Medium Sucks (Sometimes), But Here’s How to Improve it

Product analysis and a bunch of experiments to make Medium a better place for readers and authors.

Medium is awesome. The quality of content and the writers, in general, is by far the best among every other blogging platform out there. The Publications, both by Medium and other voluntary writers, help maintain the quality of articles being published which elevate Medium’s editorial excellence.

But Medium stumbles in so many places. While the editorial experience is by far the best, the product experience and discovery of articles through the Medium feed have remained relatively timid. Being from India, it also sucks that Medium cannot extend its Partner program to such a big Geographic region. Even as I publish this article on Medium, I won’t get a single cent from it.

This is my attempt to encapsulate the issues with Medium as a platform for both readers and writers and come up with ideas and suggestions that may make Medium a better place.

I have used my knowledge of Product from work, books, Medium and Reddit to come up with ideas to improve the user experience of Medium. Of course, every idea needs testing and measuring before actually concluding whether it will work, but the only way you improve a product is through experimentation.

Home Page is Mostly Irrelevant

Of course, not entirely. The Medium Feed is amazing. It has a great combination of old, new, trending, popular articles from the Publications and people I follow, as well as popular articles from the topics I follow. I like going through those and more or less find articles I want to read. But for some godforsaken reason, there are two more sections on the home page; the tiled section of Publications I follow, and the Trending section.

I don’t know what the user data is on the clicks in the first half of the Medium home page, but I usually just move onto the feed. The tiled section does sometimes have articles I would read, but the design is not really adding any extra value. If they are merged into the feed, I wouldn’t even notice.

And by far, the worst is the Trending section. As a logged-in user with so much reading history, the Trending section just doesn’t make sense to me.

The above Trending section has just two articles whose context I actually understand. The rest may as well be in Chinese. I would love to know the data on this section as well as understand the algorithm to select six articles. (And why six?) When I see purely from the point of adding value, I feel this entire section could be completely eliminated.

Maybe you could have a section of Trending posts similar to Reddit r/all. But on the Home feed, it has little value.

This simple Reddit tab at the top of Medium’s clean UI will make a huge difference and add real value in both discovery of new Publications and authors as well as exploring the existing stuff.

The Hidden Gem

The Medium Homepage has no place to filter and sort discovery of articles except the Topics You Follow section. Clicking on one provides a clean newsletter of brilliant articles from the topic. It is by far the most interesting feature for me. It acts like a traditional newspaper where you go through the business and sports sections separately. There’s more focus to it and it becomes an easy discovery mechanism for new writers.

I am not sure why this feature isn’t highlighted higher in the hierarchy of the Home page. Maybe because you can easily use the search feature to search for a topic. But if I were a Product Manager, I would certainly try it out. A more directed and simple filter search has more value than an all-purpose generic search.

The Unbearable Dormancy of the Reading List

I have read hundreds, if not thousands of articles on Medium but I have rarely used the inherent bookmark feature of Medium. A chronological list of all articles that you have bookmarked makes absolutely no sense. It is equivalent to taking notes on History, Geography, Mathematics and Science in the same notebook and then figuring out how the heck did the formula for Moment of Inertia follow the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. Ahhh, maybe it’s not entirely irrelevant. But you get the point.

There are so many high-quality articles on Medium that you could actually design a college course through them. But you cannot do them on Medium. You need to use some other application to save those links in a more meaningful way.

The above image shows how you can’t even search through the reading list or filter by topic, author, or Publication. It is not the most difficult feature to build. All the data required is available on this page already.

A secondary feature, but a slightly more complicated one would be to give an option to bookmark an article by folder. Basically, give the reader an option to create multiple reading lists. Goodreads does this really well for books. Those Goodreads lists are shareable too.

The Medium Membership

Medium membership is great. There is definitely value in paying for high-quality content and actually contributing to the hard work of authors. I am all for it. However, purely from a product perspective, I feel like the conversion from a random person who discovers an article on Google search to a paying customer could get a little smoother.

To explain this, I would like to use the Hook Model by Nir Eyal explained in the book Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal.

The model consists of four stages: trigger, action, variable reward and investment. Let me briefly explain the stages. Trigger is where the user has created an urge of searching on Google for some information. Action is where she searches and clicks on the Medium article. Variable rewards is the satisfaction of the user through the article read. It needs to be variable so the user keeps coming back. Investment is the small actions or pieces of information you make the user add into your product. It could be things like sign ups, claps, following people, etc.

I think Medium does have the Trigger, Action and even Variable Reward section of the model figured out. But I think the cycle breaks down at Investment. Currently, Medium provides 3 free articles per month and one extra on signup. They don’t ask for enough investment for the user to keep coming back and start the cycle again. And 4 free articles a month is nowhere close to reinforcing the Variable Rewards cycle.

A user who lands up on Medium paywall from a Google search would immediately go back to the search results. This affects both SEO rankings and the perception of Medium during the user’s next Google search.

I think Medium can afford to loosen up a bit on the restrictions. My hypothesis is two articles a day for a signed-up user. It gives you enough rewards to keep pulling them back the next day. Maybe it is too many, but Medium certainly should do AB testing on this. Also, I don’t think authors would mind a few new eyeballs even if the eyeballs don’t pay for it.

Another quick experiment would be a read streak tracker that rewards free reads based on your streak. The best part about these experiments is that they can be done on a very small scale without actually changing the entire Medium product.

The Medium Partner Program

Medium has done so much good for authors and content creators to take control of their own content. The quality of content, like I’ve mentioned before, is undeniable. But still with all those benefits, Medium has completely left out the entire developing world. Medium could have quadruple its growth if authors from the developing world got an opportunity to earn a buck or two from this magnificent platform.

It is a choice that Medium has taken to stick exclusively to Stripe. A decision I don’t understand at all. Maybe it is tax-related. Maybe Paypal isn’t as reliable. Of course, for certain countries, you may have to set up a company in the home country to pay their citizens but I know for sure that Paypal has a long proven history of being a very reliable payment partner.

I don’t think I have any other qualms. Not yet, at least. I write this article without taking a single penny from Medium. Maybe when I do experience Medium’s Partner Program, I can write a follow-up. But for now, I just wish Medium does include us.

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Co-Founder at IPHawk, Stargazing, Trekking & Scifi/Fantasy,