The Odyssey: Behind Those Shooting Stars

in the-odyssey •  13 days ago

The quality of Medium articles is higher than that of most blog sites and even some electronic newspapers while being open to anyone contributing to the site. I've spend a good time reading a lot of the stuff over there and enjoy reading over there much more than I liking reading over here. Why don't I spend all of my time on Medium? It's those annoying little stars...


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Medium is a writing and blogging platform. Writers can publish articles and members can lock content behind a paywall that only other paying members can view at any time. Non-paying members get three articles a month. There is also free content that is also provided on the platform that anyone can freely read. The difference? A small star at the end of the title signaling that the content is members only.

Why does Medium lock some of it best stuff behind a paywall? Well it uses a portion of this revenue to pay the writers for producing the content. This is a centralized distribution similar to that of Youtube, but instead of relying on advertising revenue to provide free content, Medium relies on members paying with their wallets rather than their attention. Here's the Medium Model in two simple parts:

  1. Put great stories behind the metered paywall.
  2. Help people find the great stories they care about.

This model is very reminiscent of the Netflix / HBO approach to delivering content to users. Provide users with easy access to quality content once they pay their subscription fee. Content that comes without those annoying advertisements and focuses on the content itself. This model has had a lot of success in the past ten years and even newer, web-based platforms like Youtube are moving towards subscription models.

But in order for such a model to work, the content has to be of higher quality than content found outside the site for free. Otherwise there would be no reason to use the platform in the first place. And these platforms know this. Here's an excerpt from an article that Evan Williams, cofounder of Medium wrote discussing the reasoning behind Medium's move to a subscription model:

There is — and probably always will be — a surplus of free content. But that’s like saying there’s a surplus of free food in the dumpster behind the alley. Some of it may be perfectly good, but most of us would rather pay for something more reliable and convenient if we’re able. And many people will pay a lot for something superior.

Medium and other subscription services rely on the human desire to find meaningful content and put their faith that people will pay for it. And in the case of Netflix and other premium services that use the subscription model, it looks like for the moment that this model works. I have generally liked the content that I have read on Medium despite the fact I'm limited to three starred articles per month.

So, do platforms deliver us the goods? Are they consistent enough in providing meaningful content that users can connect with and enjoy? Do the stories offer meaningful connection and satisfy the craving for content. It depends on the user. But this model works. It comes with the single drawback. The paywall.

But the dumpster diving analogy resonates with me and often it feels at time with free platforms there is a lot of digging through a lot of trash and garbage in order to find the good stuff and that is a lot of hassle and at times leaves you with a feeling that you have wasted a lot of time scrolling through different feeds.

But what about the content creator's perspective? The promise of reliable income and having central authorities judging content based on different factors based on skill and talent as a writer seems a lot more attractive than generating attention in a sea of mediocre content. In terms of talent acquisition, a model seems more reliable and stable for those looking to make a living on writing. Sure competition exists, but when the central authorities have skin in the game, they'll be happy to pay to get good content in return.

The drawback to the creator is that you have to cater to whatever metrics and styles that central authority prefers. But in return, as mentioned above, you are judged more meritocratically and the noise threshold is usually lower in that bad content usually will go unpaid or be paid less as they will not be hand selected by the central authority to be granted quality real-estate on the highly trafficked web pages of the platform. Why? Because if they selected bad content, their model would collapse.

Granted you still have to noticed in the first place, but once talent is identified, the signal tends to be less of an issue just with the incentives in place.

So, the Medium Model gives the following parties the following advantages and disadvantages:

Consumers
Pro: Better Content
Con: Paywall

Creators
Pro: More Meritocratic, Better Paying
Con: More Restrictive

Platform
Pro: Consumers Pay
Con: Active Curation, Writers Need Paid

While it would be interesting to see an Steem-based interface attempt to emulate this model, the model leaves a bit to be desired. Paying for better content just seems like a cheap answer to an open question. Rather than discover good content, we are really just paying someone else to curate and serve us up only the best. So, the question still remains:

How do we discover content that we can connect with?

And we have an answer. We could pay for it upfront. But is there another way? Perhaps, but finding that answer is going to take a little more digging and some more venturing across this vast sea of content we are attempting to chart. If anything, we have learned that if you pay for a faster boat, you'll get to your destination faster. But do we know how to sail? And if we do, is there a way to learn how to get places faster without buying another ship?


Additional Sources

The Medium Model
The Rationalization of Publishing

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