Since the LiveJournal era of the late nineties, we’ve seen a proliferation of different ways to publish your own content online. Blogging has come a long way, particularly as a marketing technique. And it continues to evolve, now with a growing focus on readability and shareability. The two platforms receiving the most attention these days are Medium and the newly redesigned Facebook Notes.
While posting about your fascinating personal life is a fun way to use these sites as a kind of public diary, the professional possibilities are worth exploring. I took one previously published blog post of our own and posted it to both platforms, to good, bad, and outright ugly results.
While many blogging sites like Blogger focus on long form content, and Twitter provides a microblogging platform of 140 characters or less, Medium aims for, well, medium-length pieces.
Launched in 2012, Medium is the brainchild of Twitter co-creators Evan Williams and Biz Stone and “was introduced as a new publishing platform where both paid and unpaid writers could post pieces on any subject and of any length.” Used by over 17 million per month, including current President of the United States Barack Obama, to say Medium is catching on would be an understatement. Features that set Medium apart from other blogging sites include the categorization of posts by topic or theme rather than author or author’s popularity, the clean aesthetic, and the collaborative community focus.
The latter has become so important to the site that Medium’s co-creator Evan Williams recently stated that “Medium is not a publishing tool. It’s a network.” However, Jonathan Glick of Sulio used Medium as an example when he applied the term “platisher” to describe this kind of hybrid between a publisher and a tech platform. This is where Medium’s ambiguity lies. Nobody can pinpoint quite exactly what it is, or more importantly, what its value is. To satisfy some of this curiosity, I took to the site and got publishing.
First, the good. Medium is undeniably stunning. The homecoming queen of blogging platforms, its uncluttered aesthetic is not only visually pleasing, but allows for an incredibly enjoyable writing process. The amount of blank space around the words, the large header image, and the simple font style all contributed to the nerdy joy I experienced while editing my post. “A place for everything, and everything in its place” is a phrase that came to mind before I published, because there are no unnecessary features on Medium. There are no distractions from the content on the page, making Medium a primary example of good communication design.
Further enriching the publishing process, was the feature that Medium calls WYSIWYG, or “What You See Is What You Get.” There is no switching back and forth between preview mode and your text input to see how your post will look when made live because the way it shows up as you’re writing and adding images or links reflects the end result.
The post I was sharing through Medium included embedded Tweets, so I was looking forward to seeing how the platform handled this. The answer? Beautifully. Like WordPress, Medium recognizes URL links to Twitter content and seamlessly embeds the tweets within your content. The ability to add a regular link was also incredibly intuitive, as I simply needed to double click on a word to add a hyperlink, or hover on the page, click on the little plus sign and then on the <> symbol.
The final notable feature of Medium that sets it apart from many other blogging and media sites, is the statistics component. Under the drop down menu, there is a stats area that shows the amount of views, reads, and recommendations your post has garnered. You can also see where traffic is coming from by clicking on the referrers link, which provides invaluable information to you and your overall content strategy.
Title image formatting
While the majority of Medium’s features were extremely easy to use, there was one area that proved a bit tricky. When it came time to take advantage of Medium’s large header image format, finding out how to add this photo initially had me at a loss. I clicked around, hoping that, like the other features, the header image option would miraculously appear, but that was sadly not the case. Eventually I turned to the FAQ section of Medium which helped with this, but I wish it had been more intuitive like the rest of the writing and building process had been.
Minimal look = minimal features
While the clean, simple look is what makes Medium so appealing to many writers and publishers, this does come at a bit of a price. The editing features available currently include the ability to bold, italic, use two header sizes, add a block quote, links, and, as of October 7th, drop caps. If you’re looking for anything more, this isn’t the place.
Nobody read my post
While writing, editing, and posting in Medium was a mostly positive experience, it felt like a set it and forget it experience. In other words, I didn’t get much engagement. After over a week on the site, my post received only seven views and three full reads. As mentioned above, over seventeen million people use Medium each month, so with a dismal seven people clicking on my article, I became interested in how this number could grow. According to Medium success story Greg Muender, these are some ways I could have rivaled the 42,000 reads he got within twenty four hours with his first post:
Create a debate: His blog post, titled “I lasted 37 hours on Android” created a debate between iPhone and Android users.
Foster virality: Asking people to respond to the debate on Twitter with a designated hashtag, Muender encouraged the discussion to evolve.
Get syndicated: After reaching 10,000 views, Muender found his article on Digg’s front page, and in the top 20 on Medium. He used this traction to cross-post on LinkedIn and Reddit, again giving the post an extra push.
Pictures are paramount: Muender used five high quality images throughout his post to tell his story.
Engage with your audience: Muender knew that in responding to each and every one of his audience’s comments or questions, they will become more likely to follow him, continue reading his content, and share it with their own networks.
Facebook Notes is all grown up. You may remember Notes (or not) as a place for your high school friends to post attention-grabbing questionnaires about themselves. In August 2015 Facebook revamped the feature in an attempt to drive engagement. As Wired writer Brian Barrett explains, “The longer people are writing and reading, the more time they’re spending in their News Feed and Facebook, and the less likely they are to be distracted by some other Internet experience.”
It’s hard to ignore the resemblance between Facebook’s newly overhauled Notes section and Medium, which is why I took to the platform with the same blog post I shared on Medium, sat back, and waited for the likes to roll in (or not).
A pretty face
Facebook’s Notes section definitely got a makeover. The new Notes looks clean, simple, and… a lot like Medium. However, this isn’t a bad thing. The new format adds an extra touch of beauty to Facebook, with the large grid, blank space, header image, and minimal distractions. All the important real estate in your Facebook feed is occupied by information (Whose birthday is it? What are the top headlines today? Any events going on? Whose baby is that?), but that experience is part of why we love Facebook—endless distractions! Notes is different. It shows that Facebook knows where to silence the noise. The focus is on the content of the Note itself, allowing for undistracted reading, which is a designed benefit for both the reader and the writer.
Drag and drop images
When compared to Medium, Facebook Notes definitely made it easier to add the all-important title and title image. It’s a simple drag and drop, and requires no further instructions.
A definite positive of the Facebook Notes concept is the fact that you have a built-in audience of about 500 of your nearest and dearest. After posting the Note, I had 11 likes (Full disclosure: one was from my mom) and a positive comment (not from my mom). While not amazing, it definitely felt like an improvement when compared to the response received on Medium.
As I did not have Notes on my Facebook profile originally, I first had to go on a bit of a scavenger hunt to figure out how to add the feature. However, when I found the Facebook help section about Notes, it answered all of the questions I had, in the simplest terms, so I was ready to get posting in no time.
Awkward preview text
A minor thing that I didn’t love about Facebook Notes, was the fact that when shared on your timeline, the preview cuts the post off. Again, not a huge deal, but when the product was so well designed in most other aspects, it would have been nice to have the preview text be something you could edit or remove.
No embed support
One frustrating part of the Facebook Notes experience for me was the lack of embedding abilities. While I didn’t expect Facebook to allow me to embed the sixteen tweets I included in the original post, some kind of option for embedding links would have greatly enhanced my experience and the overall look of the post.
No spell check
Although I was sharing a post that had previously been edited and published, I accidentally typed something in the Facebook Note that I meant to type in another window. Facebook Notes did not catch this typo and I only caught it once it was published. If you’re a sloppy speller, this could be a worrisome omission, especially if using Facebook Notes for publishing professional content. However, this is nothing else if not a good reminder to religiously check your own work for spelling and grammatical mistakes.
Overall, there were definite positive and negative aspects to each publishing platform. As each continue to evolve, it will be interesting to see which grows in popularity for content marketers, personal self-publishers, and their respective captive audiences.