Life is a series of commas, not periods

"Great things are done by a series of small things brought together - Van Gogh"

With the launch of Medium's new "Series" offering, conventional wisdom compares it to SnapChat's Stories, that the rest of the social web just happens to have copied. My immediate reaction, however, was that it was similar to Hardbound.

(Maybe it's just that I don't use SnapChat.)

Somewhat ironically, the first promotional quote on the Hardbound website comes from none other than Ev Williams.

Nathan Bashaw, the mind behind the company, noted the comparison some people were making between Series and Hardbound and graciously tweeted:

"We believe this format is bigger than any one company, and it might not be obvious now, but our goals are very different from Medium"

Whether there is even the slightest annoyance at the launch of a similar product it must still be a vindication that what Hardbound is doing is considered worthwhile.

Nathan has described discovering how tapping through a series of quick steps helped people learn more easily than reading a longer, drier piece.

They connected with it far better.

There are echoes of this in the description of Series:

It’s a new way to tell deeper, more meaningful stories


The title is a quote from Matthew McConaughey. It is a perfect articulation of how we don't live our lives in isolated chunks; everything flows from one event to the next and this is what Medium is trying to bottle.

The goal is for readers to drink it in and connect with these ongoing story arcs in a way that single, episodic posts could never hope to achieve.

Rather than omnipresent, grandiose think pieces Series feel like reclaiming the normalcy of the old web when weblogs and journals lived up to their names.

Creating a captivating series, however, is a far cry from writing an effective blog post - the skills required are different, tricky and complex even when the tool is quite simple.

It may seem strange to say when we are swamped with social networks that include a "stories" feature but we will, no doubt, be subjected to many failed tests while people try to find their feet with the new format.

Medium just has to hope that this doesn't cheapen the feature leaving users to abandon it as a neglected experiment.


After my previous comments about Twitter homogenising "live" it was interesting to see a piece from The Verge end with the following statement:

"Series starts looking less like a big swing and more like a commodity."

Whether you compare Series to Hardbound, SnapChat stories, or any other network's variant, it becomes just another option in an already crowded space.

It's only natural.

The feature du jour becomes the "social norm" irrespective of being the best. It will become the de facto standard (for the time being) and users expect it or, at least, a semblance of it.

The pressure is on but any implementation only has to be good enough to deter a move away to another product or network.

In this context is Series a viable addition to Medium's toolset or just another "me too" feature added because every other service has it?

Life is a series of commas, not periods

Same thing, different platform


Not entirely sure what to expect, I listened to the first episode of the Hardbound podcast (with Nathan Bashaw and Will Hoekenga) and was really struck by the notion that, despite the technological advances we have seen and new form factors available, we are still largely repackaging the same old types of content to make it fit a different sized screen.

We may have to think about layouts and font sizing in order to maximise the benefits of any given platform - responsive CSS is the tool du jour here - or work on how quickly things load by reducing their complexity - the AMP Project is a case in point - but this is just tinkering round the edges and not revolutionising the content.

Hardbound interests me because it is a new platform specifically designed to redefine how we tell stories on mobile devices and has amazing educational potential. In fact, all the stories published so far are educational in nature rather than what we would think of as literary ones.

The link between storytelling and education, of course, goes back millennia. Culture, history and legend were all passed orally from generation to generation by way of stories long before writing was ever invented and I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that such platforms are a modern extension of this tradition.

But, as I've said before, all writing is storytelling, it's just a different kind of story, and stories require a certain flow, direction.

The visual web

There has been a genuine fear that visual consumption is taking over the web with engagement heading towards the lowest common denominator.

With the likes of Instagram, SnapChat, YouTube, Periscope, and now the suggestion that within just five years Facebook could be all video the tide has been turning and some believe it may never come back in.

Yet, when faced with the written word, we cling to the same old formats that could just as well be column inches in a newspaper.

Why don't we do something different with blogs and articles? Why do we persist in creating stories in the exact same way regardless of delivery mechanism?

It's almost as though, when it comes to text, we are afraid to give up the old paradigm.

Maybe it's because it just works

We are used to linear progression, stories wouldn't work without it. Beginning, middle and end - just as our English teachers used to drum in to us every day.

Text in its traditional form works because we are telling a story, we are taking the reader from A to B, maybe stopping off to see some sights on the journey, but still leading them to a destination so that they might reach the same conclusions or better understand our point of view.

We could play around with more visual representations and, as Hardbound demonstrates, could still achieve a coherent narrative. So why don't we?

One reason has to be information density: more words often equals more information, more scope to tell our tale or make our point; just like the difference between a song and a rap.

But you get people like Seth Godin who can say so much with so few words or song writers who are able to convey such meaning and emotion in a few short verses. True brevity is a rare talent - the rest of us are stuck in loquacity.

I think there are two other factors at play: speed and talent.

It is obviously far quicker to just write something than to also illustrate and animate it. The news is obviously new and current, time sensitive, so any benefits gained by clever presentation are normally outweighed by the delay in publishing.

There is also the consideration that alternative means of presentation will be multi-disciplinary affairs requiring writers, illustrators, animators, and perhaps even coders.

Large news organisations will have the resources to try something different and we see them tread new paths on occasion, but this is the exception rather than the rule due to sheer pressures and timescales involved.

For casual bloggers it is all but impossible.


Perhaps long form text is just what we're used to, it has been our mainstay and some habits are hard to break. However, this could be a generational thing with older generations the last gatekeepers of traditional long form text - the picture may change over time.

We are in the midst of a communications revolution where emoji and gifs are used to convey more information and emotion than a few words ever could over our size constrained, mobile-centric delivery systems.

Yes, even with our large screen devices.

Update: changed “solo bloggers” to “casual bloggers” to better illustrate the skill sets at play.

Same thing, different platform