Medium has a new suite of features and a fresh design that it hopes will help transform the platform into the go-to reading and writing hub for the internet. The Medium redesign, announced at a press event in San Francisco today, includes Twitter-like @ mentions to send notifications to other Medium users cited in stories, a slew of new writing and design tools, and a new recommendation feature that will surface new posts to you based on who you follow.
The overhaul is aimed at repurposing Medium as a kind of social network for creators and readers, one that doubles as a way to level the publishing playing field now that the internet is increasingly being swallowed by mobile apps that bow to advertising and algorithms. Medium will now allow users to publish straight to the platform from other services like WordPress and register a custom web domain, so a website can live on Medium but retain a custom look and feel. The company is partnering with publishers including Fusion, MSNBC, Travel + Leisure, and The Awl and will launch new monetization tools to help writers and publications earn money through brand partnerships. Medium’s redesign is also reflected in new iOS and Android apps released today.
Medium was founded in 2012 by Twitter co-founder and Blogger creator Evan Williams. The website has sat in the weird hybrid position of being both a clean and aesthetically pleasing way to publish your own musings and a home for a number of different in-house and third-party publications that publish original journalism. The mix meant many in both the tech industry and broader public were left wondering what and for whom exactly Medium was built for. Williams in May tried to address this confusion with a Medium post titled, “Medium is not a publishing tool.”
The essential takeaway was that Medium was neither a publishing platform nor a publisher, but a place for writers and readers and even Medium-owned publications to create and share original work as part of a larger network. In Williams’ mind, Medium is designed to liberate people from the increasing control of companies like Facebook and Apple that are doing their best to kill off the mobile web. It’s an “ideas exchange,” in his words, that maintains the spirit of the early web while being realistic about how people write, read, and share today.
When Williams started Blogger, he said, it was at a time when anyone with internet access could create a blog and reach new audiences. But as more people spend time within Facebook’s app or reading articles through Apple News, it’s harder to get original writing in front of readers. That hallmark of the internet of 20 years ago is what inspired Williams throughout Blogger’s creation and onward to what became Twitter, and he fears it’s being undermined by current power grabs from tech titans to supplant the way media companies reach readers.
“The fact that billions of people have the printing press at their fingertips is not a trivial idea. It’s a huge advance in society,” he said. “But social media didn’t actually make us smarter or more connected. There was still a need for substantive stories and ideas and the tools that provide those have not evolve that much since Blogger. We saw an opportunity — in fact, a need — to create a better publishing tool.”
It was as much a product launch as it was a plea to help save a purer and more open web philosophy. “I’m confident that if we can create this network that seamlessly connects and builds off people and ideas that we can make it [publishing] fun again,” he said, “and make it sustainable and make the smarter world where everybody has a chance to play.”