16/8/20122

Is the Medium the message?Comments

Medium sits in a no-man's land somewhere between blogging and traditional publishing with emphasis on the content rather than the author. Is it the new wave and will it catch on?

MediumIt's interesting looking at the reactions to Medium, the new publishing platform from Evan Williams and Biz Stone's Obvious Corporation.

On the one hand, we've got those saying it is publishing for the social age - where blogging was all about the individual Medium is moving away from that, letting go of the ego and reducing the emphasis on the personal brand. On the other, we have those who want it to be open so that the content you provide can be re-purposed in order to enhance your personal brand.

So which is it?

For starters, we need to ask "what is it?"

Is Medium just a multi-author blog designed to take the hard work out of running your own site so that you can just focus on content?

Is it yet another content silo designed to profit from the work of others or a platform intended to showcase that hard work?

Is it a kind of wiki where content is generated according to "collections" but without the ability to edit other people's entries?

What is "publishing for the social age" and will it catch on?

Blogging and the social web has revolutionised the way we see ourselves. It may not have altered things to any huge degree but we at least "feel" that we are capable of making a stand, of grabbing an audience and shouting our message to the world.

In reality it may not be that simple as finding our audience can be incredibly difficult. Social networks can help to a degree as it can be easier to build an audience within the confines of a service rather than as a lone voice shouting into the void that is the World Wide Web.

Perhaps this is where Medium comes in. Instead of blogging out on our own trying to grab our slice of the pie we rely on being found within the confines of someone else's service, gaining an audience by proxy as people come just to "read" and stumble across us within the context of the topic. We can rely on the pull of the crowd rather than trying to get our audience to hear that lone voice.

As Joshua Benton writes: "Medium doesn’t want you to read something because of who wrote it; Medium wants you to read something because of what it’s about". Is that context, Medium is a content discovery tool with the advantage of becoming an author discovery tool but the emphasis is firmly on the content and not the individual.

Whether it is liberating to the point we no longer feel the need for our own home and can just stay in "Hotel Medium" or we build on our stay and use it as a springboard out in the real world is very much up to us.

What's in a name?

The concept is different and, potentially, difficult to get your head round in these ego-driven times but the name of the service is actually very clever. It is obviously a publishing "medium" (and I can't believe no one else has one up with it before) but it is also something else? Does it offer us that "happy medium" between the struggle to find an audience for our own blog and the captive audience of the social network?

While the jury is very much out on whether people will want to publish to Medium (or whether it will become just another bastion for the publishing elite) like App.net, it at least forces us to ask questions of the status quo. Has the "easy web" really enabled a level playing field for citizen journalism or is it still dominated by the privileged few? Are we too focused on individuals as brands and, for the individual at least, does that merely serve as a distraction?

The message

The increasing ubiquity of social networks and the enhanced functionality of services such as  Google+ have caused some to question the need for a dedicated blog but are these locations really suitable for effective publishing? By focusing on the content rather than the author perhaps we can genuinely say that the Medium is the message.

Is the Medium the message?

From whence comes the new wave?

New waveAs if they have all materialised from an alternative reality, the new wave of sites, tools and services have descended upon the technorati almost simultaneously which is causing many to wonder where the web, and publishing in particular, is heading.

  • We have a new focus on context and discovery as our online and offline lives converge and we are seeking more relevant information.
  • Dave Winer argues that the web is, should be, and was always designed to be socialist but organisations try to make their sections of it capitalist resulting in walled gardens which block the flow of information.
  • Services such as Medium are putting the topic ahead of the author in an attempt to focus on quality of data rather than the identity of its author.

A realisation?

There appears to have been a collective epiphany, a realisation that, although the web is the most "open" and easy to use it has ever been, things are in need of (yet another) shake-up. There is something wrong on the Internet.

As I wrote earlier some seem to be "letting go of the ego and reducing the emphasis on the personal brand" all in favour of the greater good, but for many this requires a large mindset shift which they may not be ready, or even able, to accommodate.

Who are those looking to change the way we publish? Who are those looking to guide us on the path to Internet enlightenment? They are the people who already made it, they already have a widely recognised personal brand (and often the wealth that goes with it). They are the ones who have served their tour, but what of those who have not?

Many will not want to sacrifice authorship for the sake of the collection (or the collective). It may not even be as simple as wanting to sacrifice authorship - they may not even be given the chance.

Who watches the Watchmen?

As Anil Dash so eloquently puts it: "Building a social tool for “just us geeks” permanently privileges the few people who get in the door first". There may be a new emphasis on quality but is that at the risk of creating an elitist culture (think Svbtle where you have to be invited to join) which goes against the principals of an open and inclusive web that the very same people are suggesting we need?

Are we experiencing the "white flight" as it is called, with the privileged few suddenly "too cool for school" and bored of the current offerings now that everyone else is playing in their sand pit?

There is an attraction to the new, the shiny, to the need to be constantly pushing forwards dragging the world along kicking and screaming whether it wants it or not.

Each new wave is seen as the saviour of the last - until the next - with the same stewards overseeing its progress. That progress, however, transfixes us and we want in, we want to be one of the cool kids invited to the party which just goes to show that we can't really sacrifice the ego.

Who is to say that any path we take is the correct one, that the choices of the few are the best for the masses, but who watches the Watchmen?

Image by tikilab.

From whence comes the new wave?