If software is eating the world, Medium is eating its content.

Medium

About two years ago Marc Andreessen proclaimed that software is eating the world (beware the WSJ paywall):

My own theory is that we are in the middle of a dramatic and broad technological and economic shift in which software companies are poised to take over large swathes of the economy.

We’ve seen this shift toward software in the content arena too, where it’s impossible to ignore the constant stream of stories about the struggles of print media. And lately, it seems that Medium is emerging as the first major successful content platform since the shift started. It feels like every second or third link on Twitter points to a Medium post, and somehow being on Medium gives content the perception of a certain level of prestige.

Why is that? Why is this platform so successful, and why does it have such a strong brand? I don’t agree with the direct comparison and the premise that Quora vs. Medium is an actual winner-takes-all situation, but AJ Juliani makes an interesting point about this in Why Medium May Succeed Where Quora Did Not:

Medium is about stories. Quora is about answers. And people love stories. Our favorite way to learn is through stories and narrative.

Medium is certainly a great platform for reading stories, and the tools available to writers make it a great creation experience as well. But there’s also been pushback recently on Medium’s apparent dominance in the individual writer domain. The biggest concern is that we don’t know what Medium’s plans are, and that authors are therefore giving up their words to an unknown entity. Here is Glenn Fleishman in Why You Should Be Your Own Platform:

I’ve written a few things on Medium (not paid) because I liked the experience of their writing tools, their statistics, and their reach. […] But it’s not mine. It’s theirs.

I can’t control the URL. I can’t embed. I have no idea about what their ultimate plans are. They could delete all non-owned/paid content in the future with no notice. They could rework the design and it would be ugly. My words’ persistence, both in appearance and permanent location, are dependent on factors beyond my control.

Marco Arment takes this argument further in Medium and Being Your Own Platform

Treat places like Medium the way you’d treat writing for someone else’s magazine, for free. It serves the same purpose: your writing gets to appear in a semi-upscale setting and you might temporarily get more readers than you would elsewhere, but you’re giving up ownership and a lot of control to get that.

As for me, I love the writing (and reading) experience on Medium. But I do have concerns that are big enough to make me take a step back:

  • Medium seems to be more about Medium than about authors. I don’t think we should move our personal blogs there — it’s already getting too crowded, and I still believe we should all own our own identities online.
  • Related to the last point: the idea of organizing content around topics (collections) is great, but there is no way to follow collections easily. RSS feeds are difficult to find, and it seems the only way to see what’s new in a collection is to go to its URL. This makes me worried about a walled garden approach to the content, similar to how Twitter and Google+ restrict how you can add and extract content.
  • There’s some great content being surfaced by the editorial team, but there are also a lot of duds when you dig a bit deeper into the collections. And by expanding the platform so quickly the noise is becoming louder. I’m worried Medium is quickly going to outgrow their initial focus on providing quality over quantity.

If we’ve learned anything over the past few years, it’s that we should be wary of platforms that offer large audiences at a price of admission that is not immediately apparent (See Facebook, Instagram, Twitter…).

The barrier to setting up your own site has never been lower (if you’re not into WordPress, try Scriptogr.am or Octopress). Yes, building an audience on your own platform is much harder than hoping to get picked by the Medium editorial team. But the longevity and the satisfaction you’ll get from maintaining your own voice is so much higher. Don’t give that away.