Medium: Former Twitter CEO Launches New Way to Tell Stories

PHOTO: Medium, a new web service, wants to make long articles as shareable as viral videos.
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Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr are great services for sharing things on the Internet that can be easily digested: cute animals, memes, cute animal memes... you get the idea. But they're not particularly good for sharing anything that can't be read in 30 seconds or less.

Medium, a new blogging platform created by former Twitter CEO Evan Williams, is aiming to make sharing articles of substance easier and make the Internet more well-read in the process.

"Our collective, casual, everyday shares demonstrate that millions of people have the power of a printing press at their fingertips," he said on Medium's About page. "Now that we've made sharing information virtually effortless, how do we increase the depth of understanding?"

WHAT TO KNOW
  • Medium is a new blogging platform co-founded by Twitter co-founders Evan Williams and Biz Stone.
  • Medium wants to bring the Internet's focus back on words.
  • The site opened up to the public last Friday, so anyone can sign up and start writing.

Medium just ended its closed access period and is now inviting everyone to try it out. However, Medium confirmed with ABC News that users will need to sign in and post through their Twitter accounts.

Eric Robertson, an assistant professor of physical therapy at Regis University in Colorado, wanted to do just that. After spending a few days playing around with the website and commenting on other writers' articles, he made his first post about the health risks of CrossFit.

In addition to his teaching job, Robertson also writes on PT Think Tank, a blog devoted to health and physical therapy. "That blog is limited mostly to a physical therapist audience," he told ABC News. "Normally, I get 10,000 hits out of a post, but the CrossFit article got a million hits after only four days on Medium." Currently, his post is Medium's most shared story of the month.

Medium users that are interested in health and exercise can follow Robertson's account. But what if they're also interested in reading about unrelated topics, like music, video games or African art? They can visit writers who specialize in those topics and follow their Medium accounts. What they end up with is a digital library comprised of articles from their favorite authors.

Frank Swain, a science writer based in London who manages the Futures Exchange section on Medium, said that the site reflects the way people read and share stories today. Instead of a single organization, like a newspaper or magazine, distributing to a wide customer base, Medium does the opposite. "The consumer is king at the moment," he said. "Now, they can get content from a variety of different sources and have it personally tailored to their own interests on a single page."

Despite Medium's modern take of the longform article, it uses a minimalist interface. There are no plug-ins, widgets or even advertisements on the stories. Robertson's post only uses two photos in the entirety of his 1,600+ word post. That minimalism is one of the big draws for Robertson.

"Normally, I get 10,000 hits out of a post. It got a million after four days on Medium."

"As you write, Medium displays it exactly as you would see it on the webpage," he said, noting it's like a typewriter where what you type is exactly what you see. "The technology just fades into the background."

PHOTO: Cofounder of Medium and Twitter Evan Williams
Brad Barket/Getty Images
Cofounder of Medium and Twitter Evan Williams speaks at the WIRED Business Conference: Think Bigger, at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York, May 7, 2013.

Both Swain and Robertson have said that the quality of discussion is different on Medium than it is on other websites. Comments don't appear at the bottom of the article, but to the article's right. Readers can comment on specific paragraphs, which Robertson leads to more productive conversations. "It's easy to isolate who's talking with whom and to follow the conversation, even over millions of views and hundreds of comments," he said.

In a way, Medium is both modernizing how we read things while simultaneously going back in time, before there were embedded videos or animated GIFs. "We think that words (still) matter, so we built a better system for sharing them," said Williams. "We love tweets as much as the next person (probably more), but sometimes we long for something meatier."

But don't worry about Medium getting too high-brow. A profanity-laden angry letter titled "Dear Guy Who Just Made My Burrito" was the second most shared article of the month.

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