This is how it works folks. Because we rely on humans.
Can’t we make machines do the sharing and percolation here on Medium? With all this hype on AI and open sourced AI systems, why do we, the Medium community, still depend on that heart icon being pressed? Why do most stories required outbound sharing for inbound traffic, and why so many of them got popular outside of Mediumfirst?
The power of this platform is that readers and writers can transcend their state at any time. That new story link is there, luring you with fame and rage and venting warm fuzzies and tear sharing and love making with words and so many other sweets writing has in store.
The problem is most of the time you speak to a void.
Medium can fix this. I don’t know if it is a business solution, but it definitely is an issue worth investing in, because part of what makes the advertising model suck is the over dependence on sharing.
Do you remember print? They had ads too. But those ads had guaranteed and measurable reach and exposure. No one had to “share” a good piece of work, it was there and all that was shared was the newspaper itself. That was auto percolation and it worked with HI (human intelligence). At Medium we require AI to build auto percolating content in lack of a physical medium.
Did Facebook hypnotise everybody with that “Like” thing?
Start rant …
This is different, why do I have to like something to propel it once I’ve clicked on the thing with the intent to read? Medium is no Facebook feed. I don’t see lolcats. There is no quick mindless “Like”.
… is an abomination for those who steal time from their brief existence to squeeze out words from their soul. Why would one be encouraged to recommend things they didn’t click on yet, on a platform aiming to help voices be heard?
Also, why can I recommend my own stuff? I asked, and the reply:
What is this about … what does it mean? Is Twitter the online go to for good UX ideas? What is the actual answer to having a million followers and recommending my own story :)? Is it OK?
End rant …
If we’re ever to fix the advertising driven online publishing we need to lower the importance of sharing by automating the process.
I do internet stuff for sixteen years. Like crafting I mean. With a lot of lucky stumbles I got to be involved in really big online enterprises. I know the marketing and the content management, I know the reach and the workflow building, I know a lot of things, and none seem to help in my striving for an audience 🙂
I am currently unsure if the aim is finding or building an audience. Finding one appears to be harder. Do you know which of my Medium stories is queen of stats? The meaning of life!
Sure, it makes sense, I mean, it’s the meaning of life written in there. But then again the real reason for these stats is, well, Reddit. Some people there thought it was a good read. After that nothing I posted in r/philosophy ever got beyond the moderators, it wasn’t philosophical enough.
My second trending post is about putting a price on work.
A funny little thing. This is the only one which actually got read and viewed b/c of Medium’s recommends. But it is also a 50 second read.
All the things I’ve posted before following got to triple digits are under water. Things just don’t percolate. Anything which is longer than 4 minutes has reading engagement fall sharply, -70% sharp in my case.
Self promotion sucks. All communities are focused on participation. But I have a weak network. I am not in highly sharing circles and worse I am in a weirdly diverse social conectome. I tried at some point to buy self promotion on Facebook and Reddit. It is a sad thing to do 🙂 as a “writer” and “thinker”, so I couldn’t say it didn’t work, it was just too painful to do it, so I quit that.
But if you don’t pay, you must balance participation with self promotion. On Hacker News at a certain point their algorithm sunk me. There was a nice honeymoon of about three self promotional links which drove traffic inbound and then I fell off the chart.
So building an audience becomes a full time job. I have a full time job. I have a life centered on the perks of, you know, the worst addiction of them all: a paycheck. Even when I didn’t have a full time job, somehow making things was higher on my time allocation than thought tinkering.
Finding an audience is so far a matter of luck. There is no good platform or system for content distribution and discovery . Good things don’t percolate because freshness is a good predictor of relevance. Stories are hard to promote because we don’t analyze nuance and meaning but similar keywords. Shit content is trending because we like to like what our friends like so that they know we like them.
Sure, there is always the possibility that I am shit and ya know I just don’t stick. Nevertheless, I’ll focus on assuming that is not the case. I make this assumption b/c I got emails from random people with a nice thank you or an encouragement to go on, I got compliments on stories and writing from people who had no advantage in making them (I don’t trade in followings or recommends or likes or shares, b/c I also read my feed and going tit for tat kills off any relevance of what I get on any platform), and in general I seem to make good points.
The question is complex. As Facebook is phasing out human fiddling with their editorial effort and it is leaving more and more to the trained software to decide what stories are worthy of attention, as all platforms kill the time based feeds and move to recommendation systems, as Google has basically became the library of Alexandria merged with the oracle of Delphi, why did I have to block Jon and Benjamin? I think entropy in output would do a great metric in recommendation algorithms, one can only like so much distilled life advice.
Do we still have a place for “organic” or “amateur” or “enthusiast” in the dictionaries of the Internet?
Sure, there is that constant pleasure of muse engagement, her soft but urgent voice energizing every protein bind in your body, her radiance electrifying each dendrite and your submission to her whims and moods giving that contentment which makes the anguish warm and fuzzy. No audience required for all this. But this is individual, this is egocentric, sometimes egoist, no one shares these pleasures and this happiness.
The audience is for joy. For the shared experience, for the ego of the writer feeding on validation and the ego of the reader feeding on confirmation. No shame in that. Shared experience fosters the idea exchange, the participation, the call to arms for constructive change, the whispers that turn into paradigm shifts, the vision that inspires someone else’s action. If one can’t find it nor can one build it, it remains then to be cast in a gypsum of opinions, lacking debate, hoping you’re strong enough to stand the flattening of the Earth.
When you get banned by the people you agree with you start thinking about your faith in humanity …
I am reading her articles for as long as I am on Medium. There was a time when I was checking Medium, despite my anger on listicles, before users could be blocked, before the feed could be tweaked, exclusively checking my feed to see if @girlziplocked wrote anything new. I think, that is what one does when one likes some music, written think pieces, videos on Youtube or whatever: you follow up and check it out for new stuff. Right? Am I bad at Internet?
But then I took the invitation of Medium and started answering to people. I did my best to answer with things that make sense as standalone articles, enjoying the bumps in my stats that answers to popular stories brought in. There were some answers I really, really cared about, such as this one:
These are some things that inspired me to reply. I know, if you look I rarely reply with “yes”, “kudos”, “amazing stuff”, “THIS”, “great stuff”. It hurts me to hit publish to such things. I do sometimes, when I find I can develop an idea from a positive thing I reply with congratulations, like this:
So, then following up on @girlziplocked for so long, I found myself wanting to write back. Yes, despite my admiration, no kudos were sent. It must have been this? I had some articles as replies to her:
Then, today, trying to respond to Conor Kosidowski I noticed my original reply was an orphan. And I thought, well that must be a bug. Then I feared, for one minute, that something happened to Holly Wood. Something of the horrible sorts that swiped out Kel Campbell a while ago. And again, I was too late to understand what happened. No! I felt sorry. I searched for Holly Wood and I found this: Holly Wood. Where is the other account? What happened?
I rushed to twitter, to ask a question and behold:
… thank you kind Twitter software, I don’t want to follow those people. I want to understand, its my bug.
I just don’t get it … I know I am a rushed up type, maybe I should wait out to understand, but then again, patience still isn’t my thing.
I am an amateur writer who jumps for joy when Todd Hannula 🤓 or Tim Barrus or Leah Stella Stephens 🐀 highlighted or twitted something I wrote. Maybe I bored Holly to death. … OK, sorry for the ironic victimization, I couldn’t help it, I am anything but modest, but I do jump for joy. I jump for joy for any of you people who out of the blue stumbled upon my thoughts, as tinkered with as they are, and decided to follow or to recommend, or, the best part, to talk to me. Do I sound like an obnoxious person who stalks people and should be blocked?
The only thing I really, really hope for is that this ban/block is not a form of shielding, a way to turn off any sound that distracts from a “message”, from a staged play with people’s ideas and minds. This would be a disaster, to find that one I watched as a leader in clarity for so long turns out to only care for effectiveness and efficiency, not for debate and truth. Oh, that, that would be terribly sad.
Anyway, as I said it’s not the writing, it’s the reading.
I read a lot ever since hooking up with this writing platform. I am still being a wanderer in the desert of anonymous, and the network and the interaction doesn’t really come in either. I read a lot though. The discovery is not the best, it is actually pretty bad. I mean, really, chronological? These stories here are not status updates, these are not “blog posts” or answers to “what is happening?”, they are articles. They live outside time.
But damn, I read a lot more than I used to read online, since I got the Medium bug.
However, Medium is building features for everything else but for reading. So i was wondering if a neat little browser extension could provide us the readers with these simple tools detailed below, or, who knows, maybe, just maybe, the Medium Engineering team has some of this incoming already.
Saved reading progress
Once, Medium was for the long form. We’re not sure what it is for today, but apparently the long form is here to stay. The long form has one attribute though which you cannot get around, no matter how much you try: it is long.
A tracker of read versus unread would be very helpful in assesing how far I am untill i’ll get out of the story’s grip. This tracker should be vertical, no idea why everyone implemented it horizontally. It is like a scroll indicator but it works overall, like some text editors have this minimap, like a zoomed out document.
A small ticker appears on hover telling the reader how much time is needed to finish the reading. Below the time ticker, there is a save button that allows me to save the position in time of my current reading, locally via a cookie, and maybe in some “unfinished reads” menu item below my avatar.
Table of contents
A toc is a simple overview of what’s in the box. The reader wants to get a clear look at what’s inside before getting 10 minutes in the piece and realizing it has no structure. The TOC, the visible toc, helps the writer too.
This toc could be optional, or shown for certain story lengths, but in all cases it is a super helper for navigating things that you’ve already read and want to refresh in your memory.
Quotable, searchable highlights library
Please, I beg of you, use highlights for more than notifying me who else has clicked on green text! That notification would mean something if the users didn’t see the highlights, if by magic the exact same words and letters are highlighted by a reader and another reader. Now it’s just the bandwagon.
Nevertheless, the feature is great. The highlights are snippets of wisdom embeded in the Medium. The reader highlights to share, but the reader of a digital platform should have 21st century tools, right? Like a way to search through his favorite words in the universe?
Then, in an epistolary network, where comments are not comments but responses, wouldn’t quoting someone allow multiple quotes and cross referencing for stories? That’d be great for the amateur writer who is normally a reader, to build up a network of read ideas!
Sometimes you don’t want to recommend, because that ripples throughout your entire network. Sometimes you want to send a hug to someone who wrote the best poem you’ve read in years. But you end up sending a “private note”. Its … OK, I guess, Medium, but we’re humans. Private notes are also secret. And unfindable, man, I cannot in any way find the private kudos i’ve sent in the past year.
Emotions could be a Path style menu, with a more complete palette of reactions at a one click distance. Allowing readers to tweak how excited they are would be an invaluable gradient factor for your machine learning which despite all protest WILL at some point (I hope) replace the chronological modest feed we’re served today!
The reader, being a human which is a genetic gossiper, wants to know HOT topics. Maybe I am old fashioned, but I know there is a difference between posts with many recommends and posts that spark discussion.
Hot discussions are stories that not only get two worded replies, but those who get fully composed replies, replies who get many recommends themselves and stories that have responses that have responses.
Some of this is done already below each post. But the reader would use, I believe, a place to explore and discover the threads themselves.
Profile for readers
I am probably the 1.000.000 th Medium user whining about the profile, but damn is that profile useless. When I want to decide wether to follow someone, God, there is so.much.work!
The reader would use a profile that tells about the author, not about the stories. What does that author usually writes about, where does the author write, what does the author think are the best of their work, and show if the author has any notable successes.
Most of the people writing on medium are not known. Please Medium, you must give something to the horde of users, in return for their constant pounding at the keyboard generating so much inbound traffic, it’s only fair!
And one other thing:
Optimized long posts
Especially on mobile devices. My really long Evolving essay, kills my iPad and my mid range Samsung phone. IDK, buffer some of the post, show only some of the post, remove from the screen the post that I am not reading. Be more ebook like on mobile, so the stuff won’t jitter at every scroll, and the scroll won’t jump like crazy. I know it can be done.
You are always busy. New ideas, new work, new output every hour after hour. At the end of the day it’s all meant to push you, bit by bit, closer to the place you want to be in. May the place be called “The top of the (collective) mind”.
When you do get in the “top of mind”, with a badge of “known” or “established”, you receive the magic rainbow of: authority, creative freedom, influence and respect — personally handed to you by Roy G. Biv. Let me introduce this place as “The Promised Land”.
Between you and “The Promised Land’s” endless supply of daily joy, the universe has placed a horde of folks which will do anything they can to fight you and your calling. We’ll call these folks “The gatekeepers”.
The place where you are now, nobody cares and nobody will ever care what that place is. In all honesty, I am convinced some people have already answered many fundamental questions and have solved truly profound problems, but we’ll never know they did it — because, like you, they are in this huge, hot, empty and sandy land I’ll call “The desert of anonymous”.
As you hike along “the dunes of unnoticed material” and walk along endless piles made from grains of existential purpose, shattered smoothly by the senseless passage of time, the brief fifteen seconds of fame are the cherished water to wet your lips with — just enough to keep carrying on.
From time to time, there might be an “Oasis of opportunity” hovering above the ground like an unreal vision — some stupid joke Faith keeps repeating and laughing at, all by itself. You’ll enter it, filled with hope. However, while refreshing, the oasis of opportunity is still just a closed circle of friends making some “Promised land” in the middle the same huge “Desert of the anonymous”. Sometimes, even worse, you’ll enter it just to find it shatter when your better judgement gets a hold of you, a fata morgana of creative recognition.
Nevertheless the true wanderer, the berber skilled on surviving anonymity conditions lives with the ordeal. Some have a map, some start out the journey really, really early and some follow the right footsteps “leaning in” the right direction.
Struggling with your hike effort and thirst for audience you will be often spotted by the all seeing eye of the peers. This, just like the one in the famous Mordor in The Story, sees everything and only likes his army of minions. The all seeing eye of the peers is what will always keep innovation at the gates because if, by any chance, you are breaking taboos, shattering established foundations or challenging long held beliefs — you will be scorched. The flaming eye of peers shall spot you and burn you as many times as needed until you either conform or give up.
This is the main foe to fight in the Desert of anonymous and the best strategy is, like in The Story with The Hobbits, to move low profile and decisively act only when the army of minions attacks some other group at war. Being distracted, the all seeing eye of the peers might not spot you just enough to ensure safe passage trough the Desert of anonymous right to the walls of The Promised Land.
Once you’re close be warned: handling all the ancient creatures guarding the walls, lands and gates of The Promised Land means an even greater challenge than crawling all alone and miserable trough the Desert of anonymous. Yet all the truly brave creatives will muster up the guts and force, because they’ve beaten the desert, survived it and at least they got near The Promised Land, having now a chance to go trough what we think of as:
“The Promised Land defense system”
1. The moat of critics
Every wondering soul who didn’t get in, who got tired of trying, who got a really bad fall from the wall, ended up in the moat around The Promised Land. This is the moat of critics.
They are being thrown slices of old bread from the towers of The Promised Land and drink the muddy waters in the moat. They can’t get out because only the Desert of anonymous can be their home since in The Promised Land everyone knows them from the moat.
The technique to pass this first defense is to very carefully bridge the moat: once you fall in no one can pull you out — until you are too old to matter anyway. These folks will shake your bridge and they will throw their mud at you. Simply make sure to walk on determination and hang on inspiration and the swing from the moat’s edge to the Wall Of Publicity will be clear, pure flight. If you get dirty, jump back and clean up because the moat of critics has the stickiest of mud; you don’t want to be stuck to the Wall Of Publicity while the journalists fire their bows at you.
2. The Wall Of Publicity and the towers of journalists
The Promised Land’s towers are filled with journalists aiming at you bows of inconclusive reviews, armed with arrows made of mean phrases and with burning tips of ignorance, all while you strive to climb the Wall Of Publicity, a living wall, made taller and taller by every human who manages to climb over it. Give up fast enough if you’re shot! Just jump back and try another wall.
Walls Of Publicity are usually climbed faster with “controversy” at your belt. Also, a shield made of the highly reflective “sensational!” will blind the towers’ archers by the very sun of the hot Desert of anonymous. If you’re missing “controversy” and “sensational”, then you can always try to catch one of the grown leafy Trends — there are many of them, swinging freely on the badly maintained Wall Of Publicity.
3. The Gate of curators, BDFLs and promised land xenophobe residents
Curators are the noble class and land owners of The Promised Land. They own by right of birth some portion of The Promised Land.
You need their permission to cross their land. Those who own the outskirts of The Promised Land are the most fierce in their terms for the permission, since every wall jumper ends up in their backyard begging for a visa.
Once you’ve jumped the Wall Of Publicity the way around curators is to walk the public roads. Considering the curator’s terms, spending the night under a street spotlight is usually far better than spending the day on a privately owned part of The Promised Land.
Benevolent dictators for life (BDFLs) are traders who take stuff from the “Oases of opportunity”, and bring the stuff in The promised land.
Remember them, the “Oases of opportunity”?
Sometimes these oases produce some uniquely fine idea, or even a superfine concept, which either the opportunists or the brave take to The Promised Land’s fortification. If what they bring is of value to the residents of The Promised Land, they live to become BDFLs on the trade route of creativity that they have founded. The problem with these is the dictatorship part: you do it because they say you have to do it; they do it because they know the route, they have the contacts and the influence.
You might want to stay away from these smugglers of creativity and try to make it on your own. Otherwise, be prepared for some years of mental slavery before you’re finally given your part in the bargain.
Your next problem: some of the The Promised Land’s residents are xenophobic. They are those who suddenly learned that whomever lived longer inside the The Promised Land, clearly must be better beings than those beggars from the sands of the Desert of anonymous. Unfortunately they own the third Gate.
Some of these xenophobes are born inside The Promised Land and some, just a few, a tiny faction, really are better, better than anyone other than themselves: they are the geniuses, the ultra productive, the prolific creative machines, the singers of the word of God — or something of sorts — those who did not have to struggle one day to learn anything and yet they’re simply outstanding. What the xenophobe residents will do is mock your normality and call it mediocrity, blissfully ignorant at the side of your creation that is special and unique, made better by each hour you’ve spent working hardly on it.
To avoid being held at The Gate, disguise. Walk confident, make a friend who lives on the other side, talk to people who come out and who go in — a clear strategy:
learn the culture, move like an insider and speak the subculture.
If you’re acing all these, no one will ever ask a thing. Not who you are, nor where you’re coming from and all the gates will open like you said “Sesame!”.
Once you have entered trough The Gate, well, that’s it! Bravely step in and rejoice! You have found The Promised Land and Roy. G. Biv. awaits you to hand over your very own special rainbow. Huzzah! Yay! Hooray! Oh, and once you’re in, dear creative human, please do write me a letter and ask a dove to deliver it to me. The dove will find me — they all do.
Now that I’ve made enemies of about each type of people guarding The Promised Land, by revealing their wicked ways and doubtful days, and since I despise the Desert of anonymous so badly, I think I may strive for the remainder of my days to find that spring of creative youth which I know it to be somewhere at the edge of understanding. Send the dove there before I reach the spot.