When publishing platform Medium burst onto the internet a while back, it seemed like fresh life had been breathed into a stale medium (no pun intended). The integrated comments, sharing and community building capabilities were a fantastic way to turn the one-way, author-to-reader format on its head. And the limited release, invitation only availability drove demand for access superbly.
Medium also arrived at a time when LinkedIn’s publishing platform was growing in popularity. As a centre of gravity for business conversations and thought leadership, LinkedIn’s clunky Pulse technology could rely on its integrated access to YOUR business networks and news feeds, and seemed to grow on a daily basis. Using the same “influencer-led” strategy to launch, LinkedIn initially restricted access to the publishing platform, creating a clear distinction between those who had access and those who did not, but this was gradually relaxed, and the publishing platform began to open to others.
Yet as the “thought leadership” grew, so too did the clutter. LinkedIn attempted to categorise content to create a feed of relevancy as did Medium. It reminded me a little of the proliferation of blogs a few years back – resulting in an explosion of content and comment. But there is a clear difference. All this content are building OTHER PEOPLE’S networks. And those networks are picking winners – based on a few random elements (also known as algorithms).
In this experiment on Medium, Henry Wismayer, shows not only the new challenge of surfacing “new” voices on these new platforms, he also suggests that there has to be a deeper alignment. That the algorithm is not value free, but self-referential and self-reinforcing. You are either part of the game or you are well out of it:
The ease with which Triumvirate articles — even depressingly hollow ones — accrue views and Recommends provides an irresistible incentive for other people to follow the formula. As a result, Medium risks becoming a click-bait factory, a lame production line pumping out articles around the same limited themes.
And the point is that this is all a game. And can be gamed.
The core factor here is trust. Who do we trust and why?
In a time poor world, we increasingly rely on technology to filter the signal from the noise. But increasingly, there is a blandness to the experience of the “world wide web”. It’s no longer worldly nor wide.
And this is where the true opportunity lies. Medium has become, for me at least, a vast, shallow sea of thinly veiled opinion masquerading as insight. It’s not offering the richness it promised in the early days. In many ways, it’s the distinction that Alana Fisher calls out between subject matter expertise and thought leadership.
And the same is true for LinkedIn. Will either of these platforms matter in 2017? Perhaps they are simply on the path to inevitable disruption. Perhaps it’s not that Medium doesn’t matter, but that media itself is under threat. Now, that’s an interesting thought.