Medium’s mission — five years in
It’s also clear that the way media is changing isn’t entirely positive when it comes to creating a more informed citizenry. Now that we’ve made sharing information virtually effortless, how do we increase depth of understanding, while also creating a level playing field that encourages ideas that come from anywhere?
.. There’s more “content” than ever. But it’s also harder than ever to find signal amongst the noise and facts amongst the fiction — let alone inspiring ideas and high-level discourse, which is what the internet was meant to be.
.. It’s not just about creating great tools for writing. We must also create the right reward systems. The current reward system that drives content online looks like this: Attention = Money.
.. As a result, the path to profit is to manufacture attention more cheaply than what you get paid for it. This is not a dramatically different formula than the media business has historically run on. However, attention is now tracked, commodified, and rewarded in a way that has huge implications. Attention is rewarded, regardless of quality, context, or whether it was earned by conscious choice.
.. Conscious choice matters. It’s the difference between being a knowledge seeker and a channel flipper.
.. If you can’t look away from a car crash, it will surmise you want more car crashes and will create them for you. If you can’t stop eating junk food, it will serve you up a platter.
.. the realities of the attention economy are very tough for those who create things designed for anything but the widest possible (i.e., lowest-common-denominator) audience. For ad-driven sites, the revenue per reader has been dropping for years (while the experience worsens and privacy disintegrates), leaving little room for research, fact checking, or polish… let alone nuance or complexity. The system demands quantity. It demands speed. And it demands little else — except our clicks.
“I think the internet is broken,” he says. He has believed this for a few years, actually. But things are getting worse. “And it’s a lot more obvious to a lot of people that it’s broken.”
.. People are using Facebook to showcase suicides, beatings and murder, in real time. Twitter is a hive of trolling and abuse that it seems unable to stop. Fake news, whether created for ideology or profit, runs rampant.
.. “I thought once everybody could speak freely and exchange information and ideas, the world is automatically going to be a better place,” Mr. Williams says. “I was wrong about that.”
.. The trouble with the internet, Mr. Williams says, is that it rewards extremes. Say you’re driving down the road and see a car crash. Of course you look. Everyone looks. The internet interprets behavior like this to mean everyone is asking for car crashes, so it tries to supply them.
.. Maybe it will be all car crashes, all the time. Twitter already feels like that.
.. “The notion that you’re going to succeed as a writing site simply by putting quality first is not compatible with venture capital revenue expectations,” said Bill Rosenblatt, a media technology consultant. “No one would have funded this if it weren’t by Ev Williams.”
.. If his vision was clear — get rid of the gatekeepers and let people talk
.. “He’s not C.E.O. material,”
.. A few years ago, Twitter was viewed as a tool of liberation.
.. Then the narrative turned darker, with the rise of trolling on the platform.
.. “It’s a very bad thing, Twitter’s role in that,” he said finally. “If it’s true that he wouldn’t be president if it weren’t for Twitter, then yeah, I’m sorry.”
.. “Ad-driven systems can only reward attention,” Mr. Williams says. “They can’t reward the right answer. Consumer-paid systems can. They can reward value. The inevitable solution: People will have to pay for quality content.”
Mr. Williams was late to arrive at this solution. The rest of the media got there long ago.
.. He suggested instead the bookstore model. Bookstores don’t commission material, but they curate it and sell it.
.. James Hong, best known for the popular rating-and-dating site Hot or Not? in the early 2000s, was an angel investor in Medium. He once told Mr. Williams that he had some new ideas about dating sites but feared that if he tackled them, “I’d be working on the same thing my whole entire life.”
.. Mr. Hong said: “It’s not a vanity project, it’s his calling. Other people calling it a vanity project actually tells me more about them than it does about Evan.”
.. “Medium feels like the perfect Obama-era platform: minimal, distinguished, self-important, elevated,” Mr. Watson says. “But as soon as the campaigns really ramped up their efforts in the primaries, we were living in a post-Obama world, metaphorically, and then literally. And that post-Obama world holds no room for minimalist, distinguished, self-important, elevated thoughtfulness.”
you might expect someone to recognize him. But as he gets on a downtown train, no one turns a head.
Despite serving as a board member at one of the five largest social networks, and a mainstay of the Bay Area tech industry for almost two decades, the kind of fame attached to the names of Mark Zuckerberg, Peter Thiel, or the “Google guys” has eluded Williams.
.. His startups have nearly all specialized in the same abstract medium: text boxes.
.. In fact, you are reading this very story on the open web—unless you found it on the Facebook app on your phone, in which case you are reading a copy nearly identical to the open-web version of the story, except that yours loaded much faster and lives on Facebook’s servers.)
.. “I think the distribution points are going to consolidate.”
The distribution points are the search engines and the social networks: Facebook, Google, Twitter, Snapchat, and the messaging apps. Also on that list are YouTube (owned by Google), Instagram (owned by Facebook), Whatsapp (also owned by Facebook), and Facebook Messenger (ditto). By linking the web together, or hosting normally data-heavy content for free, these distribution nodes seize more and more users. And because each of the nodes is more interesting than any one individual’s personal site, people who used to go to personal sites wind up at the nodes instead.
.. Tim Wu, a law professor at Columbia University, argues in his book The Master Switch that every major telecommunications technology has followed the same pattern: a brief, thrilling period of openness, followed by a monopolistic and increasingly atrophied closedness
.. “Railroad, electricity, cable, telephone—all followed this similar pattern toward closedness and monopoly, and government regulated or not, it tends to happen because of the power of network effects and the economies of scale,” he told me.
.. Josh Benton, a media critic at Harvard, once described Medium as “YouTube for prose,”
.. “I realized there are dot-com people and there are web people,”
.. They don’t have personal sites. … They don’t get personal.”
.. For all the talk of their radical openness, blogs had mostly been the domain of those with hosting space, programming experience, and the time to write them.
.. Odeo wanted to be to podcasts what Blogger was to blogs, but internet audio was still too disorganized for a business to succeed.
.. the fall of 2006 to the spring of 2007—was the most heated the aughts ever got in Silicon Valley. In this period, Google acquired YouTube, an 18-month-old company, for $1.6 billion. Facebook opened to all users, not just college students. TIME declared “You” the Person of the Year, a silly gimmick that nonetheless initiated the era of social-media hype. And Apple debuted the first iPhone.
.. the internet of 2008 can seem distant. That year’s presidential election was famously waged via web blogs. By 2012, much of the conversation had moved to Twitter.
.. “If your job was to feed people, but you were only measured by the efficiency of calories delivered, you may learn over time that high-calorie, high-processed foods were the most efficient ways to deliver calories,” he says
.. Medium’s marketing position isn’t far from Whole Foods either—it wants to be the big corporation that upscale customers trust.
.. Each of these sites still lives on its own domain name, but in terms of design and function, each is essentially a Medium page. Their stories also live on Medium’s servers.
.. Two years later, he founded Medium, describing it as a place for content that was too short for Blogger and too long for Twitter.
.. This is Medium’s reason for existing: to protect individual writers in the fierce and nasty content jungles.
.. It wants to do so by adopting many of the tics and habits of the original blogosphere—the intertextuality, the back-and-forth, the sense of amateurism
.. Medium, yes, will just be another platform, but it will run the open web in an emulator.
.. Google and Facebook, just two companies, send more than 80 percent of all traffic to news sites.
.. The web of 2008—the web that helped elect President Obama—has already withered.
.. but ours had more creativity, ours weren’t just for the money.