On Medium.com

A flawed site whose flaws don't matter

July 25, 2021

Several months ago I learned about a site called medium.com, at the time it intrigued me and while I'm not currently a user of medium.com it still intrigues me and for reasons I'll explain later I may at some point in the future begin to use medium.com. But of course since the internet is the way that it is, over time I've seen some people arguing against the use of medium.com. There are three main arguments that I've seen presented one of them is a completely terrible argument that only immature people make, but the other two are quite good arguments, in fact I agree with these two, but in the case of medium.com none of these arguments apply. I'd like to discuss and debunk all three of these arguments, and I'll start with the good ones.

But of course I have to first explain what Medium is so that you're not lost. To put it simply Medium is the YouTube of blogging, it is a centralized platform with a huge audience where thousands of "creators" post "content" and people who make good posts can be paid and, much like YouTube, there are a few people who make almost their entire living off of Medium. But other than the type of content hosted there are two other important differences between YouTube and Medium, first Medium is not free a subscription costs like five bucks a month (well you can read a few articles for free but not very many) and second Medium has a much lower standard for monetization, if the first thing you ever post on Medium is good then they will pay you for it right away while with YouTube there is an ever shifting tide of requirements that have to be met before they send you a check and it can take the average person years to achieve this.

Criticisms of Medium.com

Medium is Bloated

I first ran across this article a number of weeks ago and it is what really inspired me to write this article, although I will admit that I didn't actually read the whole thing when I first found it because it doesn't do much more than point out the obvious, Medium, like most modern sites serving text based content, uses up way more bandwidth than it should because it fills itself with tons of unnecessary JavaScript junk, trackers, images that take up way to much space and who knows what else. The guy who wrote that article tested a few Medium articles to see how much data was being sent to his computer by medium.com while loading a single page, two of the Medium articles he tested sent more data to his computer than my entire website takes up, I have over a hundred articles written here and just as many pictures and yet a single page on medium.com is fatter than all of that. Web bloat is a serious problem for the world wide web as a whole, I wrote about it nearly a year ago and I still get amazed at how bad it is. But, as I'll explain, Medium's bloat doesn't matter.

Medium has Terrible UI

Like I said I first saw the article from the last section a number of weeks ago, but I quickly forgot where I found it and while looking for it as I prepared to write this I came across this article written by a guy named Nikita which criticizes Medium's user interface. I'm not going to go into too much detail on it since Nikita did a great job at it but from toolbars that take up 25% of your valuable vertical space, frequent pop-ups that cover the whole screen, and systems in place that won't even let you properly copy and paste plain text, there is no way to deny that Medium has a history of terrible UI. (It is worth noting that Nikita's article was written in 2018 so some of the things he criticized have changed and the UI isn't as bad, but it is still not great.) The terrible UI is of course among the main causes of Medium's bloat, but just like its bloat, Medium's terrible user interface doesn't matter.

Medium is Greedy

As I said in my description of medium.com, Medium will pay people who post content on their site with a number of people who have been able to completely replace their day jobs by writing on Medium, and since actually getting paid doesn't require a high number of subscribers or a crazy amount of views like it does on YouTube, many moochers will lazily spend an hour writing up something to post on Medium then complain that Medium never paid them for it, or in some cases they will be lucky enough to get paid but they would have only been paid a discouragingly small amount of money at first. In either of these cases these moochers will go onto some terrible place like Twitter and complain about how terrible and greedy Medium is because they didn't give them the money they thought they deserved, but as I will explain, Medium's greed (if we can even call it that) is justified.

Debunking Medium's Criticisms

Medium's Audience doesn't Care about Web Bloat

The article I mentioned above that talked about Medium's bloat problem was heavily inspired by Luke Smith who in a video demonstrated bloat in other websites. Luke Smith has terribly slow internet at his house and it would probably take an entire minute to completely load one of the bloated medium.com pages and like everyone Luke has better things to do than to sit around waiting to learn what Barack Obama plans to read this summer (this article was number three on Medium's trending list today). While for many of us this pointless article will load up nearly instantaneously because we have good internet, Luke argues that when we look at the entire world his slow internet is what is normal around the world, rather than our fast internet. Luke is completely right when he says this, I know this from personal experience having spent two years living in remote areas of the Philippines where I'd have to spend multiple hours traveling just to get somewhere with good enough internet to do something as simple as checking my email and it would still often be painfully slow. Billions of people around the world do not have access to fast internet so in order to be inclusive of them we have to make our websites as minimalist as possible, this is why web bloat is a problem.

But as I've said, in the case of medium.com bloat doesn't matter, to understand this let's take a look at Medium's business model. Medium charges members five dollars a month to read an unlimited number of curated blog posts. Now ask yourself, "What sort of person would be most likely to spend five dollars a month to read curated blog posts?" The answer to this question that I've come up with is well educated millennials with high paying jobs, and if we look at Mediums marketing we can see that that is also who they seem to be targeting. So now the question is what proportion of well educated millennials with high paying jobs have internet good enough to use medium.com in its current state? The answer to that would be virtually all of them, so we see that even though Medium is undeniably bloated its bloat doesn't matter because Medium's target audience is equipped to handle the bloat.

Medium's Audience Puts Up with Bad UI

Now let's take a look at how Medium's audience reacts to bad UI, of course the fact that Medium has survived and thrived almost nine years already is the best proof that the poor UI decisions they've made over the years haven't mattered to their main audience. In fact bad UI has become the norm across the internet, and while people who prefer sites like this one will always complain we are in the minority. Take a look at Apple, their homepage isn't too bad but for and article I wrote back in January I found myself looking at the page they have advertising their Mac-Pro is awful, with my browser set to full-screen there are still pictures on that page that require me to scroll just to see since they are taller than my viewport. Ten years ago this would have been unacceptable, and yet we now have Apple, one of the world's largest and most influential tech companies doing it.

It is also important to realize that the people responsible for the bad UI across the internet are the same people using Medium. If we use the US Census's definition of a millennial and take a look at Stack Overflow's 2020 Developer Survey we see that over 70% of professional software developers fall into Medium's target audience, and it turns out that Medium is in fact incredibly popular among software developers, there are probably a hundred articles saying what the top ten VS Code extensions are on Medium. Pretty much every video or article that I've seen with a title along the lines of "Ten ways to make money as a programmer without a job" has writing for Medium in one of the top three slots on the list, and many of the people making these sorts of videos along with other people making "programming content" often talk about how reading articles on medium.com is one of the things they do to be "continuously learning". Medium's bad UI doesn't matter because many of their users are the ones responsible for it and the rest have become accustomed to it because it is all over the place.

Medium and its Audience Want Quality Content

If we look around the world we'll find too many people who view too many things as charities, Medium seems to be one of the things that people mistake for a charity because for some reason many people believe that they can submit a sub-par article and get paid, this is not the case. Like everything in life, if one wants to be paid by Medium they have to put in some actual effort and work for it, nobody is going to pay you for nothing, not enough people are taught that these days.

Of course this is not terribly surprising, not enough people really understand what money is work by itself does not equate to money, producing value does, if you give Medium something that they find valuable then they will reward you with money, but if they find no value in your work then you will receive no value in return. Many people make a living off of medium.com, or many other similar things on the internet, but these things are not anything like jobs where you are paid by the hour, they are more akin to owning a business where often times your profit varies depending on a multitude of factors.

It is also important to take into consideration the nature of how Medium pays people. In the last section I mentioned the fact that writing for Medium often shows up on videos and articles for people looking to make a quick buck these videos will almost always mention a guy (and it is always the same one) who made over $3,000 off of one article but they almost always fail to tell people how long it took for him to get that $3,000. That guy did not write his article on a Tuesday then have a $3,000 check in the mail on Friday, the $3,000 was accumulated over multiple years of traffic to his article. It is quite likely that that article only made around ten bucks its first month then maybe fifty the next month, maybe the next month it picked up and got one or two hundred dollars and peaked one month getting three hundred then over the next several months sustained a consistent level of traffic to earn fifty bucks a month or something until now, years later, the writer can say that that one article made him $3,000. And this of course was his best article, I am almost certain that none of his other ones earned nearly as much money.

As I mentioned before it is possible for people to make a living off of this website but it cannot be done without time and hard work, it would take a person years to replace their day job with this or any other "side-hustle".

Will I Use Medium?

Now of course the natural question for me to ask myself at the end of all of this is whether or not I should start using Medium, and I really don't see any reason why I shouldn't start writing there (I don't have much interest in reading the crap there). I've spent the last year improving my writing skills and it only makes sense for me to take those skills somewhere where I can make some money. If I were to start writing on Medium I'd try to treat it like a part-time job where I'd set myself up for success by giving myself the time to post an article there at least three times a week which is a level of consistency that I haven't achieved on this site.

Medium would also never replace this site, here I have the freedom to talk about whatever I want however I want and I can even do stupid things like this if I want to. I don't have that freedom on any other site, on Medium I'd be limited on what I could talk about since I'd have to write what other people want to read rather than simply write whatever I want, and I'd have to change up my writing style quite a bit to target a wider audience. These are things that I'm capable of doing but they are of course boring, this site exists because I think it is fun and for that reason it, or new content on it, would not be going anywhere if I ever do decide to start writing on medium.com.