Pando

Rejoice! The all-new Medium brings you "closer to Bono" than ever before!

By Dan Raile , written on October 8, 2015

From The Party Desk

On Wednesday, publisher/publishing platform Medium held an event in a newly-tony quadrant of San Francisco’s Mission district to announce some subtle new mutations.

These included “the best drop caps in the business,” app updates, in-line commenting and mentions, new discovery features, an API, domain transferability, and integration with text editors. Also, a new logo and new marketing campaign.

Saved for later: Ways for Medium or the people publishing on it to make money. “New native ad and paid content models” got a mention. “We’ll reveal more on monetization in the coming months,” said Saul Carlin, head of business development. For now, the only actual advertisements to feature Medium’s distinct look and feel will be seen in the real, physical world, as the company rolls out a new marketing campaign. “They are ads that make you stop and think, which is something most ads don’t do,” said CEO Evan Williams.

“We wanted to throw a party,” the CEO said of the night’s gathering. Initially, he said, it was just a date set for a series of internal goals to be met, but then expanded to include press and friends. So it was a party that started as one thing and morphed into another, without abandoning the former. As such, a perfect celebration of Medium, which at first seemed like a publisher of original content, then couldn’t decide, and how has grown into something that looks a lot more like a publishing platform.

And what a party! There were many high-and-tight male hairstyles and thoughtful pocket squares, fun dresses. Impeccably crafted footwear all around. Charcuterie and cheese, passed hor d’oeuvres, open bars. A champagne toast. Flowers were presented to the marketing team. An after-party rung in with Michael Jackson’s “Wanna be Startin’ Somethin.”

The security guards wore suits. “Tech parties are one of the safest places on earth,” said one of them, “It’s why I don’t plan to stay in security much longer. Now you just don’t need so many people standing around, because you can just set up cameras,” he gestured towards unseen devices either side of us.

Guests were branded with metal tags of various colors denoting their connection to the event, and after the customary mingle period were directed to please find a seat in front of the stage. Over the course of an hour, Medium CEO Evan Williams and five other Medium executives laid out the changes. Followed by more mingling and a champagne toast/recap before the lights were dimmed and the baton passed to MJ.

For writers, there are funky new ampersands, aforementioned drop-caps, more subtle link-underlining, recognition and alerts for the placeholder “TK”, automatic em dash switching.

New interactivity features will “tap the intelligence of the audience.” Writers and commenters will now be able to @ mention others, a la Twitter. Responses can be made in context. Medium is now a place where “every word is interactive and connected to your network.” Where you can – the example was proffered – let Bono know what part of his “Marshall Plan for Africa” you liked, and why, and Bono can see that, and respond to you.

“But it doesn’t just bring you closer to Bono,” said product lead Brian Ellin. “It’s a totally different type of conversation.”

Tags and a beefed up “explore” feature will allow unknown writers to gain position. “Anyone can publish with these tags and find an audience based on the merit of your words and ideas.”

The new Medium will, it was said, allow everyone from obscure bloggers to established companies with opportunities to build their brand, if not their bottom line.

They also announced that Medium will synch with text editors such as iA Writer and Ulysses. That it is compatible with the Amazon Echo. That there is a Wordpress plugin (!).

Medium also has a new “M” logo. The old “M” no longer reflected what Medium has become, Williams said.

The new “M” logo looks notably less like an upside-down Wordpress “W,” compared to the old “M”. Which is interesting because the new Medium seems to invite even more obvious comparison to the venerable blogging platform.

To dissuade such comparisons, Medium has enlisted a number of publishers – MSNBC, Fusion, the Awl, Leisure + Travel and more – to begin posting their content on the platform. Meanwhile, the content produced by its own editorial team continues to be crowded out. For years Medium has been criticized for trying to be a platform and a publisher. Yesterday’s announcements strongly suggest the former. Which should be good news for Medium’s investors and team: Tech and tools and reaching people are the parts of the media business that Evan Williams knows.

Then again, the company would balk at being called a “new Wordpress”-- likely even more than it hates being called the home of the personal press release. Despite raising some $172 million and powering roughly 20 percent of the Web, Wordpress has failed to build itself into a large and enviable business. Once-hyped competitor Six Apart did even worse. Williams’ own Blogger sold for the low tens of millions.

To Williams’ credit, Medium is being started in a new world. Earlier this week, co-founder Biz Stone pointed out to Pando’s Sarah Lacy that the beauty of Medium as opposed to a publishing platform is you aren’t really “setting up a blog,” you are just going to a place to write and find readers. That means there’s not the pressure to come there everyday and find something to say. You can do it once and never come back. Arguably, that makes this something a much broader cross-section of the world wants to do. Just like everyone has one good picture on the Internet, everyone probably has one good thought post. (Or at least promotional piece about the next step in their career…) In that vein, Medium may be closer to a well designed Huffington Post than a Blogger redux. Only one that’s just for unpaid writers and celebrities rather than a huge news org with a political agenda.

But that could backfire as well: What good are millions of writers if many of them never return?

The night’s highest minded statements concerned not business, but the meritocracy of content, all people writing as equals, Bono, and creating a smarter world. Something Williams pointedly said his previous entrepreneurial efforts didn’t achieve.

“Twitter and its ilk didn’t make us smarter or actually more connected. In some ways they are detrimental to the quality of our thoughts and observations, creating negative feedback loops,” Williams said.

Feel the burn, Jack.

By contrast, Williams said that Medium has become “the default place to share perspectives on a growing number of issues that matter.” And gods know that the internet can benefit from an increase in reasonable discussion. For now, nouveau-PR-Newswire comparisons notwithstanding, Medium continues to pursue this pure vision, allowing vast, depthy conversations to take place in its branded venue, subsidized by $87 million worth of investor expectations. But the evolutionary clock is ticking.