It’s been close to 10 years now since I started posting on Medium, and I’ve come to hate it (according to this Hacker News thread, I am not the only one). I have 10.6K followers, but will post stories that get 8 or less views regularly (if I’m only going to do those numbers, I rather just write here where I’m free to be completely and unabashedly myself); every notification I receive on it is meaningless. Every time I look at it, I find myself annoyed by the “selected for you” content that has nothing to do with “me” whatsoever.
It’s been a long time coming, my ennui. I recently went through and deleted over 700 articles, and was surprised during that process of just how much I’d lost touch with a lot of the writing that had accumulated there over the years.
Not that it was necessarily bad writing (or not all of it anyway), but that somehow the platform had, I felt, effectively cut me off from my own writing, burying it away from my awareness, and presumably that of anyone else on the platform.
I have a hundred reasons (probably) I could list here as to why I’ve lost faith in this platform – in all platforms, to be totally honest. A hundred product promises broken over the years, and so on. But I recently stumbled across a Tom Critchlow blog post (yes, blogs still exist – and they are still awesome!) which seems to arrive at a lot of the same points I have been reflecting on.
Actually, there are two Critchlow posts I should link to. But let me quote some elements from the first one first, on riffs. Well, it’s less quotable than I remember, but the gist is: don’t write big long drawn out articles, instead write “riffs.”
Riffs are more like short form themes, ideas, “melodic phrases” that are rough and unfinished – the essence of blogging. This holds true to my experience of semi-professional blogging back in the days before Medium, which were arguably intensely better than any experience I had writing on Medium. Riffs for me are the “shoot em out” posts where you rapid fire off your thinking, and then move on. Then, you find later that your riffs start to link together – and most importantly, you can easily go back and find your old riffs, and easily link to them. I could never do that on Medium. Once you posted something, it was like it went into a black hole to never be heard from again amidst all the screaming wastes of SEO and content marketing.
Critchlow compares this to “closed” writing of the type you see on Medium:
Closed writing is boring writing. If you’ve fully explored and put to bed the topic you’re writing about then there’s very little left for someone to react to. “Nice post” someone might say.
In fact, “nice post” is about the most common type of comment I’d see on Medium. Later, he writes:
Forget about “visibility” for your post. The unit of blogging isn’t pageviews, it’s conversations. Don’t worry about how many people will see it…
Let’s jump to his other post now, about “small b blogging“:
Small b blogging is writing content designed for small deliberate audiences and showing it to them. Small b blogging is deliberately chasing interesting ideas over pageviews and scale. An attempt at genuine connection vs the gloss and polish and mass market of most “content marketing”.
And remember that you are your own audience! Small b blogging is writing things that you link back to and reference time and time again. Ideas that can evolve and grow as your thinking and audience grows.
He compares that to the audience-chasing of “big B blogging,” and of course concludes that smaller is better:
By chasing audience we lose the ability to be ourselves. By writing for everyone we write for no one. Too often I read things otherwise smart people have written for places like Fast Company and my eyes glaze over. Personal identity is necessarily watered down. Yes those places have large audiences but they’re shallow audiences. They don’t care about you at all. Your writing washes through their feeds like water.
Instead – I think most people would be better served by subscribing to small b blogging. What you want is something with YOUR personality. Writing and ideas that are addressable (i.e. you can find and link to them easily in the future) and archived (i.e. you have a list of things you’ve written all in one place rather than spread across publications and URLs) and memorable (i.e. has your own design, logo or style). Writing that can live and breathe in small networks. Scale be damned.
When you write for someone else’s publication your writing becomes disparate and UN-networked. By chasing scale and pageviews you lose identity and the ability to create meaningful, memorable connections within the network.
This to me perfectly summarizes my experience on Medium: everyone chasing audience, everything diluted down to meaninglessness, all content lacking any kind of real (for me) compelling identity. Everything totally forgettable, and in the end just vaguely irritating.
I’m not sure what I’ll do yet with the slim remainders I left up for now on my Medium account. Perhaps sit and wait a little, let the dust settle on my new resolve. I’ll archive some things, save some others as PDFs perhaps, republish a handful here, I suppose. But overall, I will no longer give my time and creative energy to chasing the big audiences that bring nothing. Give me the small audience any day, the density of connections and real human interactions that move beyond the “Nice post” comments, and the reminder that the way things once used to be in the land of blogging, can still be yet again.