/publishing.


For Cronitor, we wanted a place to host occasional pieces about the process of building the service, and medium seemed to be the absolute easiest way to do it. All I had to do was update our DNS and sign up for an account on Medium.


As a writer who's made his living (more or less) via Medium over the past year, hopefully my experience can shed some insight.

The first blog post I wrote on Medium [0] got there by accident: I planned on publishing it on a popular local blog. While I'd used WordPress before, I didn't have a personal blog, so I wrote everything in Microsoft Word.

The piece contained a lot of images—so many that Word kept crashing. The deadline was approaching, so I decided to finish things in Medium and sent the link to my editor. (I probably could have used Google Docs, too.)

When it came time to publication—keep in mind, the editor and I hadn't signed any exclusivity agreements—the editor had not only published my piece with uninvited edits, but the image formating on their website was super unappealing. I decided that when promoting my piece, I'd link to my Medium version instead, since it looked better, didn't contain the edits, and the Medium.com URL carried no less weight than a URL from RandomMontrealPublication.com.

My hunch was correct. The Medium piece outperformed the piece on the "popular" Montreal blog I submitted to (it still did pretty well there, despite the editorial team not doing a great job of pushing it themselves). When local press began to pickup the story, all of the backlinks were going to the Medium version, rather than the RandomMTL version. One of the reasons it did so well on Medium was that it was selected as a Staff Pick (which put it in the newsfeeds for all users, as well as a newsletter sent to all users). For a first-time writer, the attention that Medium was able generate for me (a complete unknown!!) was super, super addicting.

Fast forward a month. My popular Medium piece lands me a job at a local startup as a copywriter, where among other things, I'm tasked with reviving the company's blog. Big surprise: the team has been swamped building their app, so the made-in-house blog is a bit dated. I convince them to try Medium, arguing that it has a native audience that can send us traffic.

While the "content marketing" I write for them never gets a Staff Pick endorsement (nor the corresponding Medium user traffic surge), it does get some pickup among the Medium community, including an Economist editor who emails us and references my piece in a story [1][2] and a Quartz editor who asks to syndicate it [3].

Eventually I get approached by a second startup (also in Montreal), who've seen my pieces on Medium. They have three writers on staff who have all published Medium #1 stories and we all continue to use Medium as a way to republish stuff from our blog (for traffic), and as an alternative to press release PDFs when pitching press (because they look good). Moreover, if there's anything we write that doesn't fit on our blog (like my last post, "The 50 Best HackerNews posts of all time" [4]), we can skip our blog and publish on Medium instead.

TL;DR: Writing on Medium gives you access to a big audience, which is great if you don't have a blog or if nobody reads your blog. Moreover, even if you have a vibrant blog, posting on Medium can give your pieces a second wind. It doesn't hurt that writing in Medium is a genuine pleasure. Compared to its competitors (Google Docs/Tumblr/Word/etc.) writing on Medium is like upgrading from a quill to a fountain pen.

While I've never managed to get another Medium Staff Pick, I always get a little traffic from Medium. My HN post from last week got 55k hits (many from HN) and Medium sent me ~2k of that. My latest post also talks a little about why readers trust the Medium.com URL, which may be another reason writers might gravitate to the site. [4]

[0] https://medium.com/@bagelboy/the-rise-and-fall-of-fairmountb...

[1] http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/2166421...

[2] https://medium.com/@transitapp/hello-nairobi-cc27bb5a73b7

[3] http://qz.com/357685/engineering-a-mass-transit-app-for-a-ci...

[4] https://medium.com/swlh/best-of-2015-pfffffffft-79d9b014f4de


> My latest post also talks a little about why readers trust the Medium.com URL, which may be another reason writers might gravitate to the site.

Do you really think so? So many times I've been tempted by a link to Medium, only to encounter an article that was a bloviating waste of time by a self-fellating author that took an age to load on mobile. Though I've certainly found useful articles there, I would by no means say that medium.com is a mark of quality any more than wordpress.com or blogger.com.


Agreed, it's probably no more trustworthy than WP/Blogger. However, it is more trustworthy than Buzzfeed or CorporateBlogger.com. Ostensibly, the average Medium post should be better because writers aren't paid (and hence there's no structural incentive to churn out 10x linkbait posts a day or to fill a post with sales copy).


A few other comments were asking what Medium actually offers users, and I think you've nailed on the head: The potential for a massive audience if you really can write well, but maybe can't market well.


For beginning writers, it's the perfect place. If you write well, it's likely you'll be approached by syndication squads, and those relationships can help build a support network for marketing future pieces and building an audience.

With that said, I've never had as much luck with native Medium traffic as much as on my first post, so I've since had to become much more clever at finding readers. Once you know how to properly distribute longform content, platform becomes less important.

I'll continue to use Medium though, because the design is incredible, the writing experience (but not the editing experience!) is a pleasure, and there's always a small, reliable amount of native traffic I'll get from Medium readers. And to me, the opportunity that a piece might go "Medium viral" is way more valuable than the downside of not being able to plaster my posts with popups.


an insightful blog post about why not to write on Medium (and suggestions for what to do instead):

https://medium.com/@joe_wegner/why-i-dont-write-for-medium-c...

Yes, it is ironically written on Medium.


Dated and irrelevant post though. On Medium you can link to your own site, your own social media, upload your logos, and link to your product pages.


It looks better, especially on mobile


For me it's the community and how easy it is to just write.


before I realized that it seems many tech-related blogs are from Medium nowadays, what's behind this is a mystery to me.


I'd like to know this as well




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