Some thoughts on how we act when tempers flare on Medium
Last weekend, you might have noticed some serious shade being thrown in an article on the Medium top stories list.
I’m not in the business of recounting the goings-on of communities within Medium, but what happened highlighted some tensions that we have noticed and are an excellent catalyst to take the temperature of the communities on the platform, and be transparent about how we think and react to our users when issues arise. This is also a good opportunity to talk about how I think we, collectively, can be more awesome to each other.
Before I begin, let’s do some level-setting: Medium is home to fantastic people and communities. I’m not just blowing smoke or trying to butter you up with compliments: I’ve built communities of all sorts for the past decade, and, without question, Medium is the most inspiring, kind, and thoughtful digital community I’ve ever experienced. It’s the main reason I started writing here, why I became fanatical about the platform, why I decided I wanted to join the company rather than take literally any other job in the world (I really mean literally there). Last weekend, a small subset of our community had a darker moment, but the issues they are upset about are real and valid, and, even in our darker moments, we, as a community, conducted ourselves with dignity that is still far above the normal code of conduct when tempers flare online. No one got banned, no slurs were bandied about, and at the end of it all, all parties involved conducted themselves with grace and were able to talk over their qualms and reach a conclusion that I believe brought a net positive to both the individuals and the community as a whole.
I cannot overstate how lucky I feel to be able to help elevate communities that are already so strong. This is why I feel we can have these discussions in the open: because we are starting from such a point of strength and mutual respect.
That being said: We can do better. We have to do better. We should not pat ourselves on the back for the fact that last weekend’s ongoings were far from the worst-case-scenario on the internet. That’s not an acceptable standard for us to live by.
We can be better.
This post is adapted from something I sent to the company internally. Yes: When things happen, everyone at Medium cares, and we all talk about not just what’s happening, but how we improve.
Last weekend: Bring out the pitchforks
Life hack and self-help woes
There are lots of articles on Medium that can be categorized as “life hack” or “self-help.” Listicles, clickbait headlines — they’re a thing on the internet, and they are popular on Medium. And while these posts have value, the fact they dominate our top stories list and are quite prominent in many people’s reading lists has become a serious pain point for some Medium communities.
Let’s be straight: People find value in life hack posts, otherwise they would not garner as many readers as they do. That being said, our top stories list is often very narrow when viewed through a lens that seeks diversity of topic, gender, ethnicity, and geography.
Medium is not a homogenous mass. There are threads that weave through all our experiences, but the one tie that binds us might only be the fact that we’re all on this platform together. The Medium Community does not exist: We’re made up of lots of communities with lots of different needs, wants, desires, interests.
We, the staff of Medium, need to find a way to surface people, publications, and posts that serve everyone’s needs. It’s not an easy proposition, given the fact that our communities are very diverse with sometimes competing needs, and yet, that’s the challenge we want to undertake: to create an experience personalized enough for everyone, no matter who they are.
We aren’t there yet. We’ll probably never be 100 percent there. Medium is a living, breathing product that exists because of its communities, and this tension is normal. We want to hear from you: We need it to do our jobs.
What’s not is that this tension is turning toxic among some of our communities.
Here’s where you come in: Put down the pitchforks
This is not the Medium anyone wants
Last weekend’s tension, in a nutshell, was borne from a frustration that Medium is not doing a good enough job at surfacing what people want to read. Writers aren’t finding their readers. Readers aren’t finding their writers. We’re traveling down a specific path, unable to find alternate routes, although we all believe they are out there somewhere.
While this feels and looks solely like a problem with the product, it is, at its heart, a community problem.
That’s not to say that product solutions are not imperative: Our work on Medium will never be done. Medium is always going to have issues that need to be improved and we’re always going to be thinking up ways to make cooler, more useful stuff or make better what already exists.
Your input into the product is essential to our success — but it’s not the most important thing you can do to make Medium better.
We need you, the people who use Medium, to help us set the standards for how we treat each other and hold each other accountable for treating everyone with respect.
It’s not okay to be mean, to attack, or otherwise be a jerk to other people on the platform. Doing this will not make Medium a better place for anyone: It will make Medium worse.
We stand for open, thoughtful, inclusive conversation. We stand for honesty and kindness and respect.
We, the staff, the writers, the readers of Medium, we are better than other sites with internet mobs who thrive on throwing shade at each other.
Stop the madness. Put the pitchforks down. Don’t attack each other. We’re capable of such amazing conversation on this platform. Let’s use our talents to push each other for the sake of making things better and even when we’re frustrated or something is broken, let’s maintain a standard of respect for one another.
In the coming weeks, we’ll be releasing an official set of community guidelines to help crystalize these principles and give clearer guidance to everyone on the platform. While they’re an important part of this process, they aren’t the solution: Holding each other accountable for our actions is what’s going to make our communities the best they can be.
Thank you for making Medium what it is and helping us make the platform and all the communities within it great.
In terms of feed diversity: That’s not a short-term, quick fix. In the meantime, there is stuff both we, the staff of Medium, can do — and stuff that you can do — to make your experience more personalized to the Medium you want most.
- We are continually updating our collections, currently on iOS and Android, and will be bringing them to the web in the next couple of months. We’re hiring for the curation team and accepting applications for trusted testers to make their own.
- We are working on better tools for you to explicitly signal to us what you want to see less of in your feed. Right now you can use the “Show fewer stories like this” flag to help us make these tools even better. We need your help, so when you don’t want to see something, use the flag. You’re helping make Medium better by doing so.
- We have an amazing Help Center for you to navigate how to follow people, publications, and tags so that you can target the posts that populate in your feed.
- We will continue to create posts in order to help you get exactly what you want from your experience. They will be posted in the Talkback publication. One specifically aimed at helping you create a more diverse feed should be out sometime next week.