Medium’s Fall from Grace Is a Sad Reminder of Silicon Valley’s Product Timeline to Failure

Back when we trusted Silicon Valley and thought startups could make a positive difference in the world, Medium was an exciting platform. There were significant articles on entrepreneurship and new trends in technology.

When Medium created its own in-house publications and promoted them to the detriment of community publications, you knew this was the beginning of the end. Then there was the attack on crypto publications, the weeding out of bloggers who didn’t fit with Medium’s own internal culture.

Medium’s partner program seemed like a good idea at first. Over time though it began to exploit its creators instead of uplifting them. It tried to pivot to a cultural magazine sort of website, with left-leaning political themes and master bloggers on the art of blogging itself. Medium became an echo-chamber of content, with editorial oversight that ruined the spark of its original intent.

In the process of driving away its core audience and creators, Medium embraced an in-house approach to content that created significant churn of its former audience, without decent executive leadership that left a void in its readership. Medium’s Alexa ranking plummeted to as low as #147 in September, 2020.

What was once an inspiring blogging site that crowd-sourced great ideas had become a mediocre panel of clickbait articles and subjective rants. Gone were the technologists, crypto enthusiasts, software engineer folk, replaced by suburban moms, blogging profiteers, and authenticity influencers. And it was not good. The product suffered, the user experience felt fraudulent, and the pivots just continue.

Medium has tried many times to reinvent itself. Failed vision, a non-inclusive internal culture, and a certain Silicon Valley arrogance has marred what could have been a beautiful story. There is no longer any good place to blog on the internet in 2020. Medium has failed. But that’s not to say it’s run out of money just yet.

Just three years after its last rebrand (and five years after the one before that), online publishing platform Medium has revealed yet another new look. The refresh includes a new colour scheme, illustration style and, most notably, yet another new logo.

Medium’s new logo is a reminder that Silicon Valley doesn’t necessarily have the keys to the future. They make this stuff up as they go along.

They don’t put people first in their decisions. A third rebrand in five years only says one thing: Medium has no idea what it is doing or what it is trying to be. It alienated the people who made it great and want to replace them with people who just want to make a dollar on the partner program, a half broken system where you can make a few cents for your writing.

The logo involves three elliptical shapes of varying widths. It’s certainly a simple (and perhaps even striking) design and it’s also a symbol of what Medium has become. It’s become a lot more sinister, a little more dystopian. New leaders and new staff don’t likely even realize what Medium once was, though some of us who used to write there remember.

In a blog post on its website (by which we mean a Medium post on Medium), the company explains that the design was inspired by language and typography. “It is born from the ellipses: a punctuation mark that represents an unfinished or impending thought, an idea to come, what’s next,” says Medium’s Karen Tropen.

Churn is high among employees at Medium with fresh ideas for a failed experiment. Today, in 2020, we live in a world where Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are practicing censorship.

Is it any big surprise that Medium too went astray? In its pivot from Ads to a subscription model, it also lost a little bit of the soul of what made it great, the actual creators. The topics they cared about. Medium tried to own their creativity, to replace them with its own in-house machine, promote that over people who gave their writing lives to Medium. Medium tried to hack how we read content and short articles, but didn’t understand that the participation and communities are part of the experience.

By cleaning its platform of crypto content, of technology writers, of serious content – of young men – Medium changed the trajectory of its startup. Too much group think in San Francisco (now New York) perverted Medium, and the pivot to more control of the community, publications and creators, was a disaster in 2018 and 2019. No, a new logo won’t save Medium. Medium is always hiring and that means Medium is perpetuating failing.

Users have taken to Twitter to express their confusion at the design, with some even presenting their own theories on what the three shapes might represent. Medium pretends to be writer and reader centric, but it’s not. Medium’s identity has been polluted by Silicon Valley manipulation. It’s not exciting. It’s not humane to exploit creators for pennies.

1/ Notice some changes in your app? 👀

Today, we’re excited to unveil Medium’s evolved brand identity. Our goal is to better express who we are, where we came from, and where we’re going.

— Medium (@Medium) October 14, 2020

Medium is a carousel of shallow articles and clickbait in 2020 with people that don’t even care about their creators. Medium’s history of aesthetics is as broken as the user and reader experience. As broken as a business model that is like a gig-economy for starving desperate writers.

Medium is like an ideal that has been perverted with the times, an unfinished experiment of Silicon Valley that never led to fruition.

“This is, again, what happens on Medium — there’s always a new idea, always more to the story.” There’s also some attempt at being genuine, while pushing the levers from behind the curtains. The lure of the Partner Program was not sincere, and the treatment of Medium’s former communities is what Silicon Valley does, from time to time.

Medium is a sad to be continued sign of the ill-fated future of bloggers, poets and creatives everywhere on an internet that no longer has the attention span to create, read or admire the writing of others. There are no future journalists or exciting writers on Medium left to discover. Medium alienated its most valuable resource, our actual creativity.

Medium is a lost freak in the control of San Francisco/New York over the narrative of bloggers. It’s fate is now in the hands of editors very aware of their self-importance.

But the truth is, in a myriad attention economy we also do not care any longer about Medium.

Medium’s long-standing deceit and our cynicism now is not unjustified.

In Medium’s new logo, “the distorted ellipsis,” each circle represents a writer being squeezed by an ever-changing business model

— Casey Newton (@CaseyNewton) October 14, 2020

There’s a certain frustration with Medium’s manipulation of its users. Its ever changing terms of service and its ever present mob like echo bubbles. Its lack of diversity. It’s hypochondria of liberalism. And it’s Silicon Valley deceit around the corner of every “product” decision it makes is a lie. An unending exploitation of users, creators, at scale.

Perhaps Medium’s desperation to carve out its own identity yet again is simply the reality of a startup that has outlived its purpose, a blogging platform without a viable future that is running out of cash. But it’s also a representation of the fragmentation of Silicon Valley. The people we used to look up to who have betrayed us with bizarre and astonishingly insensitive products.

The new @Medium logo represents my rapidly diminishing sanity from the beginning of 2020 to now.

— Aimee Pearcy (@aimeepearcy_) October 14, 2020

Medium’s fall from grace was gradual and there were many mistakes a long the way. Medium was not a good actor. So in retrospect we laugh at Medium because it belongs to the history of the internet. It probably doesn’t help that Medium has changed its look quite so often in the last few years. 2015 saw the introduction of a geometric ‘M’ logo, which was replaced two years later by a flatter, more traditional version of the letter.

We the creatives became the product, and as users were exploited and discarded. Medium was always hungry for new writers who would try their best to feed a machine that wasn’t built for them. The flaw in Medium’s design was a Silicon Valley mentality.

Medium no longer inspires us or enlightens us, for the most part. Medium wasn’t built for creators, it was never user centric. It was built by a few while male engineers and venture capitalists to exploit our creativity. Medium is not for the curious, but for those poor souls that are willing to write for pennies, or be bullied by clickbait artists and cliques on various Facebook groups.

Let’s stop pretending, a re-brand cannot save you, Medium. You betrayed your own soul in the fabrication of your artificial identity and the exploitation of your end users. You can write your own story, but we the people that were there before know your true voice. Medium, you could have been different. You could have survived. But you followed a Silicon Valley ruthlessness that made your app and community sterile and empty of humanity.

Medium is a company obsessed with itself, without even exhibiting a basic understanding of the user experience or what made it great once a long time ago. This illustrates how Silicon Valley operates, a company where employees and creators are seen as an extractable renewable resource.

Churn and burn. In subsequent failed pivots, they have destroyed what blogging could have been. It illustrates the shelf life for great ideas really is limited. As are empty words.

If your own publications trump the community, you are no longer a platform but just like any other website. How very original are the pivots to monetization. How bland and barren, how ingloriously hollow.

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