free html hit counter Written First On Medium. Discuss. - John Battelle's Search Blog

Written First On Medium. Discuss.

By - October 26, 2015
Couple Holding Hands at Sea Sunset

Image Credit Arch Cape Inn

So I had a thought about the state of the publishing world, specifically that part of it that we’d call blogging(1). And it struck me.

Why haven’t we made our own Medium? No, wait, that doesn’t quite sound right. Medium is awesome, and in fact I am writing this post in (on?!) Medium. Historical note: This may well be the first time I’ve written the first draft of a post in Medium. So my beef isn’t with Medium, rather, it’s with the blogging ecosystem’s inability to create something that embraces what Medium teaches us.

It’s not like the pieces weren’t (aren’t?) there. Thousands of superb writers — tellers of tales, diviners of insight, entertainers, jesters, fools (who can stillwrite). And it’s not for lack of code — we’ve got a fucking army working on that. Perhaps — is it a lack of common vision? Did we need Medium to Show Us The Way?

As others have pointed out, Medium is simply awesome, but it hasn’t embraced several ideas core to the culture of blogging. For example, most authors don’t have control of their own domain, though you can now create a “vanity” domain, a commendable move to be sure. However, if you want to add anything to your site — you know, put some lights on the porch, maybe add a bathroom to the place — that’s not going to happen. Yet.

Similarly, an author can’t easily add advertising — or any other third party code that is prevalent in the open web, though Ev told me a few weeks agothey are working on the advertising solution in earnest. Again, a good thing. But most likely, it’ll be a controlled, platform approach with limited APIs. And if I were running Medium, I’d do exactly the same thing, so again, my beef is not with Medium.

But what if blogging evolved more rapidly — or perhaps, in a more focused way? I mean, shouldn’t this aggregated highlight feature be all over the blogosphere? Or this kind of commenting? Sure, I can install plugins that approximate the same thing, but…they are not universally used, they don’t share a common social behavior. (Not to mention, installing this shit is a huge PITA).

Imagine if we had that highlights feature as standard issue over in the blogosphere? I mean, we had comments as standard issue … why not this? Lordy, how cool would that be? Knowing us, we’d turn it into currency driving a magical gift economy, the kind we had back when this all started. It’s that magic that drove blogging’s emergence — and we’ve lost it along the way. I don’t blame social networks or Medium or Apple for this. I think we’ve failed to imagine another way.

We stood by and watched our beloved trackbacks — those deeply meaningful handshakes from one mind to another — deprecate and eventually disappear from our sites(2). And then we let the comments fade — too many trolls, at first, and that fucking spam…it was too much work. Platforms emerged to address the worst of it, but with those platforms came their imperative — we’ve got to make a business of this. If you guys aren’t going to do it, we’ll do it for you, OK? The deal was clear: This is free for you to use, but we’re going to ferry wheelbarrows of data out in return. OK?

Turns out, those wheelbarrows of data were rolling off our sites with every javascripted pixel we dropped onto our site. Sharing buttons? Check. Ads?Checkmate!(3)

OK. And then the comments went away. Once again, I do not blame the data vacuumers, the marketing ecosystem, the struggling independent publisher just using the best tools available to them at the time. Nope. I bemoan our collective imagination.

And Google noticed the spam and deprecation of true intent, and Google began to send attention other places, increasingly (and again, defensibly) to their own shit. But that’s another post, one I am sure I wrote years ago (but can’t quite find since I’m not in the WordPress backend. A bit of micro meta, that.)

So trackbacks went away, then comments, and then…we lost the culture of response(4). When this all got started, someone would write a superlative post, perhaps a controversial post, and then as if on cue, a few thoughtful responses would emerge, a volley might ensue, and behold: a living debate in considered prose watched by thousands. But the mechanism supporting that intellectual sport — that first synapse-jumping trackback, the resulting attention and commentary — collapsed, and with it went the flower that was a new kind of public debate.

And sure, we’ve rebuilt parts of the things we’ve lost, in Twitter, via Facebook, in flashes of reddit brilliance, with blogging pillars yet lost(5)…and now and most promisingly with Medium. But damn, it doesn’t quite feel right yet, does it?

I’m a big fan of the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup — take your chocolate, pour it over my peanut butter, and — yes please, may I have another?

So I guess I’m asking that someone toss the wooly peanut buttery world of WordPress and the damn-near-perfect yet somewhat-lacking-in-connective-tissue chocolate world of Medium into a Blendtec Stealth and give us that sweet and savory goodness we so badly crave? Pretty please?(6)

— –

(Thanks to Barcelona for this rant)

(1) Yes, we all can pause for the obligatory and derisory images of a dated epoch now muddling through its senescence. There, now let’s continue. (2) I mean, WTF? The first Google response for “trackback” is the Wikipedia page?! (3) Yes, I am fully aware of my own role in this part of the story. For the record, I’m a huge fan of marketing as part of the ecosystem. Duh. But the strengths of the open web are also its weaknesses. I am arguing we’ve forgotten to tend to the strengths. (4) I read several really good related pieces— on Medium! —  which informed my thinking here, and this post is in essence a response to them. But I can’t fucking find them, and I can’t figure out how to see what I’ve read on Medium or even what I’ve recommended. I am sure it’s in here, I just can’t find it. (5)Hell, even in a search for “AVC,” Fred’s site comes in third to Twitter and Antelope Valley College now.

(6)OK, now I have to cross post this to Searchblog. Weird.

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4 thoughts on “Written First On Medium. Discuss.

  1. Drew Meyers says:

    People want to write where people will read it, and its much less work to get some traffic on Medium than on someone’s own blog without a built in audience. Wouldn’t a perfect world be close to what we used to have before Medium and prior to Twitter and FB getting so large? The vast majority of the discussion that used to be on blogs and in blog comments has moved to Twitter & FB groups. WordPress does everything you ask already, people just aren’t writing on self hosted installs as frequently.

    I agree with your rant, and would love to go back to the days of blogs containing the majority of the real discussions…but I don’t see a path there short of Twitter / FB going away. Or, ALL the great writers collectively agreeing to write content on their own blogs again and not responding to anyone on any other channels. Audience will go where the great content is, it just might be a painful migration for many content producers.

  2. JG says:

    When this all got started, someone would write a superlative post, perhaps a controversial post, and then as if on cue, a few thoughtful responses would emerge, a volley might ensue, and behold: a living debate in considered prose watched by thousands.

    Oh, yes. I do very much miss those days. How did it all get away from us? Facebook doesn’t satisfy it for me.. it doesn’t connect to the right networks for those sorts of discussions. Twitter, I’m afraid to say, I still don’t get. It’s great for sharing links, but you can’t have a conversation there. Quora is public and thoughtful, but it’s more about crafting great answers than it is about dialogue.

    But like Drew said, I agree with your rant.

    • Thanks JG. I really miss it too. I love seeing it happening over on Fred’s site, and he works hard at keeping that community going. I admit I am not writing as much as I’d like anymore. And I think part of it is the community is no longer really there – not so much of readers, but of thoughtful responses.

  3. Hey John nice that Barcelona inspired you as it has myself!

    Well I have considered this as well, since my blog has been viewed in ~40 countries & I’ve gotten positive feedback. Yet only a few have commented & shared it.

    Here are some thoughts, social media has corrupted us. People often post to get attention not to actually provide some thoughtful insight! Well maybe it’s the shift to YouTube as a source of info, which is cluttered with attention grabbing 5min clips. The majority of these clips are from an intellectual point of view…are pointless.

    Also, people seem afraid to share their deeper thoughts. It’s rare to find people who enjoy in depth discussions! And I’ve lived in the US, Switzerland, & Spain! It’s like somehow ‘thinking’ is considered negative/bad. Once again, maybe social media has made us become obsessed with our online appearance.

    Maybe, there needs to be a new service, where people can share their views openly, without being persecuted globally? Linkedin groups & slack groups has in some ways developed into this, yet still limits our speech.

    Any thoughts?