Full disclosure: I am a writer for Medium. The way it works is, if you are a paid member and read this article, I get a percentage of that $5. Like a nickel. So, read it twice, I’m trying to find something that costs a dime.
But I was a paying member of Medium long before I started writing there. As a matter of fact, writing for Medium never occurred to me until I stumbled across an article by Tom Kuegler. But as a reader, it was an excellent investment. It became my go-to place for information, my default search engine for quality articles.
And the excellent writing wasn’t even the best part.
I’ve been on the Internet since it’s birth. I started with dial-up bulletin board services (BBS). Then they got connected to these global networks that later blossomed into the early text-only Internet. We had FTP, and Telnet, and IRC, and it was a fantastic resource.
Then this marvelous thing came along called the World Wide Web. Well, it would have been marvelous if I wasn’t hooked up using a 300 baud modem. But pretty soon, cable came along, and I was screaming through the web. The information overload was terrific. At sites like WebMD, Weather.com, and CNet, the scope and accuracy of information were astounding. And new sites sprung up daily, because, get this, registering a domain was free.
But none of that lasted long. People quickly figured out how much money could be made in this new goldmine. And one day, an ad appeared on one of the sites. It wasn’t intrusive, and you didn’t have to click on it, but it was still annoying.
At least, I thought it was annoying. Then someone figured out, not how to make money selling things on the Internet, but how to make money selling ways to sell things. PPC. Pay per click. Click on that ad, hover over that banner, and ka-ching! Somebody, somewhere, made a fraction of a penny. Multiplied by hundreds, thousands, millions.
And that’s when the wheels came off.
Because the next phase in this devolution was figuring out how, not to provide more or better information, but to get more clicks on those PPC ads. That became the driving force behind most websites. And how do you do that? Simple Math. If a tiny percent of the people coming to your site click on one of those ads, then you need to increase the number of people coming to your site. How do you do that?
Clickbait was born.
Now WebMD was no longer a source of accurate, unbiased medical information, but a site that looks like this:
And even before Covid, the home page was plastered with alarmist headlines trying to scare people into clicking, while banners, borders, and popups begged you to click.
Weather.com was no longer a place to get a quick forecast, but a page that looks like this:
A site with headlines screaming things like, “Thunderstorms in the midwest threaten millions!” Threaten them with what? Getting wet?
And CNet. Don’t get me started on CNet. It didn’t matter what the technology was. If I wanted information or unbiased reviews, CNet was my first and only stop.
Now, this is their homepage:
The ads and popups are so annoying, you can hardly get to the information, much less read it. And the articles? Clickbait, pure and simple.
Then, about a year ago, I began noticing something. Whenever I searched for a topic, some of the results were at this site called Medium. I didn’t pay much attention at first, as they were buried in lists between paid ads and sites like Quora, another formerly great site gone to seed.
But they began appearing more frequently, so one day, I clicked on one.
Here is the link from the search above about photography.
And a screenshot of the page.
See all that stuff to the left and right of the article? It’s called whitespace; a technique used for a long time by editors to draw your attention to the text.
Draw your eye toward the text, not away from it to an animated GIF of a woman losing weight while sleeping. Not a clickbait article screaming about a meteor hurtling toward earth. A simple page of information. Title and subtitle at the top, a beautiful image underneath, and then a well-formatted body of the article. A well-written, informative article. I felt like I had discovered paradise.
So, I began seeking out those links. In every search, I would scroll hoping to find one on Medium. I knew the quality of the site, the page, and the article would be better than most any other. Don’t get me wrong. There are a lot of places with useful information. But pulling that information out of a screen full of complete garbage is painful. And the better the information, the more people click on it. The more people click on it, the more valuable the real estate, and so more and more ads, videos, and GIFs. You’re lucky to be able to see a single paragraph amongst the noise and litter.
So, I went to Medium. And then one day soon, disaster struck.
That’s okay; I don’t mind signing up for a free account. But I quickly discovered I’m still limited. If I want to keep reading this content, I have to fork out some money. I already have so many subscriptions, I’m not sure I want to pay another $50 a year. I decided to go back to the free stuff.
Three sentences. And that’s without popups. The latest gimmick is when you move your mouse up to close the tab, and that last desperate window pops up, screaming at you to wait! There’s more!
That only lasted a few days before I went back to Medium and paid for my first year. I have never looked back and never regretted it. Sure, I still end up on those other sites occasionally. But not until I have gone to Medium and exhausted the search there.
And that’s not often. They have over 120 million readers now. More and more of those are becoming writers because get this; you are paid for people reading your work. You don’t have to pitch and sell your article, just entice people to read it.
Wait, doesn’t this mean it will end up like the rest, full of useless crap just to get people to read it? Not really. Because at Medium, only the cream rises to the top. If you write garbage, you don’t get followers and fans, you don’t get in publications, and you don’t get curated.
Which means nobody sees it. But if you produce quality work, not only do a lot of those millions of members see it, you will start ranking in Google searches. So the rest of the world sees it. And some of those will become paying members. And so the cycle continues.
If you’ve come this far, you’ve just about read this entire article. And whether you are a paying member or Medium or not, I sincerely appreciate it. But if you are not a member and want to see more quality articles (I hope you think this falls into that category), instead of GIFs, popups, drop-downs, banners, videos, and subscription solicitations, consider joining up.
I promise it will be the best $5 you ever spent.