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So What Is Medium, Anyway?

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“Medium connects people, stories, and ideas that matter to you.”

That’s how Medium describes itself. And though it’s a pretty vague definition, it’s fitting for a publishing platform that still isn’t quite sure where it belongs in the vast, already saturated blogosphere.

Still, Medium is slowly but surely making its way as a reputable website for writers and readers. In fact, the content distribution site is now up to 17 million users a month–including none other than President Obama, who broke White House tradition by publishing the full text of his State of the Union address on Medium before he even entered the Capitol Building.

So Medium is certainly gaining momentum on the Web, and that means it’s worth our attention. But before we jump into who should use it and how, we have to understand what it actually is. And before we can understand that, we have to take a look at why it was created in the first place.

How Medium Began

Medium was launched in 2012 by Twitter founders Evan Williams and Biz Stone. At first glance, their new project appeared to be something of a spin-off of their first endeavor; like Twitter, Medium seemed to be just another forum where anyone could broadcast their ideas to the world.

But unlike Twitter, Medium claimed to produce content that was not limited by space, nor was it characterized by chronology or even the person creating it. Instead, Medium was introduced as a new publishing platform where both paid and unpaid writers could post pieces on any subject and of any length. Emphasizing quality content and a clean, beautiful design, Medium chose to categorize posts by topic, rather than date or author, to make it easier for readers to find what they wanted.

As the founder of both Twitter and the blogging software Blogger, Williams certainly knows his stuff. After selling Blogger to Google and stepping down as chief executive of Twitter, he wanted to create something of a blend of both projects. “It feels like these blogging tools haven’t really evolved in a decade,” he told The New York Times in 2014. “We wanted to create a system where the best ideas and stories reach their widest audience.”

In a post welcoming visitors to the site, Williams characterized Medium as “a new place on the Internet where people share ideas and stories that are longer than 140 characters and not just for friends.” He differentiated it from Twitter, Blogger, and other publishing platforms by saying that Medium:

  1. Lets you focus on your words
  2. Is collaborative
  3. Helps you find your audience

But how exactly does Medium do that? Let’s clear up the confusion.

How Medium Works

Originally accessible by invitation only, Medium is now open to anyone; all you have to do is sign in with a Facebook or Twitter account to start creating content.

And creating content is a breeze in itself. Medium prides itself on its elegant, easy-to-use text editing tool, which features a full WYSIWYG user interface and various formatting options. Writers love the simplicity of the software–in fact, Slate contributor Matthew Yglesias professed that he was “blown away by the quality of the product as a writing tool,” even calling it “by far the best writing tool around.”

Once an article is published, it can be shared via social media, sorted into a “collection” of similar posts, or “recommended” to other followers on Medium. Reminiscent of upvotes on Reddit or likes on Facebook, this recommendation system is used to determine a post’s visibility within both collections and the site’s “Top Stories,” a list of the month’s 100 best pieces. In addition to recommendations, Medium’s analytics also measure views, reads, and read ratios to determine a post’s ranking.

While Medium does have some paid contributors to ensure topics are being covered in both breadth and depth, most of the site’s content is created by unpaid writers–a hybrid known as social journalism, or what Jonathan Glick calls a “platisher” (both platform and publisher). The site garners everything from esoteric essays to silly cartoons to excerpts from books. In fact, this wide scope of subject matter is largely why so many people are still uncertain about what Medium actually is.

Another source of confusion about Medium is that it’s still unclear how the site is or will be monetized. Since Medium does not generate revenue from either advertising or its customer base, some call it nothing more than another vanity project by a bigwig businessman–a charge Williams is quick to dismiss. Not only has he gotten investors to put $20 million in Medium, but he’s also considering profit opportunities in sponsored content as well as content and distribution charges.

Whatever the future of Medium, and however murky its purpose may be, one thing that is clear is that it’s quickly gaining popularity among writers and readers of all sorts. Stay tuned to our blog to learn why Medium matters to businesses and who should use it for leverage.

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