'Perhaps our creations reflect our times, and our fears reflect our past'
Alexis Madrigal has written a highly ambivalent piece about Medium, which is the somewhat-new project from the boys at Obvious, led by Ev Williams, the founder of Twitter. Madrigal includes, more or less that the same time, praise for some of the journalism being done by paid staff at Medium (like Quinn Norton’s long-form essay on Bradley Manning), but at the same time he wonders about a ‘publication’ that doesn’t really screen out the bottom two thirds of content full of crap and misogyny (Coder Peter Shih’s rant about San Francisco).
He lofts a few telling observations out there, although they are more revealing about the mindset of a journalist at a top shelf magazine regarding Medium’s possible trajectory:
Alexis C. Madrigal, What Is Medium?
Medium wasn’t building a magazine, I realized, but a magazine killer.
Basically, Madrigal — and many others — have had their thinking shaped by the dichotomy of platform and publication, where Wordpress was clearly not The Atlantic, and vice versa. But Forbes and the Huffington Post muddied those waters, didn’t they? And Tumblr tried to, once, although they’ve now retreated.
Madrigal closes with an insight too large for him to swallow, I think:
Maybe, though, I’m applying old-line thinking to this new creation. Perhaps Medium can continue to do precisely what it has been doing, and their brand value will continue to grow while these major questions remain unresolved. The center will hold because there is no center. In a world when every post stands on its own, atomistically, perhaps it’s silly to think a publication can’t be incoherent.
Perhaps our creations reflect our times, and our fears reflect our past. To someone who is standing on what was the center, like Madrigal, the notion that there may soon be no center may be the greatest fear of all. For those of us who have been living on the edge, this emerging future is the reflection of our hopes: when the edge becomes the center, and every author is on their own.
Marco Arment views the Medium set-up as a publication, a content farm, one that is making money on the labor of its participants, most of whom are unpaid. He cautions us to avoid the honey pot, that sugar rush of easy page hits, and instead build a following elsewhere, where the brand is your own.
But maybe the middle ground is possible. Perhaps those that want to rise to be professional journalists — to get paid directly for their writing and not to rely solely on its side effects — perhaps those writes might opt to post at Medium hoping to rise into the paid writer tier, there. This path is not explicitly offered by Medium, mind. But it’s latent in the architecture they’ve built into their model.
Maybe that is Medium’s message.