From the guys who brought the Web two massively famous publishing tools in Blogger and Twitter comes Medium, Evan Williams and Biz Stone's attempt at bringing quality content to the forefront for readers.
Medium is the product of the Twitter co-founders' San Francisco-based Obvious Corporation, and was launched in a preview on Tuesday. The site operates similarly to Slashdot, Reddit and Pinterest, in that users can vote up content that they find compelling, "giving feedback to the creator and increasing the likelihood others will see it," as an About-style article posted to the site by Williams explained.
The site organizes similar content in "collections." These are created by users with a theme in mind, and allow fellow users to contribute their own content that fits in with it. Some examples include this collection of unusual stories and this of childhood photos, both of which were initially created by Williams but contain content from a handful of other users.
Those looking to simply browse a collection can decide whether they want the page to sort content by the latest submissions or those that are deemed most "interesting," meaning they received the most votes by other users.
By creating another easy-to-use publishing tool and adding the democratic factor, the Obvious Corp. aims to harness the publishing power of Blogger and Twitter for the purpose of promoting the best content.
"Lots of services have successfully lowered the bar for sharing information, but there's been less progress toward raising the quality of what's produced," Williams' post explains. "While it's great that you can be a one-person media company, it'd be even better if there were more ways you could work with others."
The site isn't completely separated from Twitter. Those looking to register need to sign in with their Twitter accounts. When viewing a post to the site, those who click the name of the user who published it are brought to that person's Twitter account. This may be regarded as a design flaw, as the site is set to navigate away from Medium and to that person's Twitter account within the same tab, as opposed to opening Twitter in a new one. However, given how intertwined the two sites are, diverting traffic from one to the other may not be much of a concern.
The site's interface may be its strong suit. Images are organized in rows of three, each of which comes with a brief caption. The top image, either the newest or most popular, is twice as wide as those below it. This, and the grid-like layout, makes for a much more appealing interface than Pinterest, the closest comparison to Medium's image boards.
Medium's collection pages are also much cleaner than those on Pinterest. Medium foregoes the large banner urging unregistered users to sign up. The site is very young, though, and as it progresses and the company becomes hungry for new users, this is always a possibility.
As for written content, the site is fundamentally no different than Slashdot. Though headlines on Medium are organized across a page in the same fashion as images, both sites have separate options for viewing the latest content published or that which has been voted up.
However, the means by which readers can view an entire post on Medium may keep them from interacting as heavily as they do on Slashdot. Clicking a headline opens an entire blog post on a new Web page, navigating away from the collection where all other headlines are listed. By comparison, Slashdot posts are published in a drop-down format, so the post can be read on the same page as the headlines to other submissions. Posts on Medium appear to be significantly longer, though, so it may be difficult to achieve what Slashdot does in terms of exposure to other submissions. For what it's worth, posts to Medium do provide a link to bring the user back to the collection page.
Medium enters an already highly competitive fray with a handful of similar services. It will be difficult for the site to convince users to sign up for a new service, especially when they're already well familiar with the tools at their disposal. Tumblr, for example, boasts more than 16 billion monthly page views on 68.7 million blogs.
Medium also wasn't the only new tool that Obvious announced this week. Ironically, Obvious used a Tumblr post to announce Branch, a tool designed to facilitate conversation online. All of this comes just weeks after Twitter's announcement of the Twitter Political Index election.twitter.com, which measures public opinion on presidential candidates based on positive or negative tweets.
Clearly, Williams and Stone believe the self-publishing tools they've put out over the past decade have the potential to reach new levels. What remains to be seen is whether Web users are willing to gravitate from the tools they're currently familiar with in order to help the Web get there.
Colin Neagle covers emerging technologies, privacy and enterprise mobility for Network World. Follow him on Twitter @ntwrkwrldneagle and keep up with the Microsoft, Cisco and Open Source community blogs. Colin's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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