Medium Wants to be the World’s Op-Ed Page, But We’re Better Off On Our Own

Medium-logo-dark500The Washington Post today is talking about Medium and the disruptive role it’s trying to play in the media world, positioning the site as the go-to outlet for politicians, celebrities and others to post their op-eds.

There are an increasing number of media outlets who are using Medium as their primary long-form publishing outlet. Backchannel and others have gone totally native on social channels, including Medium, and skipped setting up their own sites, though recently Reported.ly saw the advantages of a stand-alone site and created one. So this felt like a good time to review some of the pros and cons of embracing Medium.

Advantages

  • The Network – Medium is, at its core, Twitter for long-form content. So while the publishing functionality may not be overtly different from anything else that you can connect with people and have them connect with you is a powerful incentive here. But this is the same advantage presented by something like LinkedIn.
  • Ease of Use – Even if you’re one of those people (like me) who doesn’t think there’s anything tricky or confusing about WordPress there’s no denying Medium is pretty easy to use. Create an account and start publishing. Again, this has more in common with a social network than what could be termed a traditional blog platform.
  • No Tech Needed – No need to install anything on your own server, no need to choose any sort of VIP package. It’s up and running from the moment you sign in.

Disadvantages

  • Off-Domain – This is still off-domain publishing, which comes with its own set of risks and trade-offs. There’s little branding flexibility, the design can’t be modified at all and it’s not monetizable. On top of all that it comes with all the usual set of content decay concerns, that this isn’t content that you own since you’ve published it on a managed, not an owned, channel.
  • Alerts Still Needs Work – Seeing updates from the people/profiles you’ve followed on Medium still isn’t super-intuitive. There’s no easy front page that’s customized for your own preferences, search and discovery still leave plenty to be desired.

wordpress-logo-notext-rgbSimilar thinking has been done by Alexandra Samuel at HBR here. She’s wondering if LinkedIn and Medium killed stand-alone blogs by making publishing on those channels so good that, combined with the draw of Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter, people have simply stopped thinking about “blogs” in the way they did 10-15 years ago. That’s a legit point. But so is her point that stand-alone blogs allow a measure of flexibility that those other platforms don’t. You can go off-topic when you want to. You can collect more data. You’re not beholden to someone else’s terms of service.

Again, while I would strongly encourage independent blogging I understand why people are attracted to these other platforms. But when we completely abandon the owned-channel approach – as individuals much less as organizations – we’re effectively handing over control of our digital future to other parties that may not always be around and may not always have our best interests guiding their actions. As Samuel states, independent blogging allows a kind of messy freedom that not only supports the open web but also just lets people play around until they find their own groove, something the high-minded Medium and the professionally-important LinkedIn don’t allow for. Those two are important – and I use them regularly – but I also see the importance of having my own digital outlet.

A much-needed house-cleaning

Two weekends ago I undertook a sizable project: I cleared out the dead wood and branches from a set of bushes in my backyard. The bushes were looking pretty ugly and once I got in there I saw that fully three quarters of what was there was just dead wood, some of which practically fell apart in my hands. Once I was done I had a huge pile of branches that had been removed and a few bushes that (while they’re still not my favorite) at least looked better than they did a couple hours earlier.

This past weekend I did something similar, but this time it was on Twitter. I spent a couple hours essentially unfollowing almost everyone. I’m not following only a few hundred accounts, mostly either news organizations, my favorite bands, a few other brand accounts I’m interested in and then maybe 15 individuals whose opinions I truly and consistently respect and want to see. This was long overdue and, honestly, I feel about 20 pounds lighter.

I’ve been on Twitter for 7+ years now and the number and type of people I was following showed that. It was a miss-mash of people who were relevant to me at one point but whom I haven’t interacted with or even taken an interest in since about two weeks after I did so, news accounts that were no longer active and haven’t been since 2012 and more dead wood. As much as I love the messy stream of the Twitter timeline, this was getting to be oppressive.

Tweetdeck has been my desktop app of choice for a while now, largely because of its ability to support Twitter Lists, which is how I broke out some of the accounts I was following into easier-to-follow segments. That way if someone I was *really* interested in reading updates from posted they wouldn’t get lost in the rest of the timeline, at least not as quickly. But even that wasn’t working for me anymore and I needed a fresh start.

I do plan to build back up the list of people I follow over time. But after seven years of haphazard follows with no overall direction or idea of what I wanted my Timeline to be this kind of clearing of the baffles was long overdue.

Periscope Enables Web Replay

(Originally published on the PNConnect blog)

Periscope announced yesterday that livestream videos could be replayed on the web 24 hours after they ended, mimicking functionality that was previously exclusive to its iOS app. Aside from the ability to view livestreams in a browser as they’re happening, this is the first big web-based new feature the app has rolled out. And it has me thinking about what could be next.

Periscope-Logo-lg-800x450-620x340

Right now there are no web profiles for Periscope accounts. So you can’t go to Periscope.tv/USERNAME and follow an account or view their archives. This makes a certain amount of sense: A key aspect of Periscope (and Meerkat as well) is that these videos expire, so it’s not like people would be able to scroll through archives of past posts. But there are things web profiles for Periscopes would be able to do while still holding true to the 24-hour rule.

Some ideas:

  • Featured Video: Similar to YouTube’s channel trailer, this could be a single, evergreen video that shows off the value proposition of the profile in some way. Put a 30-second time limit on it and force the person or brand that manages the profile to provide a quick reason why people should follow them/it and what people can expect.
  • Upcoming Livestream Schedule: This is a simple idea, just showing a schedule — maybe up to a week in advance — of planned live videos. This can be as specific as is necessary, meaning it could be “X Time on Y Date From Z Location” or more broad as in “Watch for videos all weekend from X Conference.” Again, the idea here is to show people *why* they should be following the account.

It’s probably inevitable that web profiles in some form or another will happen at some point in the not too distant future. This is the path Vine, which is also owned by Twitter, took as they slowly moved from a mobile-only experience to one that increasingly embraced the web. I would expect that these sorts of features would be introduced alongside eventual integration between Periscope and Twitter’s ad units. Promoted Tweets that publicize an upcoming Periscope-streamed event could have a bigger impact if they included a link to the web profile where the stream will be viewable.
Until that time, it’s good that streams can be replayed on the web for 24 hours since it means brand publishers can resurface that stream after the initial broadcast at least once or twice for anyone who missed it initially.

Don’t Forsake Archives for Ephemeral Content

(Note: This post originally appeared on the PNConnect blog)

There’s a thought-provoking post by Melody Kramer at Poynter today about news organization and ephemeral content. Specifically she’s addressing the question of how – or if – those media companies can or should be archiving the posts they’re publishing to services like Facebook through Instant Articles and Snapchat, in some cases through Discover. Even more minute than that, how are news organizations capturing and keeping the captions they put on a Facebook photo, or the copy in a Tweet that links to an on-domain story?Image via Wikimedia https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/93/Fondos_archivo.jpgAs usual, many of the questions and issues that are asked and raised here about the news world also has implications and applications to the world of brand publishing.

Similar to how news organizations have to, brand publishers have to walk the line between accomplishing a number of goals. We certainly want the brands we work with to be adjusting to market trends and right now there’s no bigger trend than off-domain publishing. Again, Facebook Instant Articles and Snapchat Discover are leading this trend, though Twitter certainly wants you to do as much organically on their network as possible and YouTube, in addition to being a great video archive, is essentially an off-domain tool where you can host a self-contained presence.

Interestingly, as I’m writing this the story popped the Reported.ly, a new news organization that at first embraced an approach of going completely native on social networks, has launched a website. The reason? To add context, allow for bigger-picture views and act as an archive. In other words, everything that a website should do.

This is a line we walk ourselves as counselors to our clients whose publishing programs we advise on. We know what works – the hub-and-spoke strategy that focuses on owned content being published on-domain and distributed to managed channels – but also want to make sure our clients are going where the audience is and that audience is increasingly living and reading within apps and social networks.

There aren’t the same concerns for brands that media organizations have. Corporate blogs aren’t going to be the paper of record, but those archives do have historical value. There may also be regulatory considerations that mean a brand *has* to be archiving all communications.

Finally, there’s tremendous value in having an archive of content to pull from to combat content decay. The only channel that’s future-proof is the one you control. It’s a bit hyperbolic, but Facebook could disappear next year. Snapchat could fold. Vine could be shuttered. And are you comfortable playing the odds that before they go away that they’ll make sure you can download an archive of everything – posts, comments, engagement and so on – you’ve done over your time there?

Facebook Embraces “Time Spent” to Further Its Own Goals

(Note: This post was first published on the Voce blog)

What Is It: Facebook announced last Friday that “time spent” would be included as one of the important metrics determining what people see in their Newsfeed. The logic from Facebook is that people may read stories that are interesting to them but don’t, for whatever reason, take one of the traditional engagement actions like commenting, liking and so on. So in the absence of those the amount of time people spend reading the story should, by their logic, play a role in what is surfaced to others.

What Does This Mean: On the surface this seems like Facebook moving the goal posts yet again to favor something from Facebook, in this case Instant Articles. The goal of those are to keep the reader within Facebook and not just be a pointer to an on-domain story, so naturally more time is going to be spent with them than something that’s quickly read and clicked on to read more.

Facebook-logo-PSD

Not only does this help that, though, it also is clearly meant to penalize those publishers who engage in what is sometimes derisively called “click bait.” When you think about so many of the new media players of the last few years you think of headlines that end with “…And You Won’t Believe What Happens Next” that encourage people to spend as little time as possible on Facebook or other networks and get to the site as quickly as possible to find out what, exactly, happens next.

While not all brand publishers have engaged in editorial tactics like that most have a similar goal, which is to make the conversion from social network to on-site as quickly as possible for any or all of a variety of reasons.

So what can those brand publishers do to tack and make sure they’re not amongst those taking a hit because people aren’t spending long periods of time on their stories? Learn how to tell concise stories.

There’s a bit of room – not a lot, but enough – between posting a teaser that is meant to be consumed quickly before generating a click and going all Instant Articles and completely abandoning the hub-and-spoke strategy we evangelize here. But that amount of space requires content producers to get really good at encapsulating the story in an engaging way and gets the point across while still leaving enough to the imagination that people want to read more. That’s an interesting trick to pull off, but it can be done.

Outside of all that, it’s also representative of the change that’s happening in the overall online media world, as traditional metrics like clicks, pageviews and so on lose their prominence – at least among forward-thinking sites – in favor of “time spent,” “quality views” and so on.

Overall this is a change that will, as just about every such change has, have some sort of impact on brand publishers. Organic reach has dropped like a stone in the last couple years and this will continue that trend. But, as stated above, there’s at least some way for publishers to do what they can to counteract that. Now they just need to do it.

Medium Embraces Email for Distribution, But Email Is No RSS

Medium-logo-dark500The only way you’ve been able to read or be alerted to new posts by writers on Medium has, up until now, been on the site itself. The site – which seems to embrace how it is both a publisher and a platform at the same time it says it’s neither, really – has adopted this model because the emphasis has been on it being a network where you connect with people you know and enjoy reading. It’s essentially Twitter for long-form.

Now they’re embracing off-site distribution with the launch of Letters, a feature that will deliver new posts you write to the email inboxes of the people who follow you. Medium positions this with the following statement:

Letters have the potential to provide what blogs used to through RSS subscriptions.

That is representative of a shift that’s been underway for a couple years now to not only prioritize email as a distribution point but actively move away from RSS. If you visit many sites, particularly those of the new generation of media outlets or corporate blogs, you’ll notice the RSS icon that was pervasive for the better part of a decade is no longer there amidst icons for Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, email and whatever other networks the publisher feel is relevant to their audience.

(I’m a well-known and long-time advocate of RSS since I feel it’s a superior syndication tool. But while my allegiance remains strong (RSS remains how I consume 95% of my news, with email and apps like Circa filling in the gaps) I understand that I’m not representative of the general public in this and many other ways, such as my contention there’s no better band in the world than Huey Lewis & The News. So I’m always going to think RSS is the superior delivery platform.)

Whether it wants to be a publisher or a platform, Medium has always exhibited the attributes of a social network. You followed people and got their updates in a system that was essentially Twitter but for long-form updates. But those updates, like Twitter and other networks, went into a feed that was fine as long as you didn’t follow to many people/publications. When you hit a certain scale the same problems cropped up that happen on Twitter: the updates fly by you if you aren’t looking at it regularly and you miss things.

That’s obviously at least one of the issues Medium is trying to address here, allowing publishers to push their updates in front of readers. But even then, the influx of emails is going to become overwhelming. That’s because email is a dog, begging and whining to go outside and barking every time someone walks down the sidewalk, constantly alerting you and wondering IF YOU’VE SEEN THIS!!! RSS is a cat, ready for your attention when you have time but also quietly chilling out while you’re busy and whatever.

I’ve long wished Medium would support RSS but email is…alright, though obviously a less efficient option. The site is at least finally acknowledging that off-site distribution is a good idea.

I’m a well-known and long-time advocate of RSS since I feel it’s a superior syndication tool. But while my allegiance remains strong (RSS remains how I consume 95% of my news, with email and apps like Circa filling in the gaps) I understand that I’m not representative of the general public in this and many other ways, such as my contention there’s no better band in the world than Huey Lewis & The News. So I’m always going to think RSS is the superior delivery platform.

I’ve long wished Medium would support RSS but email is…alright, though obviously a less efficient option. The site is at least finally acknowledging that off-site distribution is a good idea.

Social Headlines Very Different From Search Headlines

(This post originally appeared on Voce Nation)

There have been countless stories written over the last few years about “click bait” headlines, most of them full of hand-wringing about devaluing the reader’s time and so on. But there’s another angle on this that doesn’t get the attention it deserves and which (and yes, I’m aware of the contradiction in saying this) is summed up by one perfect headline.

Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 3.23.08 PM

That headline – and many more like it – shows a bigger shift than just toward “click bait,” though that’s part of it. It shows an almost complete abandonment of search visibility in favor of headlines that work well on social, at least for the moment.

Contrast that, though, with the URL for the story, which is still very search-oriented:

http://time.com/3914492/blythe-danner-madoff/

These sorts of headline tactics have obviously moved out from publications like Buzzfeed, Mic and others into more…what do we even call them anymore? Is Time mainstream? Do we measure that by page views? Print versions? Perhaps “legacy sites” is a better nomenclature. Regardless, this is now commonplace across the web on sites of all shapes and sizes as everyone seeks to get the attention of the Facebook and other social audiences.

What’s lost, though, is the broader web. If we’re not creating stories that are findable via search (and as long as search on social networks ranges from merely bad to wholly unusable) then we’re quite literally losing our archives.

We used to fret over whether our headlines were packed with enough search keywords and that there was a date not only at the top of the page but also in the URL slug. Now we’re operating in a world where headlines should be as vague as possible to encourage clicking from Facebook and many publications are eschewing dates because they want their content to be evergreen. The latter is also fairly unfriendly to search since it makes it difficult to gauge the timeliness of what you’re reading.

This isn’t meant to sound nostalgic for some idyllic time that’s past, but this is definitely a time that is if not in the past at least not not in fashion at the moment.

It’s incumbent on content marketing strategists (you know, like the ones you find here at Voce) to walk the line between staying current with these trends and advising clients on long-term best practices. That can be a tough balance to achieve and, honestly, will require some experimentation as tactics are tested, reported on and adjusted as necessary.

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