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Renewing Medium’s focus (blog.medium.com)
482 points by minimaxir on Jan 4, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 376 comments



Newly ex-Median here. This was not a huge surprise. On the surface, this is a change in product strategy. The underlying story is the company positioning itself so it can survive an adverse environment if it needs to. It's hard to fault managers for dealing with that potential (and its hard to deny that the next 2-4 years could be really bad). Hopefully not, but it would be malpractice not to prepare.

So better to focus resources now than be walking dead in a year or so, jettison unnecessary products/projects, and hope for the best. It's a great product, and with time and luck, they'll sort out a good business model, but like the rest of the publishing world, they're still sorting things out.

Despite being one of those made redundant, I enjoyed being there, and wish them the best. On that note, you should ask yourself if you are prepared for winter, because winter is coming.


What do you mean by an "adverse environment over the next 2-4 years"? Please be more explicit.


Local picture: the revenue model for online publishing is still broken, Medium is in the publishing business.

Big picture: Donald J Trump, and the potential to cause widespread disruption that benefits nobody. Hopefully that will not be the case, but if it is, money for startups with hazy revenue models will not be cheap.

In either case, reducing your burn rate by $10M per year is a smart move.


Really? Blaming Trump for a terrible business model?

No matter how far you are in the SV bubble, even you must admit that was one hell of logical leap.

> Hopefully that will not be the case, but if it is, money for startups with hazy revenue models will not be cheap.

Sounds like a great thing to me.


The OP didn't connect Trump with a bad business model, or with Medium at all actually.

Big picture, Trump, and a Trump presidency, are a huge unknown. It's probably a matter of personal projection what you think the outcome will be, but it can hardly be dismissed out of hand.

For example, do you think Trump, a hotel owner, will support legislation that favours AirBnB? It's not as if he is above petty payback on people he feels have wronged him.

And of course there's a more general effect on the economy. Maybe he'll be great! Maybe he won't. You might think that's a good thing but you can hardly blame employees of vulnerable startups who would rather not lose their jobs.


I don't see how anything "Trump" has anything to do with Medium and publishing on the Internet except by the most far-fetched and useless "everything is connected" kind of argument.


You are literally responding to a comment explaining what he has to do with it saying "I don't see what he has to do with it". Do please reread. Truth is it's within his ability to wreck the whole scene dow, and it's an open question wether he wants or doesn't. So, big picture, it's something to take into account, just in case.


> except by the most far-fetched and useless "everything is connected" kind of argument

Is it really so far-fetched or useless to project that there will be far reaching macroeconomic effects if Trump successfully implements any number of his stated policies? Sure, if you want to be optimistic you can hope the effects will be net positive, but that hope is at least as speculative as predicting that "winter is coming", so all we're left with is a high level of medium term uncertainty. Given that, it seems pretty strategically reasonable for a company (especially an over-leveraged one struggling to beat their VC clock) to reduce their risk exposure "because Trump".


Yeah, those of us who got axed, many of us who also have mortgages and families, are just assholes with a political axe to grind that is disagreeable to your Ayn Rand worship or whatever.

The point I was making about Trump is this huge fucking black swan just landed, and everybody with money is snapping their wallets shut, and the rest of us can just go fuck ourselves and drop dead.

Just watch, many of you are next.


Adding vitriol doesn't make your ridiculous theory any more accurate. The markets had a sizable bump as soon as Trump won the election, and all indications are of a business-friendly administration and house after eight years of a business-hostile administration. Things are looking so good for the first time in a while that the fed may be able to raise interest rates without worrying about tanking a fragile economy.

Ergo, there will be more people with more money to invest. Maybe they all decide that they hate software, but I'm not seeing it. The only thing that's "bad" is the strengthening US dollar, and that ordinary interest rates make a bank a reasonable place to put some money.

Sorry to pierce your echo chamber. And your "might be you next" threat? So tacky. As if the many startup software engineers here haven't been laid off before. And if anybody at Medium making/announcing this decision said it had something to do with Trump's election, I hope you've lost all respect for that clown.


How was the Obama administration business hostile?


The market went up 150% during Obama's two terms, the best eight year performance of all other US presidents except Clinton and Coolidge.

It's because the economy has done so well under Obama that it can withstand Trump's nonsense, at least for the near term.


It started right in the dip of the 2008 recession...


Trump talked about opening up libel laws. That could means medium could get sued for anything its bloggers write.


> even you must admit that was one hell of logical leap.

Yeah who does this ex-median think he is? It's not like he worked there.


If he knows how Trump has influence on Medium's business he didn't show it. I'm more than eager to hear that storyline. I would be interested in something more concrete than the numerous "the sky is falling" articles based 99% on the author's personal feelings and fantasies though. That obsession with Trump is a mania by now, that and "Russian hackers", a self-feeding frenzy.


Like if the economy was tanking in the US and rallying in foreign markets you could fairly make the argument that a Trump administration could be very risky in the next few years.

Putting it all in perspective though, to the extent it's a negative risk for SV based companies it's also a positive risk for things to be "disrupted".


Markets hate uncertainty. A new president introduces uncertainty in the form of policy changes and agency/department leadership changes via their appointees. And some presidents introduce more uncertainty than others..


So I assume you shorted the DJIA? Must have been rough.


I'm buying real estate in South America because I think the dollar is overvalued.


"I don't want to blame it all on 9/11, but it certainly didn't help"


If the new administration plans to rein in the stupidity of perpetual ZIRP/QE, then yes, there will be an impact on funding for startups with no revenue model.

Everybody knows the current situation cannot last, and in fact much of financial industry does not want it to last (for good reason), and knows that the current system must be reformed.

Framing this as a "hurrr Trump's gonna to cause widespread disruption that benefits nobody" makes you look very ignorant.


Not the OP but I think the era of zero-interest money is behind us (even Germany posted a 1.7% YOY inflation rate, with people asking for the ECB to stop its bond-buying program as early as March), which means less money to throw at projects that don't have some strong fundamentals behind them.


I believe this person is referring to the Republican-controlled US federal government and Trump presidency.

(I'm just explaining, not making any value judgements.)


The rest of the publishing world isn't "still sorting things out". Quite a few publications have figured out how to get people to subscribe to them and now make money from their online presence.


Can you name a few that are rolling in cash like Google or Facebook?


Should they be?


A couple names that come to mind as successful new publishing type entities examples could include FiveThirtyEight and GrantLand. Case studies more than full business models in my opinion.


In my opinion, Medium has a problem - It's not really a product that is supposed to make a LOT of revenue (for it's size).

In all honesty, it's very easy to technically build & maintain Medium with as few as 5 engineers. Add a few more people (say 5 - 6 more) and you have a good business (not a crazy growth startup) that can generate revenue and most importantly be sustainable.

As for generating revenue: it's very easy to charge people a few $ / m for stuff I'd consider extra features (premium themes and custom domains).

It's sad those 50 people lost jobs (I feel for them - I had lost my previous job when a startup decided to downsize), but in all honesty - what do 150 do at Medium and more importantly, WTF did Medium do with ~123 Million [0]?

[0] - https://www.crunchbase.com/organization/medium#/entity


Its really sad for those 50 employees who had to lose their jobs due to incompetence of Medium's executives and its business model.

Its due to a deeply embedded business philosophy where CEOs and other business people try to create bigger companies, and not necessarily better companies. Sometimes they are able to trigger a mushroom growth, but most of the times they fail. But due to survivor bias, they create a few more wannabe CEOs who again trey to create bigger and not better companies, and the cycle repeats.

Medium currently had a full fledged Sales, Support, HR and even a big ass operations dept. And 2 or 3 offices across United States. Their operations & other business depts were quite big in head count, even rivaling local oracle offices(which usually have about 1000+ employees). I can't necessarily say whether they had inefficiencies in their company structure, but they certainly over hired.

Even disheartening thing is that they might have already dried up most of their cash, and still don't know how to run a business. Executives are currently playing a dangerous game of "Let's see if we can raise more" and "We'll think of something".


>Medium currently had a full fledged Sales, Support, HR and even a big ass operations dept. And 2 or 3 offices across United States. Their operations & other business depts were quite big in head count, even rivaling local oracle offices

Holy shit, sorry if I'm coming in to this discussion late and empty handed but isn't Medium basically a fucking blog?


It's a publishing platform, which sold itself to some smaller publications for use as their public facing site (like The Awl). It intended to make money through advertising. So sales and support is hardly out of the question. But at the size it grew to? No.


it's exactly that, an easier wordpress as a service with a cool, officially sounding domain name and one fixed theme better than competitors of the time but fading out of fashion fast.


It's really a blogging platform. I can see why they would need a large sales and customer support department. Whether it was too big, I have no idea.


It's way to big. This company could be run successfully with ~30-40 people.


"So, we are shifting our resources and attention to defining a new model for writers and creators to be rewarded, based on the value they’re creating for people. And toward building a transformational product for curious humans who want to get smarter about the world every day.

It is too soon to say exactly what this will look like. This strategy is more focused but also less proven."

In so many words, "We'll think of something."


> In so many words, "We'll think of something."

Maybe they would try to get acquihired


Companies that raised $123 million don't get acquihired.


Why not? That's a genuine question, not trying to be a smartass. Would a company that raised that much money not be worth its value to be acquired?

Edit: Looks like Instagram had raised 50m before being acquihired. Definitely a much different situation than this one, but it's not outside the realm of possibility that a company which raised 100+ million would be acquihired.


I would not consider Instagram being "acquihired".

See definition from wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acqui-hiring): "...the process of acquiring a company to recruit its employees, without necessarily showing an interest in its products and services—or their continued operation"


Instagram was sold for $1 billion with just 13 employees. That's certainly not an acquihire.


Because acquihires are at much, much lower valuations than that. You'd be relying on the investors agreeing to basically write off their investment.


> Its really sad for those 50 employees who had to lose their jobs due to incompetence of Medium's executives and its business model.

Isn't it worth considering that those 50 employees should have never been hired, but only were due to incompetence of Medium's executives and its business model?


There's opportunity costs for those employees for having taken that job rather than another option that may have been on the table at the time.

Or having taken on additional responsibilities (loan, started a family, etc) based on having the job.

Getting a job that shouldn't have existed and then losing it again isn't zero sum.


Agreed. In my experience, being out of a job six months after starting a new one is a net negative. I can spin a longer break between jobs a lot better than that.


just leave it off your resume


Right, but then you're getting into the areas where talking about, say, a 12 month gap (4 months looking, 8 months working, then canned) instead of perhaps a 5 or a 6 month gap. It can be done, but it looks awkward, and it really sucks.


Those aren't mutually exclusive - Medium overhired but it is sad for the people who didn't make that decision but lost their job because of it.


Sure, but it seems excessive to blame them twice ;)


> I can't necessarily say whether they had inefficiencies in their company structure, but they certainly over hired.

Yep, we are seeing this time and time again with startups in the Bay Area who went on a landgrab for talent a few years ago and now realize they can't support them as the VC money dried up. I actually wonder if Medium was trying to raise more and they were unable to, therefore they have to do this and are trying to spin it positively.

I respect Ev a lot. He revolutionized blogging and publishing on the web. And I want Medium to do well. And maybe I'm too cynical about the startup and SV world (I moved away from SF in October), but this smells of the same old same old to me.


> I respect Ev a lot. He revolutionized blogging and publishing on the web.

Serious questions: why and how?

I both write a blog and read blogs. I have never had any desire to move my blog to Medium, and ask myself "is it really worth it?" before clicking on any Medium link.


Blogger and Twitter.


Blogger was just another LiveJournal, BlogSpot, or WordPress (StudlyCaps IntEntional). Twitter (i.e. "public SMS") has very little to do with blogging.


>Serious questions: why and how?

Branding


Another concern is the growth and profit expectations that will come with more funding (beyond current expectations) and the lack of leverage they will have if they can raise more.

I'm not sure there are many companies such a scenario has worked out well for, but I'd love to dig into examples if people have any. And working out well can mean different things for investors vs employees vs customers vs free users vs readers. I would expect the interests to become less aligned the more investment they take on without being profitable (see Evernote's recent moves and resulting user backlash).


I always find it amusing when people say "I could run XYZ with a 10th of the engineers, easy!", as if they have any actual insight into the engineering backends that run these services.

I remember a couple years ago there was a guy claiming he could run Twitter himself on 4 really big servers.


That's because there's a bunch of examples of companies that have deployed massive services with a dozen or so engineers. Craigslist, Snapchat, Wikipedia (until recently) to name a few.



Good point. I think it's easy to forget how much work engineers can make for ourselves (Uber has >700 microservices)...

Maybe 1 person can't make twitter by himself, but I think the necessary number is much closer to 1 than it is to 4,100


Recently listened to DHH's Software Engineering Radio interview, and his statement about teams of 3 developers bragging about their 4 microservices really stuck out to me.


We seem to be in an era of microservice dissing. It reminds me a lot of the recent era of monoservice dissing. Just an observation.


everything in the world is susceptible to trends. especially in the tech world we tend to embrace concepts and take them too far. we then realize we took it too far and adjust too far to the other side like a pendulum. As usual, somewhere in the middle is best.


It just seems easier now to reinvent the wheel 500 times as opposed to fixing it the first time. It may just be agile thinking.


Do you happen to have a link to that? I'm interested to hear it.


Haven't listened to it yet, but it seems like this is the mentioned episode http://www.se-radio.net/2016/06/se-radio-episode-261-david-h...


  >Good point. I think it's easy to forget how much work engineers can make for ourselves (Uber has >700 microservices)...
This! So much of modern development looks like a jobs program. Then one steps back and looks at SV development in general, and realizes that 95% of their engineering staff is redundant.

Worse, are these asshole companies crowding out the H-1B system with all these extra positions?


OpenStreetMap: no paid engineers, half a dozen volunteers, unmetered (though not unlimited) public API, one of only four global geodata providers.


No disservice intended to the volunteer engineers and project members, but don't forget about the thousands of geographic data volunteers as well. : )


Kudos to Craigslist, Whatsapp, Instagram etc that managed to keep staff size low. At least until they were acquired...

Only a very strong non changing management that say no to nearly all feature changes can make that possible.

99% of companies and projects is not that. New features, new management, new customers, new priorities, leads to exponential complexity of services and staff numbers. And over-head staff such as sales, support, legal, hr, localisation, etc.


Craigslist hasn't changed their UX since launch, and Snapchat is rumored to have over 1,000 employees?

There really are no examples of something at Medium's scale being built and maintained by 5 engineers.


Instagram had around ~50 million users and 13 employees when it was acquired by Facebook.


Probably not the best example since the rumor was they were all constantly paged. But yeah, some sites don't require much engineering horsepower.


What do you mean by constantly paged?


Got a "pager" message about problems requiring immediate attention. These days it's probably iMessage or Slack or WhatsApp, not the actual pager.


pagerduty.com


> Craigslist hasn't changed their UX since launch

You say that like it's a bad thing.


Yes, I suspect that it is a bad thing. People who like modern UIs greatly outnumber people who like ones from the '90s.

The most straightforward explanation as to why Craigslist remains king is simple: network effects.


Mind you that you're writing that point on news.ycombinator.com (another '90s-esque site).

Maybe people prefer a "newer" web interface when it doesn't have ads, banners, popups, auto-playing-content, clutter (see yahoo), oversized images, 25 tracking scripts loading, but the lesson seems to be that too simple trumps too complex. An example that gets it exactly right IMHO is gmail.

The OTHER problem with having a nice UI is then people start to want to redesign every year, buy new logos, constantly adapt new design and FE trends (make it flat! make it angular! make it ES6! make it react! now pre-render on the server!).


The "how it looks" of Craigslist is fine, just like HN. The "how it works" is abysmal.


> People who like modern UIs

Even more people like stable UIs.


  People who like modern UIs greatly outnumber
  people who like ones from the '90s.
Maybe initially when the fancy graphics grab their attention. But as they start to work their brains notice the "fancy" less and less and usability takes over:

Just like in games like shooters or Starcraft the pros actually turn down graphics settings - they don't notice the graphics any more so they don't are!

Same as why after a month you stop noticing the wonderful paintings you carefully selected for your home's walls. I haven't looked at mine in years. That#s why we get reddit /r/funny posts where people replace the family portraits in their parents house and then make a reddit post with the funny replacement picture "2 weeks and nobody has noticed anything yet".

Brains are made to tune out anything

a) not new

b) not used

So you end up with Google and reddit as major websites.

I'm not quite sure where that leaves websites like USAToday, but I highly suspect people learn to navigate it despite the graphics, and the design only serves to attract people initially. I on't think it helps retain users once they've been there for a while, except that keeping it stable helps keeping customers.

I know that Germany's top 1 or 2 news website www.spiegel.de (the other one competing for the top spot is a tabloid, bild.de) decided to stick to a much more text-based linear design even after a recent major redesign.

So while a look at actually successful websites doesn't tell us that simple designs always win your claim certainly isn't supported by the facts. Probably not as-is, and when it applies a lot of terms and conditions apply: What kind of people does a site attract? What kind of content do they serve? How long do people stay, how much do they interact with and use the site? Is it mostly "look at" content, or are there many interactions (reddit: lots of "using", USAtoday: mostly "looking")? Etc. I would make the claim the more people actually use a site (interact with the contents - clicking, navigating, writing, searching in the broadest sense, not just the "Search" function, for example trying to quickly find the top comments on a page) the less important the "fanciness"/"modernity" factor. As you use an interface your brain stops noticing how it looks and concentrates on how it feels (for example when it's always hard to hit that tiny "expand" icon on a comment thread right next to a complete different icon separated by only two pixels, how the icons look like will be lost).


I can't think of a single modern UI that I like.


Presumably you're browsing HN using Lynx.


For some things, it is a bad thing.

Apartment searching on Craigslist was so bad for so long, services like Padmapper sprang up to supplement it. Now Craigslist has a similar mapping feature to Padmapper, but still far clunkier.

Their forums were never very good, and have largely atrophied.

Sometimes change is good.


How about Reddit? That's a site that's undergone a number of UI changes and I'm pretty sure even now still has <30 engineers. It had around 6 in 2012 I believe.


Doesn't Imgur still only have about 15 employees too?


> There really are no examples of something at Medium's scale being built and maintained by 5 engineers.

There’s WhatsApp. A billion users, and 35 employees, running on less than 100 off-the-shelf servers.


>> Craigslist hasn't changed their UX since launch,

It looks similar but to say it hasn't changed is silly


I built a service with a buddy of mine (so 2 engineers total) that achieved a scale comparable to Medium circa-2014/2015 (given baseless guesses about Medium's scale), with a similar featureset (perhaps more sophisticated, apples to oranges somewhat). It's definitely possible to achieve scale on a small team.


But... As you say, your guesses about their scale are baseless...


What's interesting is how fast they add engineers. Many startups will start out with 1-2 people, then slowly add people as they grow. So the team becomes 5, 8 people. You always read about this in detail when they talk about scaling at a conference. But then they have 300 engineers. That is the growth period I want to hear about.


For what it's worth, FreeCodeCamp.com has 1/3 the page views that Medium has, with only 3 full time staff. https://www.similarweb.com/website/freecodecamp.com?competit...

I love Medium and I hope it succeeds. It sounds like their headcount was substantially higher than it needed to be and that this layoff was the right move.

I wish Ev had mentioned all the additional facts that are in this article by one of Medium's investors: https://500ish.com/long-medium-b9ddfe2c3a0a#.ch2benant


So what's the alternative to ads? Are they going to try subscriptions or micro payments (like Brave's browser)?


Really the only other option besides those two would be content advertising (Sponsored Articles)... ick


The alternative is syndicating content to other publishers like AP does.


A lot of people on here are familiar with sites that run at scale with just a handful of engineers, and are also familiar with the fantastic potential for bloat to creep in to organizations if you don't work to control it.


I bet the WhatsApp team could do it.

Not the number of servers, necessarily, but running a big site with a small number of engineers.


Ah, yes, @dpp, creator of the Scala web framework Lift:

https://blog.linkedin.com/2009/06/15/video-linkedin-scala-te...

(Video is offline)

To which Twitter's Nick Kallen replied on stage, incredulously, "... I don't think that's correct."


Ah yes, the old "u don't even kno wat its liek!1"


> I remember a couple years ago there was a guy claiming he could run Twitter himself on 4 really big servers.

I worked with said person and I feel like he would get along very well with Arthur Whitney.

It's definitely easy to make guesses on how an org could be streamlined from the outside. Though Medium needed to grow quickly and that takes having a lot of people to create features, sell, etc. They didn't grow and needed to scale back and change their strategy. I've seen quite a few startups go through continuous hiring booms then layoffs over and over again.


I think this hits the nail on the head with startups. Overinflated growth and expectations. If you make a platform and expect limitless growth then a lot of doors close. If medium was good enough with 15 employees, why make a good thing bad? Why is 15 people having a highly profitable sustained business seen as a bad thing today? If that is the limit, then keep that company slowly growing to 30 people over time if it becomes necessary.

But then again if you race to investor money and immediately have to make $1 billion to appease investors, it suddenly makes sense.


Well, 6 years in business, offices in NY, DC and SF (all expensive locations), 3 company acquisitions, salaries for 100+ employees. I can see them getting to 120 million easily.

Now why you need 150 people to build a pretty straight forward blog platform is a very valid question...


> Now why you need 150 people to build a pretty straight forward blog platform is a very valid question

Because it’s not straightforward, and it’ not that many people? Facebook has 100x that number. Twitter has 25x. Airbnb hired almost 10x that number in 2015 alone. Stripe has almost 4x that number.


What these unrelated services did doesn't refute the point that a small team can put together a blogging service. Most components you need even already exist as pre-packaged FOSS. On top of it, one company on your list had a complex product that was built by a hand-full of college students in its early days. The Instagram company they bought also had just 13 employees.


Twitter is another horribly overstaffed example. The Ev Williams signature touch.


for the first two, they are dealing with tons of data on people's interests, machine learning, spam algorithms, search infrastructure, not just the pageviews.

the only hard technical part of Medium is perhaps their content recommendations, but thats it. dealing with a ton of pageviews is hard, yes but nowhere near the complexity of dealing with what others are doing. you can solve that problem with more machines and money if need be. hard problems (ie google search) can only be solved with PHDs and thinking.


> Because it’s not straightforward, and it’ not that many people? Facebook has 100x that number. Twitter has 25x. Airbnb hired almost 10x that number in 2015 alone. Stripe has almost 4x that number.

While true, this doesn't really answer the GP's question, does it?


I think you are assuming that all of those 150 people are engineers. I guess most of them are not. You can build this blog platform with 10-15 engineers, but you also need people who will manage and sell.


Genuine question: manage and sell what?. Medium doesn't serve customer with products, it's ads only and I don't think that would require massive workforce to buy/sell them.


>> build & maintain Medium with as few as 5 engineers. Add a few more people (say 5 - 6 more) and you have a good business

I'm guessing they have a lot more than 5 reviewers, writers, editors...


What is the editorial situation? I've not been paying close attention, but they seem to have gone from curated long-form content to Yet Another Blogging Site.


> what do 150 do at Medium and more importantly, WTF did Medium do with ~123 Million [0]?

Interesting people freaking out about this when if you point out the bloat at Twitter (which dwarfs Medium many times over and goes years without shipping anything user facing) HN posters will jump to defend it just because they have a few dev centric open source projects that are widely used.



Medium still has years of runway...


Not if the same people who hired 50+ extra engineers are still steering the ship the same way...


It's disheartening to learn that advertisement apparently isn't even profitable (enough) for a platform that doesn't even pay for its content.

Just let it sink in what that means for journalism. If the economics of the internet come to be all-encompassing, there will be no revenue model to support any professional publications.

There's obviously no shortage of hate for "mainstream media" right now, so probably many people can't await the demise of that industry. I'm just wondering which blogger we'll send to cover Ebola in Guinea-Bissau and which twitterer will file & finance 14 FOIA lawsuits[0]. But maybe democracy works just as well without people digging into "Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court documents".

[0]: http://www.charliesavage.com/?page_id=303


>Just let it sink in what that means for journalism. If the economics of the internet come to be all-encompassing, there will be no revenue model to support any professional publications.

Even at the Washington Post (profitable now), what drove growth was their opinion pieces (which they're doubling down on). And opinion pieces, while having their own merit, is rarely journalism. It makes me sad.


I guess the argument is that journalism is, in many ways, a commodity. Journalism, when defined as the reporting of precise core facts (X happened in Y, Z people were hurt), is available all over the internet.

In order to provide value, newspapers need to provide exclusive value-add, which in many cases includes opinion pieces. Opinion pieces allow experts in the area to link many different news items together to provide a more holistic view of the news item.

Anyone can tell me that 5 Coalition soldiers were killed by an IED, but it takes an opinion piece by an expert in counter insurgency tactics to provide context about how that might represent a shift in tactics/approach by a group.


Even at that, I think the rise of freelancers and devoted hobbyists is competing away value adds for mass market journalism. News will continue to get disintermediated.

For news firms seeking survival or sustainable operations, you'll see your "value add" opinion pieces consume more of the content with less actual news. This is WaPo's strategy [0].

[0] http://digiday.com/publishers/washington-post-grew-digital-s...


I think the rise of freelancers and devoted hobbyists is competing away value adds for mass market journalism.

I think there's some truth to this. I think there's also a need for accreditation or other validation/reputation services, not to serve as a gatekeeper, but to assist in helping people determine which sources are likely worthwhile to listen to. If the vetting needs to be done for each person on a per-author basis, that can be overwhelming, not dissimilar to the paradox of choice.

In some ways this may end up looking similar to existing publishers, though with a little less tight-coupling between author and publisher. It's pretty clear there are large changes underway.


I don't think these difficulties of Medium can be generalized to the wider industry. The CEO/founder Evan Williams is a billionaire who set out to create a good publishing platform for everyday Joes and Sues with little to no focus on monetization (as far as I can tell). Other text content based sites are more willing to sacrifice UX for higher ad revenue.


They would be profitable if they reduced the employee count 10x. Which should be doable, it's just a blog platform.


Automattic has over 500 employees, yet they are also "Just a blog platform"

Though I believe they are actually profitable.


Automattic has other services that compliment Wordpress.


Money goes where it's treated the nicest. So where is it going now?


As a pretty committed Medium writer, I've been impressed by their platform and how it has worked for my purposes. Very similar to SoundCloud. I haven't ever really figured out how either intended - or will eventually - turn a profit. I'm quite familiar with the "value gap" argument and the acrimonious relationship between, ahem, content and tech heavyweights in the US.

>So, we are shifting our resources and attention to defining a new model for writers and creators to be rewarded, based on the value they’re creating for people. And toward building a transformational product for curious humans who want to get smarter about the world every day.

It is too soon to say exactly what this will look like.

Oh, I've got a guess, and it certainly doesn't involve me getting paid more per view or read than I do via Spotify or any other "Artistic Content as Commodity" platform. Medium has been a decent trade-off: They don't charge me, and I don't expect anything but "exposure" in the grand sense. Not surprised this isn't exactly rolling in dough as a business model, but I'll stick around to see how they fare.

https://medium.com/@6StringMerc/media-analytics-prtsc-beer-d...


You are helping them build their business by providing your content for free, as did contributors to Huffington Post.

How do you feel the balance of compensation is, and how do you feel about your control - or lack of - of your own content?


As with Huffington Post, the hosting platform of Medium also sets an expectation floor for audiences / readers that the format will likely be to their preference. Thus the chicken-or-the-egg syndrome somewhat: Do they come to Medium for my Content, or did they discover my Content because it is on Medium? I think both avenues are realistic. Equal? I dunno, really I don't, and I think that's the secret sauce too a "community" of getting people to latch on and stay in it (e.g. Facebook).

I think the balance of compensation is fine for my purposes. I don't recoup the $19.99 annual fee via DistroKid that gets me into iTunes, Spotify, etc, so I'm generally a skewed perspective. In practical terms though - and this I truly believe is important - I think less than 1% of the Content Creator Population in any given Commercial Art Enterprise in the United States earns a Middle-Class Living (Wage + Benefits). Basically I think it's unfair in Modern Times to think that Musicians and Writers really had a lot of opportunities to make a good living before technology came around. Of course I'd like that to change, and maybe Spotify and Medium can play a role in that, but breaking the grip of RIAA and AP/Reuters isn't exactly an overnight proposition.


Thanks for calling out DistroKid, that seems like a great service. Going to pass it along to some musical colleagues.


> Medium has been a decent trade-off: They don't charge me, and I don't expect anything but "exposure" in the grand sense.

Reminds me of this comic: http://theoatmeal.com/comics/exposure in the grand theme of the flawed "sense". I'm aware that it kinda makes no sense.


I would use Medium but the apparent (I can't find anything) inability to show previous/popular posts alongside the content keeps me on my own platform. My content is still useful long after I wrote it but on Medium it seems to vanish.


If you check out all of the "sponsored" or "partnership" content on Medium, like:

https://theringer.com/

https://electricliterature.com/

https://medium.com/the-economist

https://medium.com/@generalelectric

https://medium.com/@Starbucks

You'll notice the engagement is absolutely terrible. Between 10-100 likes, and even those stats are inflated by (no doubt terrified) Medium employees. Keep in mind, the rough "like" to "view" ratio is ~1:100, so hardly any of these posts are even cracking 10,000 views. Those are okay numbers when you're paying your writer/marketing guy $200 per post. Hardly the foundation for a company valued last year at $400M.

Of course, Medium could monetize with banner ads like every other site, and it does have enough traffic to do that (it's the 371th most visited site in the world.) However, most writers only write on Medium because there aren't any ads. If Medium suddenly started monetizing on my content "YouTube style" I would leave them for Wordpress in a second. The Medium community is fine (they'll drive 100-1000 views per post on my pieces) but that's not enough to justify graffitying my content with ads.

It seems like there's a major identity crisis going on here. On one hand, a lot of great pieces are published on Medium. (Perhaps not as many since Medium de-funded/spun-out their flagship in-house publications, Matter and Backchannel). But there's also a crazy amount of crap. The top stories on Medium are almost invariably listicles and trite "How I Xed my Y in Z days".

I get the feeling Medium set out to position itself as a curated Wordpress (which might justify that gargantuan valuation) but these days it feels pretty much like an awkward, less popular, and slightly more erudite Buzzfeed.*

*Buzzfeed is not without its own problems. See traffic stats here: http://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/buzzfeed.com


> so hardly any of these posts are even cracking 10,000 view

I think there's probably a problem in these numbers, but I'm 99% certain you've misread the tea leaves.

The Ringer page views are through the roof. But those are not coming from regular Medium users who typically leave reviews. So the problem is, why don't these visitors engage more, rather than why doesn't The Ringer have any page views.

IMO, big sites like The Ringer are bets that obscure what's wonderful and working at Medium. For a blogger like me, posting to Medium is a 10x on page views. 37Signals posted something similar. All the mid-size blogs that come over are having a great time.


Okay, that's a fair criticism. I don't have inside info on The Ringer's page views. I have info on another dozen or so publishers though, and the ~1:100 ratio generally sticks.

Since you're a Medium advisor, maybe you can shed some light: how many of The Ringer's page views are coming because of native Medium readers vs. because Bill Simmons is linking to articles?

If I'm a deep-pocketed advertiser with little social media engagement (unlike Simmons), how does posting to Medium benefit me? Why am I not better off paying Bill Simmons to tweet about my product than pay the Medium middle man?

Relatedly, is it fair to extrapolate Medium's "10x on page views" on your blog to the average user, who doesn't start off with 20k Twitter followers? (Note: Medium uses Twitter followers to kickstart your Medium following.)

For the average user who doesn't know how to market their posts, I agree, Medium is a godsend. There's a small community of committed readers (good for page views) and the design is great (good for sharing.) But do you really think that these are game-changing advantages? Do you think that these advantages will survive once/if Medium starts plastering its posts with banner ads?


Here are my recent stats. I don't know really that the 1:100 ratio is real at all: https://www.quora.com/profile/Tony-Stubblebine

I do know though that specific to The Ringer that their page views are completely decoupled from what you can see in engagement. I have no idea where that's coming from or even what's required for them to be a media success. But I do know that they are getting heavy traffic.

Re: game changers. I wrote in one of the other threads that my analysis of the market is that there is has been a non-stop demand for personal publishing products since 2000: blogger, MovableType, LiveJournal, Wordpress, Twitter, Tumblr.

And we're in a moment now where many of those seem institutionally unable to modernize. This word "game-changer" is so loaded. Is changing the game the goal? Or just serving a huge market?

From the start, I've seen Medium as at minimum a modern version of an evergreen class of software. Obviously, they've done that by simplifying out features that end up not mattering a lot (customizable themes) and making a beautiful text editor.

On top of that, none of those other platforms ever did anything to boost my page views. I think that's a real benefit of the platform that goes well beyond whatever audience you bring with you.

I see my own stats (based on 20k Twitter followers) and the stats of people in my publication (Better Humans). It really seems like the pairing of a strong title with strong content is the primary driver of traffic. Publications will take those articles and then recommends will drive a ton of traffic.

Many of the people who write on BetterHumans are starting with no audience to speak of. It's certainly a huge ego boost to experience a few thousand page views for the first time.


To be fair, The Ringer is a pretty big outlier. "Have Bill Simmons tweet every article we post" isn't really a replicable business model.


Yeah, and it's the only site on that list that I know anything about. Just wanted to point out that you can't judge page views based on the number of recommends that a Ringer article gets.


you still would get way more viewership on linkedin posts, even though their system sucks


I've been trying to get to the heart of Quora and LinkedIn view numbers. My experience is that the absolute value is high but that the value of those people is close to nil. I know I'm not alone, but I don't know if that's a near universal experience.

My anecdotal experience is that I never get retweeets or mail from things I post there, whereas the people who read and then respond on Medium seem like the exact kind of people I want to influence. Not all viewers are created equal.


BuzzFeed is an interesting reference because they've switched to an emphasis on video content (higher engagement + more ad opportunities) as a hedge against the declining publishing industry.

If Medium allows native video publishing, that would certainly be a curveball.


I used to love Grantland, it's sad to see it reduced to such a pale (and strikingly partisan) imitation as The Ringer has become.

The Bill Simmons media empire has crashed and burned.


I'm in your boat and was pretty disappointed by the initial incarnation of The Ringer.

I heard Bill say on a podcast that he had a different theory about where media had gone. It was faster, mobile and more immediate.

So the initial implementation of The Ringer seemed like short, trite pieces produced quickly. Like you'd get a dumb Game of Thrones piece within 15 minutes of an episode airing.

Thankfully, they seem to have backed off and gone back to long form, loving fan pieces with obscure links and embeds. For example, this Donald Glover piece: https://theringer.com/you-have-to-take-donald-glover-serious...

TLDR; I'm curious what you think of the more recent Ringer stuff. Because to me, it's so much better and is exactly why I loved the old Grantland.


Thanks for linking to this.

I too loved Grantland and have been disappointed with Simmons' more recent efforts, but this is good. And Atlanta is fantastic.


Thanks! Yeah, a lot of the new Ringer stuff has been great. The Simmons model of content written by true fans is a great model. The low quality version of that doesn't work. But they seem to have figured it out and new posts have been much higher quality.


One thing that Simmons has never figured out is that just because someone shares your interest for football doesn't mean they share your interest for mafia movies.

Instead of making 1 site (or 1 show) that is a grab-bag of various things-that-Bill-Simmons-likes, why not have several niche sites that cover different topics?

I can't read The Ringer because I don't want to get movie reviews from the same place I get NBA game breakdowns.

Also, the ratio of joke articles to serious articles is all wrong. It should be 1 joke article for every 10 serious articles, at least.


Slight tangent, but this is why I stopped reading The Verge. Their editorial product went from tech to tech + sci-fi + American pop music + cars. Which I guess is great for a large subset of their readers, but alienates those of us who read contemporary fiction, listen to classical music, and ride bikes.

(By contrast, the one print newspaper I still buy, the (UK) Observer, does all of the above and more.)


I think this is interesting because I actually am fascinated by a great writer like Simmons, who is one of the last honest sportswriters. I'm curious about his other tastes because I view him as an authentic cultural critic. But I do wonder if I'm in the minority or you are with that opinion! Good comment.


I see Simmons as a fan with a platform. That's what I like about him, he's unabashedly a fan. I don't mind when he makes references to pop culture and other things he likes, but I mostly read/listen to him for his take on sports.

So when some other person writes on his website that "SoundCloud Comments Are the Only Good Comments", I just don't care about that. At all.


Do you think the problem is the site navigation? I subscribe to a couple of newspapers and it doesn't bother me at all that I get both movie reviews and financial news from something like the NY Times. I generally have found this to be true with the Ringer as well. The fact that I found a movie review to be insightful drives me to read more of the sports coverage because it carries a similar expectation of quality.


Yes, navigation is a big part of it. Currently for sports the nav lists NFL and NBA. That's all. I know the site covers more sports than that, I've read the articles. There's a college basketball podcast, an MLB podcast. But there's no "Baseball" section to the website.

Fixing the nav would help but it wouldn't be enough if 50% of articles are humorous.


I'll have to start checking it more frequently. It even appears that Bill has actually started writing again. Maybe there'll even be a mailbag again someday...


Would people still have problems with advertisement if it was extremely tailored towards them? I'd presume Medium already collects data on their users and their preferences -- does Medium sell that to ad. companies, and is it effective in its current state?

Maybe Medium can still expand outwards, such as if they created a Google chrome extension or browser annotator to save all the highlights I have on other websites that I read (e.g. NYtimes, Bloomberg); and later using that data to give better ads -- I probably wouldn't mind if it wasn't intrusive.


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