Medium gets even magazine-ier

By Erin Griffith , written on December 4, 2013

From The News Desk

Magazine is an adjective, I promise.

Today Medium, which has been called a "magazine killer," rolls out a new design and a bunch of new features that make it even more magazine-like. The blogging platform was designed to solve the combined shortcomings (or build on the combined strengths, depending on your point of view) of co-founder Evan Williams' two prior companies, Twitter and Blogger. Medium offers the built-in audience of Twitter, with the highly malleable publishing capabilities of Blogger.

It has worked -- Medium's clean interface and recruiting of high quality writers has attracted plenty of attention, pageviews and respect. (The company won't disclose any metrics on sign-ups or uniques, so I'm basing this statement on personal experience.)

Today Medium's publishing capabilities got even more robust.  Now Medium's "collections" will be edited solely by their creators, which adds a level of human curation to the stories and makes the reading experience more personalized. There's a design update too: big beautiful covers for stories, new fonts, full bleed photos, and more ways to edit and position art in the story. Lastly, writers will get more detailed stats and data around their stories and collections. It's the kind of stuff a magazine editor would want. Williams called the overhaul "Medium 1.0."

The addition of more magazine-like features only makes Medium's inherent conflict murkier: Is it a platform or a publication?

Medium has the qualities of a magazine: It employs writers and editors, commissions stories and illustrations, and generally acts like a media organization. It has formed partnerships with groups like the longform journalism organization Epic. It acquired Matter, a magazine. As a publication, it must take responsibility for the ramifications of the content it runs.

On the other hand Medium is an open platform like Twitter or Blogger. Previously only available by invite or approval, Medium opened itself up to allow anyone to publish in late October. So when the un-edited masses post hate speech, or false information, a platform like Twitter or Blogger can take a hands-off approach. It's the only way they to avoid getting sucked into controversy and avoid accusations of censorship or bias. And when someone alters or deletes a controversial post? Again, "not our problem."

— Medium (@Medium) August 2, 2013 It may seem like a question of semantics, but the answer to "platform vs. publication" has ramifications as publications become more like platforms. Forbes, BuzzFeed, Business Insider, Huffington Post, Gawker, and even the New York Times all allow outsiders to post on their sites with varying degrees of oversight and editing.

It's important to know whether these outlets will take responsibility for the content their users post. As publications, they've built their brand around reader trust, and they will continue to grapple with the question of what to do when bad actors find a megaphone on their sites.

Williams' stance on this has been clear: Medium is a platform, even as it looks increasingly like a publication. Fortunately for Medium, it started out as a platform, and that's what readers expect, even as it raises the bar for user-generated content. Over time Medium needs readers to get comfortable with its dual-citizen status. It may have an easier time doing that than publications with a legacy of highly edited reportage, like Forbes or The Atlantic.

For now, Medium is pushing deeper in each direction.