It Happened on Medium: The First 10 Years
A somewhat complete history of our first decade, and the stories that got us talking, thinking, and sharing
Medium turned 10 this month. A decade ago, we built a place on the internet for stories that aren’t too long or too short, but… that in-between length. Our simple, beautiful publishing tools gave you the freedom to focus on your words, and our platform connected you with other readers, writers, and thinkers. Our goal, from the beginning, was to help you share ideas that matter.
More than 18 million posts later, we’re a little older and wiser, but we’re just as committed to our mission as we were in 2012. And, because birthdays are a time for reflection, we wanted to share a (highly incomplete) list of stories and moments readers rallied around over the last decade. You’ll find vintage screenshots, early product releases, and a few of the stories that moved us, changed us, and got us talking along the way. We hope you enjoy revisiting them as much as we enjoyed, uh, digging through old Dropbox folders and the Wayback Machine…
Medium launches (in closed beta) on August 15, 2012. People are intrigued! The Verge calls Medium “grandiose” and “vague.” Nonetheless, lots of you try it out. Many of you love our simple, clean writing experience:
Also in our first year…
- Medium founder Ev Williams welcomes everyone’s stories and ideas. He also philosophizes, as Ev is known to do.
- On July 31, 2012, Medium employee Jason Stirman publishes the first-ever Medium post.
- We try out Holocracy, a decentralized company structure. We’ll use it for 4 years.
Medium launches publicly, ending the closed beta and welcoming anyone to write. Thousands begin publishing. We work on core features like story collections (which will evolve into publications), recommends, and private notes. The Atlantic wonders what we are.
- An open letter by Jack Dire about a terrible burrito becomes one of Medium’s first viral articles.
- “I, Racist,” a widely-read sermon by John Metta, garners thousands of responses and sparks a conversation about racism in America.
- Matter, Medium’s original flagship publication, joins the platform.
- Julie Zhuo — former Product Design VP at Facebook and future author of The Making of a Manager — creates The Year of the Looking Glass, a popular essay collection about life as a designer.
- We introduce “Total Time Reading” as Medium’s key metric.
- The Message — a self-described “anarcho-collective writing group” featuring authors such as Sloane Crosley, Tressie McMillan Cottom, and Virginia Heffernan — launches on Medium.
- Writer and editor Stephanie Georgopulos creates Human Parts, a space for experimental personal storytelling.
- Cartoonist Matt Bors launches The Nib and starts destroying unpaid internships.
- A Medium parody account roasts us:
- Refe Tuma photographs his kids’ dinosaur figurines getting into shenanigans at night. He’ll go on to author a series of children’s books.
- Thanks to fat and many other engineers, we tame the Medium codebase.
More writers, more readers, more growth, and our first shot at in-house publications. We hone our design and typography. We build features like responses and receive some mail. We grow our internal network. Vox calls us a “platisher,” a word we don’t really have strong feelings about.
- Slack founder and CEO Stewart Butterfield publishes an internal memo from the company’s early days.
- Painter and future book author elle luna delivers a widely-shared pep talk on choosing your life’s work.
- Mitt Romney shares some photos from his family vacation through the American west.
- Jon Krakauer publishes his latest dispatch about Three Cups of Tea fabricator Greg Mortenson.
- umair haque, vampire, publishes his first story on Medium.
- Anthony Bourdain tells us to shut up and eat.
- Journalist Taffy Brodesser-Akner takes a cruise with Paula Deen.
- Paul Ford explains how to be polite, and millions of people actually listen.
- Former Minnesota Viking Chris Kluwe weighs in on Gamergate for sports publication The Cauldron.
- Millions of readers delight in comedy writer andrew costa’s story about a girl who learns her boyfriend’s shocking secret.
- Naoki Hiroshima loses his $50K Twitter name, and tells us about it.
- We release the Medium iOS app.
- Typography on Medium evolves and improves, and we think a lot about how underlining should work.
Medium surpasses 1 million posts as we launch longstanding features like highlights, mentions, and a publishing API. We begin to explore sponsored content, matching companies like BMW and Macy’s with top Medium writers. New York Magazine wonders if we can be both a tech company and a media company. It’s not the last time someone will wonder that. Also in 2015…
- We change our logo, to mixed opinions.
- Matter’s Zak Stone takes at deep look at safety in Airbnbs, sparking a larger conversation about the platform’s liabilities.
- JIM CARREY shares some thoughts on vaccines, a topic that will become more important on Medium as time goes on.
- Sarah Cooper begins her journey to the center of Donald Trump’s brain.
- Amazon’s Jay Carney and the New York Times’ Dean Baquet go back and forth over a Times story. We make some product changes as a result.
- Senator Chuck Schumer explains his vote against the Iran Nuclear Deal.
- Author Margaret E. Atwood drops a 27min read about climate change.
- Wattage pens a start-up postmortem, prompting many to ask: If your company fails and you don’t write about it on Medium, did you really fail?
- Gutbloom begins soul blogging.
- Former high-school U.S. history teacher Jason Smith publishes “Confessions of a Drug-Addicted High-School Teacher.” Netflix is now adapting it into a series.
- We introduce highlights, and now you see them everywhere.
- Writers can now publish from our iOS app (here’s a little song about it). We get pretty creative with iOS release notes, too.
Medium’s biggest year yet, and the first U.S. presidential election since we became an open platform. Sign-ups skyrocket as people process the lead-up to the election — and Trump’s win — on Medium. The Atlantic compares our CEO to Forrest Gump.
- Hillary Clinton sets up the first-ever campaign publication on Medium, while Hillary’s parody account reminds us that she’s been doing the homework since 1947.
- Barack Obama publishes his State of the Union address on Medium.
- Bernie Sanders calls out Trump’s empty promises.
- Mila Kunis takes a stand against sexism in Hollywood.
- Yelp customer service representative talia jane writes an open letter to her CEO, leading to a public reckoning over income inequality.
- Thousands of readers applaud Kristi Coulter’s honest portrayal of drinking culture, which later becomes an essay collection.
- Comedy writer Amanda Rosenberg roasts indecisive CEOs everywhere, one of many posts that would lead to a book.
- Buster Benson compiles a giant list of cognitive biases, and we all get a little more self-aware.
- Pete Buttigieg pens a letter from flyover country. (We’ll hear more from him a few years later.)
- Malaysia briefly blocks us.
Medium makes several important changes, mostly to our business and product. The year begins with a major strategic shift: no longer focused on ads, we pivot to a subscription-based business model. It’s hard, but exciting at the same time. This is also the year we introduce: Membership, claps, the Medium Partner Program, and a new reading experience.
- We change our logo again. Turns out we actually like the classic “M” (with a few tweaks).
- Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the World Wide Web in the ’80s, helps save net neutrality.
- Ethereum cofounder Vitalik Buterin defines “decentralization.”
- Founder of The Hairpin Edith Zimmerman comes out of retirement and starts drawing her plants.
- Millions of us learn how to do nothing from artist Jenny Odell, who later expands the post into a book.
- James Bridle uncovers some extremely weird and disturbing YouTube videos targeted toward kids, and people start discussing regulations.
- Oxford University library social media manager Adam Koszary delights the internet with medieval GIFs. (He’ll soon give us this absolute unit.)
- Medium commissions several story collections, including KOOL A.D.’s 100-part novella with original music and art.
- Readers explore our new, completable, curated homepage.
- Medium members try our first attempt at audio.
- Recommends (💚) become claps (👏).
- Enter: Series, a new way to tell stories on Medium (RIP).
- We introduce the Medium Partner Program, enabling writers to begin earning money based on claps.
Medium turns six as we double-down on our subscription business (here’s Ev sharing an update on our year-one subscriber growth). We embark on a new in-house editorial effort focused on sourcing, commissioning, editing, and featuring valuable stories behind our paywall for Medium members.
- Future Medium CEO Tony Stubblebine publishes a 75min treatise on how to optimize your iPhone. Over 2 million people read it.
- Natalie Portman responds to the #MeToo movement’s critics.
- Comedian Rob Delaney writes a moving reflection on the death of his son, Henry.
- Social psychologist Devon Price publishes “Laziness Does Not Exist,” starting an important conversation about productivity and psychological barriers. It will later become a book.
- As the internet and Medium evolve, we notice more people using our platform to amplify hate, abuse, and harassment — so we evolve our rules to accommodate for off-platform behavior. We suspend the Medium accounts of several prominent alt-right leaders as a result, and make a cameo in Ben Garrison’s widely-circulated “social media freeway” cartoon:
- Future San Francisco Mayor London Breed outlines a bold plan for homelessness.
- Ben Blum raises serious questions about the Stanford Prison Experiment’s validity and Philip Zimbardo defends himself.
- Blogger Geraldine DeRuiter rage-bakes the pizza cinnamon rolls from Mario Batali’s sexual misconduct apology letter, leading to widespread delight and disgust.
- Star Trek star Wil Wheaton opens up about life with depression and anxiety, giving readers permission to talk about their struggles, too.
- “Elevate,” our program for identifying and featuring emerging talent on Medium, helps hundreds of new writers reach a wider audience.
- Over 5 million people read Anastasia Basil’s powerful argument for keeping kids off TikTok (back when it was still known as Musical.ly).
- Comedian Sarah Silverman reworks our logo…
- Author Roxane Gay publishes a month-long anthology, Unruly Bodies, featuring essays from Kiese Laymon, Samantha Irby, and Carmen Maria Machado, among many others.
- We publish a book: Jessica Powell’s The Big Disruption.
- Aaron Lammer and Jay Caspian Kang’s cryptocurrency podcast launches on Medium.
- We briefly host our own podcast (!) called Playback.
Medium’s seventh year! We establish in-house publications a second time, but bigger, bolder, stronger, faster. We hire a team of editors to cover tech, politics, health, culture, and more in an effort to deliver value to our paying subscribers. Our team launches 7 original editorial brands: OneZero, GEN, Forge, Marker, LEVEL, ZORA, and Elemental. It’s heady, it’s intense, it’s us outgrowing our New York City office every few months. Here’s what else goes down…
- Jeff Bezos publicly accuses the National Enquirer’s parent company of extortion, and the Times explains why he used Medium to do so.
- Sloane Ryan / Roo Powell poses as an 11-year-old online for a week, prompting yet another a discussion about parental controls.
- Amanda Knox, who was wrongly imprisoned in Italy for murder, tells her story for GEN.
- “Cat Person” author Kristen Roupenian publishes a new story from her upcoming book.
- We introduce Your Daily Read in our apps.
- Medium acquires The Bold Italic, a publication covering Bay Area culture.
- To better reward time well spent (rather than claps), we change how we calculate earnings in the Partner Program.
Medium turns eight, and we collectively endure a global pandemic. So much happened this year, it’s really hard to remember most of it, but one thing’s for sure: In 2020, Medium becomes (even more of) a place where people turn to make sense of the world — because the world does some things we definitely didn’t anticipate…
- Yep, we change our logo again. Goodbye “M,” hello ellipsis.
- Coronavirus hits. Medium breaks records for visitors and sign-ups as millions of people take to the platform to process what’s going on (often before officially sanctioned analysis and guidance). Tomas Pueyo’s Covid-19 predictions shape a global conversation about keeping the pandemic in check. Julio Vincent Gambuto gives voice to our outrage. We spin up the Medium Coronavirus Blog to share expert analysis, and The Verge dubs Medium “the best and worst” place for Covid-19 news.
- chrissy teigen says “Hi” and helps end the stigma around miscarriage.
- In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, we start a new blog called Momentum, where writers share their perspectives on anti-Black racism.
- Another election year: Jeff Flake endorses President Joe Biden on Medium. Hillary Clinton does, too. Miles Taylor, the Trump official who published an anonymous New York Times op-ed, comes forward on Medium.
- Author Morgan Jerkins and ZORA Editors create the ZORA Canon: a list of the 100 best books by Black women authors. The New York Public Library and NPR pick it up.
- Becky Albertalli, whose debut novel became the film Love, Simon, reminds us there’s “no time limit, no age limit, no one right way to be queer.”
- For OneZero, Matt Stroud exposes the CEO of Banjo’s neo-Nazi past, leading to his resignation.
- For Marker, Will Oremus explains why all the toilet paper went missing (and goes on MSNBC to talk about it).
- We launch the ability to customize your profile page with colors, fonts, and more, making it your personal space on the internet.
- When memoirist Elizabeth Wurtzel passes away in January, GEN publishes her final year, in her own words.
Medium continues to evolve: We refocus on supporting individual writers rather than commissioned journalism, and offer a voluntary buyout to editorial employees. Later in the year: We introduce email subscriptions for writers and make changes to the Medium Partner Program. The pandemic rages on. So do we.
- Former aide to Governor Cuomo Lindsey Boylan goes public with sexual assault allegations against her boss, leading to his resignation.
- Jennifer Barnett, former managing editor of The Atlantic, breaks the silence about shitty media men.
- 20-year truck driver Ryan JOHNSON explains the supply-chain crisis better than most economists can.
- Former New York Times lead Covid-19 reporter Donald G. McNeil Jr. comes around to the lab leak theory.
- Writers try our new email subscriptions feature.
- Former Reddit CEO Ellen K. Pao and Block Party CEO Tracy Chou share some thoughts on what it means to be “white-adjacent” in tech.
- From prison, Ross Ulbricht — creator of the darknet marketplace Silk Road — reflects on life without parole.
- Novelist Michael Chabon remembers his friend, Stephen Sondheim.
- Erica Dhawan popularizes the term “geriatric millennial”; Twitter takes it and runs with it.
- Author and philanthropist MacKenzie Scott announces over $3 billion in gifts to hundreds of nonprofit organizations, including the largest single donation in Planned Parenthood’s history.
- Ukrainians take to Medium to share their perspectives on the war — from historical context on Russian aggression to firsthand accounts of the atrocities they endure while fleeing to safety.
- Googler Blake Lemoine ignites a debate over A.I. sentience.
- Infectious diseases PhD candidate Kyle Planck chronicles his experience contracting monkeypox, raising awareness and petitioning government officials to deliver more vaccines.
- We launch a redesigned Medium experience on the web…
- …and a new audio experience for listening to Medium stories on the go.
- We bring back custom domains and mobile editing, and publish this post.
Thank you to everyone who got us here: millions of writers, readers, and hundreds of team members past and present. Thank you to the Medium engineers, designers, and product people who built the minimalist writing experience we’ve all come to love. And thanks to all of you for publishing, highlighting, responding, applauding, subscribing, and just sticking around. It’s been an eventful decade, to say the least. Your words and ideas are what inspire us to keep building.
On that note: the stories we’ve shared don’t come close to scratching the surface of what’s great on Medium — we know there’s much more. So, what’s your favorite post in Medium’s history? Let us know in the responses. We’ll make a list of the top-voted links.
Lastly, and most importantly, don’t forget that you can always share your own ideas and stories on Medium — it’s free, and we recommend trying it. After all, we built this platform for you.
— Medium Staff