Tag Archives: social media

@Medium – The Next Big Thing in Content or a Snobbish Exercise in Self-Gratification?

7 Apr

Medium is not yet a fully launched or fully defined content platform but is popping up in all of my online reading places. When you check it out, it is distinctly clean, simple and minimal—no extra links, cute photos, too much sharing or navigation options. What is supposed to make you stay on the page is what is written on it. And the contributing writers are very, very impressive – Steven B Johnson, Sarah Doody, Felix Salmon, to name a few. In the world of busy Facebook, WordPress, Tumblr and BuzzFeed, Medium is like a breath of fresh air.

It is also very, very annoying in its current form.

We shall not cease from exploration

Screen shot 2013-04-07 at 8.03.58 PMMedium is organized in collections. The person that creates the collection can decide if others can contribute to it. Yet there is no way to search for collections, or authors. If you happen to stumble upon an article you like you can click on its author and see his/her other posts and collections. For example, I found out that Steven Johnson is a contributor from a tweet of his. If I had not stumbled upon that (it is not like Twitter is designed to help you never miss anything), there was absolutely no way for me to know that Johnson was a contributor. Who else is writing for Medium? I don’t know and it is not possible to find out.

I am sure that Medium’s goal is to encourage visitors to immerse themselves in the content rather than jump around too much and to an extent it is succeed. But Medium should not be doing that at the expense of readers’ ability to find what interests them. Even in a library, this old fashioned mausoleum of slow reading and serendipity, I can search for the books I want.

If you hit a pony over the nose at the outset of your acquaintance, he may not love you but he will take a deep interest in your movements ever afterwards

Screen shot 2013-04-07 at 8.10.17 PMThat seems to be what Medium is trying to do with the persistent “How Do I Post” button. It follows you on every page, taunting you to ditch whatever inferior platform you are using for your blogs and become part of this elite writing community. You click it and then you are slapped in the face with the snotty “Creating new posts and collections will be open to everyone soon.” There is nothing wrong with not giving everyone permission to post this early. And the question about how you can post is important. But if you are not ready to give people access, do you really want to ask them on every single page if they want it?

As every parent will tell you, if you are out of candy, you do not ask your kid if they feel like chocolate.

If that is not frustrating enough, try to find information about the site.

  1. To get to About Medium, you need to click that same How Do I post button.
  2. That takes you to the Medium Help Center, which has some generic language about Medium still being in preview mode. There is also a link to the FAQ page
  3. The FAQ page has a list of questions, but most of them are NOT answered on the page.
  4. Instead you need to click a link to a blog post that answers each specific question. And guess what, there is no breadcrumb navigation to take you back to the FAQ page.

In short, if I have a question about Medium, I need to take at least four steps to get to an answer, and the only entry point is through the “You want some chocolate? Too bad!” button.

To Launch or Not to Launch: That Is the Question

To be fair, the site is still in closed beta and as many online entrepreneurs will tell you, it is a challenge to find the right balance between features you want to show early and get people excited about (great writers! minimal distraction!) and the ones that you are fine-tuning to work flawlessly before you unveil them (scale, search).

Medium’s motto is “Sharing ideas and experiences moves humanity forward,” but the preview site leaves me with the feeling that the creators meant to add “if, when and however we feel like it.”

I still love the idea and believe it has a huge potential to become a destination for thoughtful content. But until the official site is launched, I will only visit Medium when I think that my self confidence needs to be taken down a notch.

Note: The use of literary quotes undoubtedly qualifies me for a beta contributor. Should this happen, I reserve the right to change my opinion of Medium and re-center on its brilliance.

April 21 Update: Last week I was invited to contribute to Medium. To try it out, I used  my  Nostalgia Is Fake post. Unfortunately, the problem of discoverability remains. Other small and probably on the way to be fixed issues also remain. Go to Medium.com and try to find me or the Analog & Antisocial collection. When you are ready to give up, here is the link: https://medium.com/nostalgia-what-could-have-been

The Facebook Book Club “Disaster”

24 Mar

reading-nook-design-ideas-2A few months ago I came up with a brilliant idea (or so I thought). I love reading books and I spend way too much on Facebook. Why not bring the two together and form a virtual Facebook book club? (Isn’t that what Good Reads is, you may ask, and my answer to that is: Does Good Reads also have pictures of your friends’ kids, pets and vacations?)

So, on my list of 180 FB friends (I am not that popular after all), there were a few who responded to the recruiting call. They shared the news with their friends, but apparently they are not that popular either, because at the end we ended up with a book club of 35 people. While that is a pretty good number if you compare it to an “analog” book club.

The rules were pretty straightforward. We take turns picking a book, we read it till a certain date, and then we post discussions and reviews. Well, we lasted exactly two books. So what caused our bookish enthusiasm to wane?

When we set up the book club, we decided that we will also use the group to comment on what we are reading as we go along. Facebook gave us an opportunity to jump in and share an insight or question right away without having to wait for the end of the month meeting. But it turns out that while the real time-ness of it theoretically should have encouraged comments, as the novelty of it wore off, so did the real-time comments. The absence of ongoing conversation meant that one of the biggest potential advantages of a virtual book club was gone. Which really exposed one of it huge drawbacks—getting together with a bunch of friends, over wine and snacks, to discuss something you all experienced was not possible on Facebook.

Our book club was big, but as we did not know each other that well, our tastes in books varied. Perhaps that resulted in book choices that were more limiting than we needed to engage everyone. I can’t help but think that people felt a bit more restrained in their discussions with this group of people they knew only virtually. Would we have had a different discussion on Italy in the 50s, if we knew where each one of us was coming from and knew what other things we, the club members, had in common? This single shared interest was not enough to keep us engaged with each other, it did not inspire us to get to know each other better or outside of the book club.

This is not to say that a bad choice in books does not happen in a “real” book club. We’ve all had our fare share of book choices that make us secretly groan and roll our eyes. But having to meet with your club peers in a month makes you endure the book and forces you to either find some redeeming qualities or, if you like the confrontation, build an argument for why it sucked. And here lies the other weakness of Facebook – it does not create the strong bonds between people that are the foundation of guilt.

Perhaps we were all just a bunch of detached Northwesterners. But I can’t help but think that it is not just our aloofness that prevented us from making the Bookclub Experiment a success. And I must admit, I am sort of glad for that.

The Bottomless Glass of Evgeny Morozov

4 Mar

Eastern Europeans have a natural (or, as we will argue, historically necessitated) proclivity to be negative and I fit that stereotype pretty well. I am not a glass-half-full person. “Tell me what you are doing, and I will tell you what is wrong with it” is a pretty accurate description of my attitude. So, you can’t blame me, if I get fixated on someone whose glass is so empty that it makes mine look like it’s overflowing.

Meet Evgeny Morozov – a fellow Eastern European and “a writer and researcher, who studies political and social implications of technology.” It is an amazing field to dedicate your career to. On one hand, technology changes so quickly that, by the time you have discovered a phenomenon to study (music sharing via Napster, anyone?), it is gone. At the same time, our understanding of individual and group psychology and behavior is growing exponentially. One would imagine that the combination of these two factors would provide a researcher with plentiful opportunities to observe, investigate, develop and test hypotheses, build and tear down assumptions.

And then you have Morozov. He does not exactly study and research technology, he speculates about its impact. All of us in the tech world do a lot of that, but his bias is so strong that to describe him as a researcher is as accurate as to say that the American Family Association is about family. Judge for yourself:

  • In his latest New York Times piece, The Perils of Perfection, he argues that we should not use technology to fix our imperfections unless we are confident that the technology solutions Silicon Valley comes up with have pure intent. On the surface, that makes sense. And then you think about, where medicine would be right now, if we took the same approach with pharmaceutical research. Should we ignore progress, if it is driven by the desire for business success?
  • Earlier in 2012, he lamented about the Death of Cyberflaneurism, that ancient art of browsing the Internet for useless information. I guess, sites like Brain Pickings, which does an amazing job of finding interesting information; Prismatic that curates news content for you, or even Facebook (let alone Pinterest), where friends share a lot of useless stuff, make the art too easy.
  • And then there is his recurring column, Future Tense, on Slate.com. If someone reads his posts a hundred years from now, they would conclude that the Internet is killing us.

ImageTo be fair, Morozov does have a nose for the silliness and over-the-top enthusiasm of technologists. His ridicule of pointless services that Tweet after you die, products that “erase” the homeless from your view, or forums (TED) that make a communist parade seem propaganda-free, are absolutely on target. Yet, when I read his pieces, I can’t help but think of agent Nelson Van Alden, Boardwalk Empire’s puritanical government official, whose obsession seems a tad unhealthy. Does Morozov denounce technology because he likes it too much?

In one of his pieces, Morozov quotes Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski, who argued that being inconsistent is the only way to avoid becoming a doctrinaire ideologue. Morozov writes with admiration:

“For Kolakowski, absolute consistency is identical to fanaticism.”

Smart man, that Kolakowski.

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