This afternoon, I was over at Twitter spreading the word about WordCamp Waukesha (later this month!) and noticed that “Medium” was trending. Curious, I clicked to discover a bunch of stories in the tech press about the blog site founded by Ev Williams was laying off a third of its workforce! This was a surprise, and I said so (sort of):
You know, I shouldn't be surprised, but I am. Warning to writers: Have at least one place on the web that you own. https://t.co/dn07lN51Tm
— Mike McCallister (@WorkingWriter) January 4, 2017
The extra commentary that made Medium trending was about what you would expect: gloom and doom for another high-flying tech company. It’s a standard theme in the tech media world: Rises and falls are bread-and-butter stories. The “mogul goes bust” is as interesting as the “making of a mogul.” Since layoffs are still unusual (if not exactly rare) in tech companies, especially smaller ones like Medium, today’s events looked like the beginning of the end to a lot of people.
When the music’s over, turn out the lights … or not?
Williams’ comment that ad-driven web content was a broken model got most of the attention, probably deservedly so. Not exactly a secret to any publisher these days. Ads never fully supported newspapers, and that whole thing has gotten worse. But as the media industry endlessly consolidates, and commercial television becomes ever more dependent on the corporations who fund them, and so many bottom-feeders and click-bait purveyors dominate the commercial web… well, you’re going to get the kind of content that they want (including dreadfully run-on sentences).
Later, I read Ev’s full announcement. Actually, he described this situation much better than I did (if you ignore the passive voice parts):
Upon further reflection, it’s clear that the broken system is ad-driven media on the internet. It simply doesn’t serve people. In fact, it’s not designed to. The vast majority of articles, videos, and other “content” we all consume on a daily basis is paid for — directly or indirectly — by corporations who are funding it in order to advance their goals. And it is measured, amplified, and rewarded based on its ability to do that. Period. As a result, we get…well, what we get. And it’s getting worse.
What really stuck out most for me were the ones he followed up that quote with (emphasis mine):
We decided we needed to take a different — and bolder — approach to this problem. We believe people who write and share ideas should be rewarded on their ability to enlighten and inform, not simply their ability to attract a few seconds of attention. We believe there are millions of thinking people who want to deepen their understanding of the world and are dissatisfied with what they get from traditional news and their social feeds. We believe that a better system — one that serves people — is possible. In fact, it’s imperative.
So, we are shifting our resources and attention to defining a new model for writers and creators to be rewarded, based on the value they’re creating for people.
Hey, there are still idealists in the world! It will be interesting to see if this happens. As a professional writer, I’m all for paying us what we’re worth (that’s another unusual happening in our corner of the world). I look forward to seeing what Medium comes up with as far as that goes. As I noted, however, there’s a more important lesson here: If you’re a writer (or creative person of any sort) who wants to make a living at this craft, you really need a place on the web that you can call your own.
WordPress: A writer’s room of one’s own
So it comes back to what drove me to Twitter this afternoon in the first place: letting people know about the first WordCamp Waukesha. I won’t be there on Friday, January 27th, but I know that the WordPress community of southeastern Wisconsin is a helpful and friendly lot. You should go if you can.
As I type this on January 4, 2017, I am marking my 11th anniversary as a WordPress user. While I haven’t done much lately at Notes from the Metaverse, I haven’t completely given up on commenting there on tech topics. I use WordPress on this site because it’s a solid platform and easy to use. The fact that it’s free and open source software is important too.
No matter what platform you use, whether you build your site like I have, or hire someone to do it, the real question for every writer is whether you have a place where every bit of content is there because you want it there. And you can keep that content (or toss it) as you wish.
I like Medium, both as a reader and a writer. Heck, you may be reading this post on Medium now! I’ve even pointed to several pieces that help you use Medium effectively as a writer:
- Six Ways for Authors to Engage on Medium
- How to publish stories to Medium
- Medium as Alternative Publishing Platform
I used to say that every time I went to Google Plus, I came away smarter. I didn’t know that Medium had that as a goal, but that’s something I learned today too. But the site still belongs to the Medium Corporation. Today might be a harbinger of eventual doom for the site, or the beginning of a new day over there. But if all your writing is there, think about what happens if doomsday comes.
Do you publish on Medium? What do you think of the changes today? Have you made a firm decision not to have a website? I’d really like to hear your reasons. Comment away!