This week marked the announcement of Medium, the newest offering of Evan Williams and Biz Stone. These are the two “rock star” entrepreneurs who successfully created Blogger and Twitter. What they are trying to do with their newest venture is to redefine how and why content is published on the web.
In his first blog post about the new concept, Williams says Medium represents only “a sliver” of what he and his team have learned about publishing and the need for innovation. Blogger pioneered the premise that one could publish for free whenever and wherever desirable and create a reading audience. While the effort was revolutionary at the time, it has become commonplace as other substitutes and competitors have pursued the same target market. To “up the ante,” Williams thinks that collaboration and quality content that is crowdsourced are the new frontier:
“Lots of services have successfully lowered the bar for sharing information, but there’s been less progress toward raising the quality of what’s produced. While it’s great that you can be a one-person media company, it’d be even better if there were more ways you could work with others.”
Pinterest postures as a collaboration platform where favorite objects (mainly photos) from the Web can be saved and shared. Crowdsourcing quality content through reader votes is done in differing ways by Digg, Reddit, and Tumblr. Of these, Tumblr is the best of the bunch for publishing and sharing content. In the dual realm of curation and instant publishing RebelMouse, uses social-networking activity to create a curated page of content that can be organized by preference, and Svbtle is a simplified blog platform with a stripped-down design.
Matthew Ingram, writing for GigaOm, observes that “both of the things Evan Williams is famous for also looked either unnecessary or unimpressive, and in some cases both. Blogger was cool if you were a geek and wanted your own website, but it was far from obvious at the time that self-publishing was going to become something huge or crack open the media industry in a fundamental way. And Twitter looked so ephemeral (not to mention the ridiculous name) that many people dismissed it as a plaything for nerds that would never amount to anything. So as Aaron Levie of Box.net noted on Twitter, it doesn’t pay to underestimate Williams when it comes to this kind of thing.”
Ingram says that Medium looks like a combo of Pinterest & Tumblr, though not proficient at text contributions. Furthermore, he references Josh Benton of the Nieman Journalism Lab as saying that Medium subverts the notion of the author as the most important thing about the content. Medium is focused more on the value of the content, regardless of who is producing it or voting on it. Instead of a blog or collection showing whatever is the newest thing — the typical reverse-chronological format used by most blogs and publishing platforms — Medium sorts according to popularity (similar to Digg.) does (in a similar way, tools like Prismatic sort items based in part on the social activity around that content).
The social media culture demands more from publishing; BuzzFeed and the recently-launched Branch (also incubated by Obvious Corp.) are trying to become viable, popular solutions. Time will tell whether Medium is better than anything else out there. As Levie put it, don’t bet against it!