Where blogs go next

By Max Slater-Robins on December 31st, 2012

Back in 1999, Ev Williams’ company, Pyra Labs, founded Blogger and changed the way people communicated their ideas over the internet. Blogger was conceived five years before Facebook and seven before Twitter, also one of Williams’ projects. It gave users the power to create their own website without the need for technical know-how or PHP knowledge. In 2003, Google purchased Blogger for an undisclosed figure (rumours put the money between $20 and $50 million) making Williams a rich man. That was phase one: invent blogging.

In 2006, Williams teamed up with Jack Dorsey and Biz Stone to create Twitter. Originally an SMS-only platform, Twitter then morphed into a web-based application that allowed users to communicate in short, 140 character bursts. Twitter put power into the people’s hands because tweets were discoverable — and retweetable — by anyone. During the Arab Spring, those affected were live-tweeting the terror inflicted by their governments, thus helping news spread.

All major news networks have now cottoned onto the power that Twitter has, and have started updating their Twitter feeds before their websites. Twitter now has over 200 million active users and is valued at $8-9 billion. The company reports revenues of $400 million per year. Phase two, sorted: short-form blogging that could be used by anyone, on any device.

And so to phase three. Having invented — then distributed — blogging, Williams is now looking to create a long-form Twitter by “rethink[ing] how online publishing works and build[ing] a system optimised for quality, rather than popularity. Where anyone can have a voice but where one has to earn the right to your attention. A system where people work together to make a difference, rather than merely compet[ing] for validation and recognition.” Medium is William’s vessel for this task.

The trouble with services such as WordPress and Blogger — and Svbtle, to some extent — is that you normally require your own domain name, email and smartphone to make them work. A service such as WordPress has unlimited possibilities and is used by high-profile sites such as TechCrunch, ESPN, CNN and The Next Web, but is also very complicated and difficult to use on anything but but fanciest smartphone. Blogger is the same. Medium, however, is looking to change all that.

To sign in to Medium, all you need is a Twitter account. From there, a profile is created that uses your Twitter name and picture and links back to your Twitter account, allowing users to see more about who you are. Everything that is posted appears under the Medium.com domain, as with Twitter, which helps to relate authenticity and trust. People are wary of clicking on unknown links, but a Medium.com link is trustable (and part of Twitter’s “Card” system).

At the moment, content is created by a small selection of hand-picked users — it’s in “closed beta” — but it will be opened to the public soon (the actual date is unknown). A blogging platform such as Dustin Curtis’ Svbtle is an invite-only club of writers — or entrepreneurs — that are already well known, such as MG Siegler, Dalton Caldwell and Curtis himself. Medium differs from this as anyone can write, not just the elite.

This simple piece of information is the reason I feel that Medium will be successful: information can be conveyed by anyone on a trusted platform in more than 140 characters. Twitter is excellent for small pieces of text — and possibly a link or picture — but Medium is the whole deal; discovery and the communication all in one.

When you visit the Medium homepage, there are several articles arranged in an aesthetically pleasing way, not dissimilar to Pinterest. When you see an article you find interesting, click and it’ll open up with an image — sometimes full-width — and the text in one continuous stream. At the moment there are no adverts of any kind in, or around, the content but Williams has said that Medium will be funded by adverts — whether this means sponsored content or banner ads is still unclear.

From a content discovery point of view, Medium uses a system of categories that can be created by each author. If an author wants to write on one subject — e.g., holidays — then they simply create a category and file their work into that. All of the categories are displayed on the “Collections” page. There are already, despite the small community of authors, a lot of categories. But this management system is intuitive and will help a user find their favourite sections — and authors — with ease.

My expectations of Medium are steep, but achievable. I’m not suggesting that any companies will be started off the back of Medium as — I imagine — 100 per cent of the revenue generated from ads will go to Obvious Corp., who own Medium. In other words, it doesn’t yet show signs of becoming a “platform”. But there might be a revenue split with authors in the pipeline.

Medium has potential to change the world more radically than the companies Williams has created before. Blogger enabled people to self-publish in a time when writing on the internet was for early adopters and Twitter enabled open, mass short-form communication. Medium offers a compelling fusion of the two: free blogging under a shareable platform, which only requires a Twitter account to access.

The next phase of blogging has begun.