I’ve been exploring Medium as an option to publish some long(er) form stuff I have in mind. It has been appealing to me because of the potential audience there, and that is what I would want if I’m writing longer form articles. I’ve also been doing some searching on Google of reviews, attitudes, etc. about Medium and frankly I’m a bit shocked at what I’ve found.
My thought going in was how can there be any complaint about a free publishing tool for occasional long form writing? It comes with a built-in audience, a nice design, and nice tools for writing. What is there to complain about? But I was searching the Internet so of course there are complaints aplenty.
Many, from the “intelligentsia” (or as I call them…the Apple circlejerk), just don’t seem to like Medium all that much. Gruber even has a redirect of fisteggplant.com go directly to the Medium home page.1
Others, like Patrick Butterick, try to take a more serious view of their displeasure with Medium.
I found Butterick’s views a bit hard to understand. The guy spends quite a bit of time discussing the problems with Medium and doesn’t have the decency to use proper linking formatting on his own blog.
The entire tone of the piece is very condescending. Butterick doesn’t think people who are going to write on a platform like Medium can figure the pros and cons of writing there for ourselves? A certain type of user is going to go to Medium to write. I think they can figure it out for themselves.
He calls Medium “superfluous” because web publishing can be done elsewhere. Well, duh. We all know this.
Today, the costs of web publishing—including design—have declined to almost zero. Relative to today’s web, Medium is not creating new possibilities, but instead closing them off.
True, the costs are near-zero (or in some cases, like WordPress.com or Medium, zero cost) but that ignores not only the commitment to setting up and maintaining (technically) the publishing platform but also the commitment to writing on it. Ev Williams of Medium said it well here:
It will not surprise you that these observations reveal a lot about what we’re trying to do with Medium. We started out by building a great tool for writing. And it’s not even the editor itself that created the main value. It was the fact that you could easily write and share a story without the setup, overhead, or commitment level of starting a blog. It’s clear that there are many more people who occasionally have valuable perspectives to share than there are people who want to be “bloggers.”
Butterick is correct in his insistence that controlling your own web publishing is a near zero cost, but only in a monetary sense. It certainly isn’t from a commitment sense. I gave up on my blog that I had started in 2006. It was too much commitment for me. That is why I am here. That is why I’m considering Medium. There is nothing “superfluous” about Medium. I think Butterick needs to get off his high horse.
I’m happy that Butterick loves dealing with all of the details of a web publishing platform. More power to him for that but many of us aren’t interested at all in sweating those details.
The bit that absolutely took the cake in his piece was this:
If you want to be part of something open and democratic, use open-source software. If you want to have your writing look great, learn something about typography (or hire a designer). If you need a platform for writing, try Pollen (the system I made for this site), or WordPress, or a subscription service like Atavist. I prefer web publishing despite its shortcomings, but if you don’t, then make an e-book or PDF and distribute it yourself.
As writers, we don’t need companies like Medium to tell us how to use the web. Or define openness and democracy. Or tell us what’s a “waste of [our] time” and what’s not. Or determine how and where readers experience our work. We need to decide those things for ourselves.
So we don’t need companies like Medium telling us how to write and publish but it’s OK for Butterick (and of course he recommends his own software first). Patrick, I don’t want to learn about typography (or hire someone…that brings up the cost). I already tried WordPress. I don’t want to write an e-book. I just want to write the occasional piece and have a nice audience for it. Is that really so bad?
For those who don’t know what fist eggplant is I leave that as an exercise for the reader to explore. ↩