Boost Nomination Pilot gossip from the person running the program

For the Medium obsessives in the house, this is for you!

Ariel Meadow Stallings
The Medium Blog
Published in
8 min readNov 22, 2023

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This apple looks positively SCANDALIZED by the gossip in this story. I took this photo.

I should be packing for a Thanksgiving weekend away with family on the island where I grew up, but instead I’mma take a few minutes to bubble up some conversations I’ve had about the Boost Nomination Pilot in story comments around Medium.

See, in between meetings at work, I sniff around Medium and find stories about Boost. Then I answer as many questions as I can.

Rather than leave all this meaty intel scattered in comments all over Medium, I figured I’d share all my answers here.

SO! Here are a few of the questions I’ve answered about the Boost Nomination Pilot recently…

My story got Boosted yesterday, so why didn’t my traffic immediately jump?

Hooray, and congratulations! The current Boost distribution tool works hard to ensure that over 95% of Boosted stories get at least 500 additional views within two weeks. It can take a few days (or even over a week) for a Boosted story to reach its 500 views. Give it time.

If you got Boosted earlier this year, you may have noticed that you got a dramatic traffic spike that then very quickly fell off. We’re experimenting with a longer tail on Boost distribution, in an effort to give stories even more of an opportunity to find their readers.

If, after two weeks, your story doesn’t reach its 500 views? Then you may be in that less than 5% of Boosted stories didn’t find its readership, despite being served up tens of thousands of times across the platform.

There are many reasons why this can happen, but my personal theory is underwhelming titles are often to blame.

Do Boost Nomination Pilot nominators have an unfair amount of power on Medium?

I have a lot of compassion for why folks might feel frustrated by the 100 or so publishers in the Boost Nomination Pilot. None of us like feeling excluded from a group, and this program is still pretty small!

That said, the impression that this group of independent publishers has a lot of power isn’t completely accurate. Some important things to consider:

  • Nominators can’t actually Boost anything; they can only nominate stories for consideration. Our internal curation team ultimately makes the decision on whether stories get Boosted based on these guidelines.
  • These days, close to half of nominations are declined. Any nominator can tell you that rejection is a big part of the experience of being in the Boost Nomination Pilot. When onboarding nominators, I tell them that if they can reach a 50% success rate in their first month in the program, they’re doing great. Currently, about 60% of nominations are selected for Boost, although that number varies a lot.
  • Only half of the stories that get Boosted across Medium come from nominators. The other half is Boosted directly by our internal curation team, who review stories from across Medium all day, every day.

Another way of contextualizing these numbers: 100 nominators contribute to 60% of nominations that make up about 50% of the stories Boosted across Medium.

To be clear: I don’t want to minimize the work that nominators contribute to this program! I’m just keenly aware that each one has a pretty small impact when it comes to the big picture of how content is distributed on Medium.

Is getting Boosted the only way to be seen on Medium?

As I said in this story, while getting Boosted does increase a story’s chances of reaching a larger audience, every month there are five times more stories that reach large audiences that have NOT been Boosted.

…FIVE TIMES!

Nominators are just one path to getting Boosted, and getting Boosted is just one of the ways that stories are distributed on Medium.

While I love my lil Boost Nomination Pilot program and am very proud of what it’s accomplished this year, it’s truly just one slice of the pie when it comes to how stories find readers on Medium.

How do you choose which publications get invited into the Boost Nomination Pilot program?

I add new publications monthly, pulling from the 780-person waitlist. I focus on these factors:

  • Topic of the publication
    One of my biggest goals with the pilot is trying to make sure we have as many niche topics represented as possible, especially at this early phase when the program is small.
  • Quality of the stories
    Do the stories in the publication look like they’re a fit with Medium’s Quality Guidelines?
  • Submission process
    Does the publication have a clear submissions page that emphasizes quality over quantity? Do they actively edit stories? Are they accepting submissions from new writers? (Our waitlist form is clear about how single-author publications are not eligible at this time.)
  • The identity of the publisher
    I want to ensure I have a range of perspectives in the pilot program, from young trans folks to BIPOC gun-toting veterans to retired Boomer academics to folks who identify as disabled or neurodivergent.

The waitlist is not first come, first served. Things like the number of followers a publication or its editor has, how old it is, or the popularity of the publication’s writers are not factors I consider.

Is the whole idea of allowing independent publication editors to nominate stories inherently biased and corrupt?

No. Part of this program is recognizing that publication editors do a huge amount of work with writers. We want there to be a way for those editors to be compensated for that work. Independent publication editors have never had a direct path to revenue on Medium, and this pilot is an experiment to see what happens if we change that.

As our CEO Tony Stubblebine said:

What this system allows for is that you, as an author, don’t need to have an audience to get read here. You don’t need to be a marketer. You don’t need to game our algorithms. Instead, you can write your best and know that there are real humans scouring Medium trying to find the best of the best and make sure it gets read.

There are a million other platforms that will reward you for being a growth hacker and audience builder. Medium is going to be different.

Do nominators need to get paid? Probably not. But we’re getting paid, so it seems fair to me that other people do too.

Is this a valuable service to have humans constantly looking to read your writing? Yes. The nominators are a boon to anyone who wants to write authentically and from their heart. Without them, you’d be back to writing for the machines.

But what if nominators are biased and gaming the system?

I want to address this issue directly: gaming the system is expected — and in fact, exactly what we’re testing for!

I don’t say this out of disrespect for anyone in the Boost Nomination Pilot program, but out of an experienced understanding of how monetized content works on the internet. I’ve been online since 1992 and I know how these things go: if there’s a monetization structure, people will be opportunistic. That is to be expected. That is not people being naughty or gaming the system. That’s humans functioning within capitalism.

As the person running the Boost Nomination Pilot, the question for me from day 1 wasn’t “Will people be self-serving?” but rather “How will people be self-serving, and what checks and balances can we build in to the system compensate for that?”

It’s been fascinating, and we’re learning so, SO much… not from a place of naivete, but from a place of assuming the worst and learning the best we can.

That’s why there are checks and balances built into the nomination system, and why we’re building it slowly so we have the time to learn as much as we can.

Yeah about that: why is the Boost Nomination Pilot growing so slowly?

Things are slow because Medium is a privately held business working with limited resources — we’re in a transitional era. (As a reminder, Medium isn’t some huge monolithic corp. There are 80 of us here, and things are scrappy and spread pretty thin.) We’re doing the best we can with what we’ve got, but yeah: things are slower than I’d like, too. I know it’s frustrating.

The program has to grow slowly because the in-product functions literally haven’t been built yet. Currently, this pilot program is built on third-party tools and cobbled together systems. Every new participant has to go through a fiddly contract and onboarding process. All nominations are submitted and reviewed manually. All reporting is done manually, comparing numbers from several different dashboards and spreadsheets. All payments are issued manually, one by one.

Every month I bring in new nominators, and every month our cobbled together beta systems groan a little louder. These beta systems were designed to be part of a pilot program (not the final product), and they’re not built to scale.

I’m DYING to get the nomination functionality built into Medium’s backend tools! Once things are built into the product, everything won’t have to be done manually and we can open the floodgates… but I have to wait my turn for design and engineering resources. My goal is to have 1000 publications in this program, but first the tools have to be built.

So if you think you’re impatient, you should know that as the person running the program, I’m twice as impatient. Sometimes I feel like Scotty shouting up from the engine room: I’M GIVIN’ IT ALL SHE’S GOT, CAPTAIN!

What’s up with humor stories getting Boosted?

I get a lot of questions about humor stories, with many people feeling pretty sure that humor stories don’t get Boosted. This is odd, because based on last week’s Boost data, humor was the 12th most Boosted topic, coming out ahead of general interest topics like film, health, and parenting. Humor is a long way from doing poorly with the Boost system. I wrote a bit about the concerns about topics over here:

Strategically, is there a time of the month that’s best for getting Boosted?

Based on the data, the rate of stories getting Boosted weekly is pretty consistent, so there’s no argument for writers strategically “saving” their stories for a specific time of the month

While many nominators do have monthly nomination limits, but they’re encouraged to spread their nominations evenly through the month, and each nominator approaches their nominations differently. And remember, half the Boosts that happen are done directly by our curators, and they’re out there Boosting stories every day of the month.

As a writer myself, it pains me to see writers spin their wheels on strategies that don’t get them where they want to go.

I’d encourage writers to focus on the strategies that work:

  1. Take the time to really understand what Medium means by high-quality stories.
  2. Take the time to write enriching, original, well-crafted stories that make an impact; stories that you are uniquely suited to sharing.
  3. Take the time to work with publications in the Boost Nomination Pilot.

Why aren’t you more transparent about the program?

If you could see the number of responses I type daily on Medium, you’d know that I’m out here tryna be as transparent as I possibly can!

Obviously, I have to balance my time between talking about the program and, well, actually running the program plus the other projects I’m working on as a Product Manager… but I respond to pretty much every comment on my stories and comment on most stories that I’m tagged in. (When things get really meaty, I schedule 1:1 calls with folks. You can ask Matthew Clapham and Carlyn Beccia about that.)

Listening to Medium users is part of how I’m best able to do my job, so if you’ve got questions, feel free to ask.

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Ariel Meadow Stallings
The Medium Blog

I'm a Medium product manager, but also a whole-ass person: author, publisher, devotional dancer, Seattleite, mom, and just a human humanning.