# Medium is Winning
For years I've been asking for a recommendation system for internet content. I've been an enthusiastic user of last.fm for almost a decade, and have spent many an hour pruning my Amazon recommendations, even before I switched to Kindle. The loss of AniDB's "Anime Hint" feature has massively reduced my consumption of old shows (I now rely on word-of-mouth-like recommendations, which mostly means current series), and I never really found a good service for movies (though I've since heard good things about Netflix) - so I stopped watching movies.
So it's ironic that, despite all these established old-media recommendation engines, there was nothing for one of my favourite media - online articles. Oh, sure, there are plenty of blog-cum-social-networks - Livejournal was a social network before the term existed, and you're notified when your friends post new content. I imagine Wordpress offers something similar. Tumblr started out this way, and while most tumblrs are full of pictures, if you follow the right people you can get these kind of articles. Both Google+ users post long-form articles there. I've even got one friend blogging with Facebook's new "Notes" feature. But all this is more like following an existing artist or author; even the "discovery" features of these networks try to pair you up with "people you may know" - friends of friends - rather than people who write things you want to read.
Feedly - which I do use - or email subscriptions have the same problem and another: I feel obliged to read. The accusatory "2 articles unread" notification taunts me until I've caught up; even when I'd rather be doing something else I find myself unable to resist. So I refrain from adding too many feeds or using its recommendation feature, for fear I'll spend hours each morning catching up on every last post.
Aggregators like HN, Reddit or the venerable Slashdot fill some of the gap; I can visit one and have some confidence that most stories will be good. But over time such sites tend to become more about the discussion than the articles. And it's fatiguing - and I know how pathetic this sounds - to deal with all the different news sites, with their sidebars of links, their multi-page splits, their carousels of "other stories you might like", the animated flyin "read this next", the inane "thought for the day" interstitials. Evernote Clearly gets rid of most of the crap, but it makes multi-page articles even worse, and it doesn't always work properly.
But Medium isn't like that. I could click my clearly button and the only thing that would change would be the logo disappearing. And even better, it has a recommendation system that works. In my weekly "best of medium" email I find insightful, inspiring reading - ten-minute nuggets of joy that fit neatly into the gaps in my day. And with the way they're presented - a grid, not a list, and one that gives the sense of continuing endlessly - I don't feel obliged to drink the ocean and catch up.
I don't know how personalized this all is. I'm pretty easy to recommend for - my taste conforms so closely to stereotype that I used to read *Stuff White People Like* to find things that I might like. And there was a time when I could judge whether I'd like a series solely on how many TvTropes entries it had. So maybe there will come a time, as Medium grows and its tastes become less homogenous, when the "best of" is no longer perfectly suited to me. Or maybe the site will simply run out of good content.
Even that might not be enough to dethrone it. Right now, Medium offers a reading experience that's head and shoulders above anywhere else on the web. It starts with the virtues I tried to embody in the styling of this blog - simple, plain text with a heading and an occasional picture, looking more like the unstyled sites of '90s academics than the "designed" sites of 2007 with their drop shadows and rounded corners. To this it adds a wonderfully unobtrusive comment system (comments are forced to be inline with the article and strictly limited in length, making it easier to respond to specific points and discouraging the rambling comment threads one gets on other sites), and a unified but again unobtrusive network, with the bare minimum of social functionality tucked away at the bottom.
There are still a few things I'd miss - the pages don't seem particularly friendly to mechanical access, and there's no medium API, which offends my open-internet sensibilities - particularly since there's no monetization mechanism in sight. The joy of medium is that it's so smooth, so effortless, and any advertizing would almost by definition have to break that.
As a writer, these things concern me. But as a reader, the experience is everything - and medium does it so much better than everyone else. Already I can feel a shift in my reading habits. The rest of the web has some catching up to do, or it'll be left behind.
 And briefly employee
 My Kindle device is actually broken now; I read using the app on my phone
 Assuming the story wasn't using those gratuitous picture backgrounds - the ones that you scroll down and then they stay until you've scrolled a bit further past. Hopefully this fad will go away once it becomes easy enough for everyone to do it.
 I've long thought the open internet should have provided a solution to this - a standard way to label which part of an article is the content, which is the heading and so on. In the early days of the web, pages were expected to contain content and users were expected to use their own custom styling, which should have made all pages display in their preferred way. But instead the web bowed to print designers' desire to specify the position of every pixel, at least until the rise of mobile demonstrated the impossibility of that approach.
comments powered by Disqus