So, I received an email inviting me to join the Medium Partner Program and get paid for what I publish. It's because I was there at the beginning in 2012 but the email also says: "and you're still writing today..."

Yes, I'm still writing but not on Medium; my last cross-posted piece was back in May.

I'm not reading anything into it, they've likely invited a lot of the early adopters just to get a broader spectrum of writers and articles. In fact, it's quite the opposite - if they'd seen my posting habits and read anything I've recently written about Medium they'd likely never consider me for the program.

Take this statement from Ev Williams during an interview:

"We have a ton of writers on Medium, and the majority of them aren’t really our target for our partner program. We don’t want to suggest that everybody who writes should get paid or try to get paid."

That I've got an email just makes it feel like I'm a statistic, nothing more then the result of an automated date check.

And that's not how to build trust in something you're trying to build.

Regardless, I've not posted anything exclusive to Medium - barring comments - for ages; I believe in everything being available openly, for free. If it's all on my blog first why do I then want to cross-post it behind a paywall, and why would anyone choose to pay to read it there?

Status

The sands are shiftingComments

Blogging is a particularly singular and personal act despite your posts being publicly available - the unedited voice of a person and all that.

Reading and commenting on blog posts, however, is an inherently social act carried out on a range of scales. Unfortunately, over the years, we have slipped towards the lower end of that range.

Recent posts, discussion and approaches, however, are converging to give me renewed optimism that blogging can regain some of its status and power.

Firstly, micro.blog is a force for blogging connectedness, as I keep saying. Next, there is Richard MacManus' intention to reinvigorate a blogging community. And then Dave Winer's idea to make blogging more like Facebook (but not a silo) and his first efforts with the technology behind "Instant Dave" look interesting.

Then, of course, there is the indieweb movement which, as a whole, is built around the idea of interconnected personal sites.

It feels that there is a concerted effort not to usurp the social networks (they are ideal for certain things which is why they're so popular) but to ensure that blog posts are in the places most suited.

And not just that: to also get bloggers discovering and talking to each other again; to build a genuine dialogue rather than be isolated voices shouting into the abyss.

It may seem like I am repeating myself (and you'd probably be right) but this is something I think deserves repeating.

We have reached a point where a small number of outlets control the bulk of the web's communication, outlets that initially seem ideally suited to the task but operate according to their own rules and agendas. Outlets that control how information is presented, filtered and potentially removed.

Without any real accountability.

Medium tried to buck the trend attracting many influential people but their approach doesn't look sustainable, jumping between business models with no clear path.

What Medium did achieve, however, was to bring blogging back from the wilderness and reintroduce it (as an important means of expression) to the online conversation, raising awareness within the "social generation" who never knew life before Facebook and Twitter.

Never mind SnapChat and the multitude of messaging apps.

It may have become disparagingly known as the place to rant about losing/quit your job but the ease with which celebrities, CEOs and presidents could share extended thoughts with the world cannot be understated. In fact, that ease needs to be replicated by other tools allowing casual or infrequent bloggers to publish as often or as little as they like without a heavy investment or learning curve.

Just in a better environment.

Those looking to do something about it may be coming from different directions with different approaches but their goals are as good as the same.

The sands are shifting and I hope we can find a true oasis in the desert.

The sands are shifting

To syndicate or noComments

Realising that I had not cross-posted a few of my recent items to Medium got me thinking.

After mentioning that I was not reading much there either I find it curious that there should be such a change in my online behaviour in so short a space of time.

This wasn't a deliberate act, I forgot to change the options on the Medium plugin for these posts, but I still don't feel compelled to go back and do it.

Although POSSEing your content to other places isn't a requirement for having an #Indieweb property they generally go hand in hand.

Most people will still engage on the same services they have been using, or reply to other people's posts, but just make sure that they are putting the original items on their own site.

It can, therefore, be surprising when someone says they won't be syndicating their posts.

Returning to the subject of display and distribution, however, not syndicating your content - or, at least, not syndicating all of it - makes a good degree of sense.

If distribution or syndication doesn't work then don't do it, simple. Keep things where they are, where they look how they should, within the context in which they were created.

Some content types work well when distributed so, if it's not a chore to do it, why not? Use these as the bait to the blogging hook.

Hand in hand with data ownership we should be leading by example to encourage more direct site visits rather than viewing via a third party service.

To syndicate or no

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

Commas

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.

Commodity

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

The cross-posting dilemma

They say exposure is everything on the social web and best practice advocates cross-posting to multiple platforms to gain the most exposure we can. I can't help but have a dilemma with this.

Much of the reason I stopped posting on Twitter was the environment I found myself in every day and a key trigger was when my Nuzzel daily summary email had Trump in the title of every story.

Twitter has changed.

Not so much as a company or a platform, but what it contains. We are at a turning point where just about everyone is talking about the same things. Everyone is political now, whether it's about Brexit or Trump or beyond.

We follow specific accounts for specific purposes but now even those are talking about news and politics.

We used to talk about serendipity on social networks, those happy accidents when people and content would briefly align but serendipity is all but dead because everyone is talking about the same thing.

Breaking stories would always gather pace, trend and take over for a few news cycles, but now our feeds are one never ending story, inescapable and all consuming.

An unsatisfactory social experience is often blamed on bad account management and following the wrong people. By that definition, just about everyone has become "the wrong people."

Medium

Escaping to concentrate on the blog seemed the only solution. There I can cover the topics I want and cross-post to Medium for (hopefully) that all important exposure.

Medium, however, is suffering from the same ailment as Twitter, although to a slightly lesser degree.

It is good that people are passionate. It is good that they want to become involved and push for what they consider the best interests of society. But the vitriol being poured forth in the name of what's best is often as intolerant as the ideas being complained about.

The platform is suffering and people are leaving because of it.

Medium's strength is also its biggest frustration - the network effect empowers us, exposes us to more people but having to rely on others in order to be seen is hard.

We see a bump in reads but realise that it is only for our responses and not for our original content - making us just an observed contributor, viewed because we have become attached to someone else's work.

The dilemma

A feature of Micro.blog will be cross-posting back to Twitter so your followers there can keep up to date with what you're doing. Having sworn off Twitter, however, I am dubious I want to start pushing updates and getting dragged back into that environment.

Just like Medium, the value is in the network and its engagement; just pushing updates and not interacting has no benefit, it's like whispering into the Grand Canyon and people don't follow links any more. But that required engagement risks becoming mired in a quicksand of negativity.

Considering this, and the double-edged network effect, also makes me wonder why I persist in cross-posting to Medium. Am I being hypocritical?

Hope

Rather than just hitting publish and letting the WordPress plugin do its thing, that I am still investing time and effort on Medium reflects that it has not yet plumbed the same depths as Twitter.

With the uncertainty over Medium's latest pivot and any new business model it is natural to wonder if this is still the place to entrust our creativity to. There is hope they have caught it in time.

With Micro.blog being a completely new network fuelled by that pioneer spirit there is hope that it can flourish whilst avoiding the pitfalls experienced elsewhere.

Maybe there is even hope that Twitter will settle or that we'll get new ways to see what we want to see and avoid what we don't.

Maybe then I'll start cross-posting.

The cross-posting dilemma

Obsession and accidental writing goals

Although I have resolved to read more on philosophy this year, which is prompting some posts in examination, I deliberately never pledged to any specific writing goals for 2017.

There are tags and publications on Medium - such as "100 Naked Words" and the "52 Week Writing Challenge" - encouraging people to publish more regularly but I didn't want to commit to anything like this after Write365.

It looks, however, as though I have fallen in without even trying.

I am like a dog with a new toy or, rather, I am the new toy with a dog that grabs me and won't let go until it has exhausted itself or is distracted by something else.

Ideas grip me.

We talk about habit and routine but, often, things are more like an obsession: I become deeply immersed, focused to the point of exclusion until the obsession has run its course.

I will still not commit to these accidental writing goals, even though I am currently surpassing them.

There is no telling how long this current obsession will last.

Obsession and accidental writing goals

Can we ever make the Medium we want?

Forcing change.

Maybe the algorithms have become more responsive or maybe I have changed the way I use Medium and not previously noticed how responsive they can be.

Follow new people, recommend different posts in different tags and a host of new content based on those actions instantly appears in my feed.

It has become a lot more obvious how certain aspects of the algorithms work and how we can use them to "fix" our feeds. But there are still gaps, little black holes where content gets sucked in and we don't exactly know to what degree.

"Show fewer stories like this" sounds like a good way to remove unwanted clutter but how does it account for nuance? Where is the event horizon beyond which nothing returns, nothing is visible?

But there are also crazy wormholes, story spewing singularities that respond to our actions in ways we would rather they didn't.

A follow or recommend will immediately give us more from that person but there seems to be no flow control, no finesse. The algorithms get over zealous, regurgitating unrelated stories from years ago just because they are by the same author.

It's all or nothing.

This is the problem with follow and block, with algorithms that work on rules - I like posts about Twitter, I don't like listicles.

Include and exclude.

What happens when those rules intersect and clash? There will always be exceptions so what takes priority?

We are creatures of habit, sure, but "something about us compels us to learn, explore" and an algorithm cannot match that compulsion, that curiosity, that nuance of thought and taste.

How many of us leave the safety of our feeds and jump with both feet into Reading Roulette or scan the trending topics?

Despite our best efforts and digital snobbery, we run the risk of getting caught up in the same filters bubbles we so detest on Facebook. We constantly need to keep things fresh but how much effort do we, should we, expend in tweaking the algorithms?

Is it even possible or are we wasting time pursuing an unobtainable facsimile?

Are we forever chasing the white rabbit?

Can we ever make the Medium we want?

This would make a great blog post

Dave Winer will sometimes link to the above image as both a reminder, and perhaps chastisement, that we should own our words and our creations.

But, despite what the terms and conditions on various services say, the practicalities of this are harder than ever.

Social media has increasingly taken the conversation away from blogs and we respond in situ because, if we don't, people are unlikely to follow links to read our response.

Ain't nobody got time for that 1

We suffer from the inherent importance of context in our fast paced, online world.

Thoughts & fragments

We have many thoughts sent out as tweets, Facebook posts, and comments or replies; fragments, quickly captured and just as quickly forgotten, when they should be more deeply explored and exist as complete entities rather than throw-away artefacts.

This was all brought to mind when I saw Tweedium, a tool to combine tweet storms into Medium posts. While many of our tweets etc. are frivolous we must recognise the importance of things we say in the social sphere and that they should have a more prominent, permanent position instead of being washed away in the stream.

Blogging and social need a reboot but this is unlikely to happen as the networks want to retain control even as they advocate openness.

We need enhanced interoperability. We need to be able to write where we want and flag it as a response to something elsewhere, to embed what we have written in situ so that links don't have to be followed.

How do we do it?

There has to be a culture of sharing and embedding social objects: an extended "article" card type in Twitter to display full posts - maybe the AMP version of a page; cross-publishing a blog post to Medium and then retrospectively marking it as a reply to something else, for example.

There are ways it could be achieved if only there is the will.

We may have linking and cross-posting but we need the networks to develop and adopt tools allowing a more flexible migration of data, if not between the different social platforms, at least between platforms and external sites.


  1. To quote the meme 
This would make a great blog post

Improving the Medium plugin for WordPress

Between Facebook's Instant Articles opening to all and the Medium posting API we are entering an age of distribution: post once, publish many. Publishers and bloggers can retain control over their own space but take advantage of the network effect inherent at other properties to gain traction.

The Medium plugin for WordPress is a good start for writers not wanting to migrate their blogs, but currently feels unfinished; there is more that can be done to make it a truly effective tool.

Here are a few ideas:

User configurable link text

When enabling the option to cross-link posts between your blog and Medium (and why wouldn't you?) the plugin inserts the line "Also published on Medium" at the end of your post.

As I don't have comments enabled on my blog I have edited the plugin so that the line reads "Leave a reply on Medium" - a subtle difference which also gives a reason to follow the link. The only problem is that any time the plugin gets updated I have to re-make this change.

By adding a custom field to WordPress to hold it, the plugin could even support per-post text allowing for contextual customisation rather than always using a default value.

Having the ability to change all this via a settings UI would be a very nice touch allowing bloggers to personalise or brand the text and really get creative.

Original v modified

Toggle using the featured image

If your blog post has a featured image the plugin appears to use that as the leading image for your Medium post. If the original WordPress post includes the same image at the top this leads to duplication when cross-posted.

Current options are to either publish your post without a featured image, avoid the duplication and add it later or edit the Medium version of the post to remove the extra image.

Adding a toggle to ignore or include the featured image would stop this and reduce the need for any follow-up action after posting.

Tagging

The benefit of "post once, publish many" is that it reduces the friction associated with distributing your work across multiple platforms.

As with featured images, it is also frustrating that after hitting Publish you have to visit Medium to tidy up and add tags to your post.

It would be incredibly helpful if any tags applied to the WordPress post (or the first three if there are more) were passed to Medium and also applied there.

Edit replication

Currently, the plugin is a one time, post only affair where any changes made to the original version do not get replicated to the Medium version of the post. Syncing edits between versions of the post are high the wish list.

Obviously this is more of a technical challenge, and would involve more work, but I don't see why it wouldn't be possible. The Medium app allows editing so the API obviously supports it.

Any changes made within WordPress could then be synced to Medium so that readers would have access to the same version of the post regardless of where they see it.

Stable

The plugin is a pleasure to use And is incredibly stable and, beyond the annoyances above, I have never had an issue cross-posting. With a few tweaks, however, it could be completely frictionless.

Improving the Medium plugin for WordPress

Writing and the Open Web

Open doorMuch has been written recently about the open web versus more closed, proprietary platforms with a particularly Orwellian cry of "open good, proprietary bad."

It's not quite that simple.

As Walt Mossberg wrote, the intersections between the two are becoming increasingly blurred with supposedly closed platforms created using ever more open technology and platforms hailed as open being built on proprietary code. This position is seen by some as not a true reflection of the open vs closed argument, that it is the end result that counts rather than any of the technologies employed.

Supporters of the open web call for standards allowing for interoperability between services, for movable data that can be housed in different systems because they all talk the same language.

Writing or publishing

Some just want to write and are not bothered about retaining control over the results or in owning their own domain (unlike 10 years ago) which is no doubt a response to the social web where we endlessly pump out our thoughts - largely for the good of the platform. They just want to write and not to publish.

Some see the upkeep of their own site as prohibitive, others decry the lack of network effects available to a blog on an increasingly social web. Even more just want to write and feel that services like Medium provide an environment where they don’t have to exert any other time and effort to getting their words out - the literary equivalent of Mark Zuckerberg's wardrobe.

There is no doubt that writing on Medium has become fashionable, it has rapidly become the de facto standard for politicians, business leaders and celebrities. Now, people who might otherwise have considered starting a blog, or even those already with their own sites, look at what is happening and feel that if they put their words on a service which is seen to be synonymous with quality writing that they will instantly find an audience – a lot are realising that this isn’t the case.

Platform or Publisher

With Medium being both platform and publisher, with increasing aspirations towards the latter, there is a renewed hope that writers might get paid but the likelihood of this happening for the individual not attached to any significant publication are currently slim. Maybe this will change in future.

But the historical bastions of the closed web are starting to open up allowing for cross-posting by way of open systems; they may not be standards but they are the next best thing. These new tools, such as Facebook Instant Articles and the Medium posting API enable a "post once, publish many" environment allowing for the best of both worlds: local control coupled with enhanced distribution.

Full Circle

Because of this, we are almost heading full circle.

Blogging was previously the only option for most to publish their thoughts but the growth of the social web and its proprietary platforms made many (myself included) feel that they had to go to where the audience was.

Now, however, these new tools have started to negate those effects and the need for people to abandon their blogs. Now, we can write in our own space but take advantage of these platforms with no additional effort.

Frictionless movable data.

Modern platforms may seem like the new pillars of the internet, giant 2001-esque monoliths impervious to time and change, but platforms have died in the past. Do we want our work to die with them?

Writing and the Open Web

Trouble at Mill

The Spanish InquisitionI wanted to write something erudite and pithy about the current state of affairs at Medium; about the arguments and how one event has been blown up out of all proportion into a huge, festering mess.

I wanted to but couldn't find the words to demonstrate how exasperated the whole thing made me feel.

The accusations, the insults, the recriminations, the personal agendas; and that's all after the event in an ongoing diatribe which has, sadly, diluted the original argument. It seems like one of those occasions where people end up fighting on principle but forget why they started fighting in the first place.

A discussion about plagiarism and "fair use" quickly devolved into a challenge of journalistic integrity before diving headlong into accusations of sexism initiated by those who feel they are helping but only serve to inflame an already incendiary situation whilst adding extra layers to this rather pungent onion that were never there to begin with.

People are upset, perhaps rightly so. They feel wronged but would rather continue mud-flinging than accept an official policy decision as final. They feel entitled so, when that decision doesn't meet their expectations, they feel slighted, aggrieved.

Lines have been drawn and sides taken but this is no longer an us and them fight, it's now them and them and them as more factions wade into battle incensed by some fraction of an argument taken entirely out of context.

To quote the sketch which gives this post its title, Medium has recently been feeling like a mill where "one of the cross beams has gone out askew on the treddle."

Streams drowning in self-help posts allegedly surfaced by unfair algorithms have caused friction but arguments such as those currently blighting the service only exacerbate any perceived problems. Arguments that end up dividing and alienating the community which they claim to support. Arguments which are ultimately self-defeating. Arguments which drive others away from the that very community.

Any intelligent debate has long since descended into Pythonesque farce.

Medium, to its credit, has been willing to offer explanation and transparency, recognises the frustrations of its participants and seeks ongoing feedback.

I just bet they didn't expect the Spanish Inquisition.

Trouble at Mill

New Beginnings

In light of my rethink about how I write I have decided to go a stage further and expand my workflow. Now, posts will go from the Drafts app on my iPhone to Wordpress and then cross-posted to Medium.

That's right, I have decided to return to my blog but in a very casual manner. There is a new, very minimal theme and all old posts have been moved to an archive so it is a fresh start without completely removing what was already there.

Being a geek I still wanted something beyond a stock site so installed a plugin to give Medium-like sharing of selected text (without the images) which works on both mobile and desktop.

Desktop

Mobile

With any luck, this post will appear on both the blog and at Medium.

Here goes!

New Beginnings