Let’s take it to Medium

Earlier this week, a conversation that began last summer about tech and work came back to life on Medium. Monday morning, Amazon’s Jay Carney posted a statement revisiting the New York Times’ August story about work culture at Amazon. A few hours later, Dean Baquet of the Times responded. And then, a few hours later, Jay Carney responded to him.

For us, this felt big. The planet’s largest online merchant and the nation’s paper of record took it to Medium. Some noticed that responses were disabled on Amazon’s two posts. Others wondered if we had suspended normal features and worried if this was against Medium’s values. We didn’t, it wasn’t, and we want to explain.

Responses are a key tool for engagement on Medium. Yes, we want people to write here. We also want them to respond to each other. And for those responses to connect, multiply, and fan out into substantial conversations.

To be clear, we’ve always allowed users to turn off responses. It’s consistent with our core goal of giving writers some control over how they engage with others on Medium. Before responses existed, we let authors moderate notes (another feature) or turn them off, even at the cost of conversations. Over the past year, only a few users have chosen to turn off responses. Admittedly, you had to email us to ask. But we’ve honored every request. Jay Carney’s posts last Monday drew new attention to an existing feature.

Responses are a big deal to us. We built responses to look and feel like posts of their own on purpose. Giving responses the full visual heft of posts, we hoped, might discourage thoughtless and inconsiderate snark. It would encourage writers to take the same care in responding as they do in posting. It’s a design difference we hope will affect how people interact.

So, if responses are so important, why let people turn them off? Mainly because sometimes the internet seems so full of vicious jerks, people want to just write, press “publish,” and not deal with drive-by personal attacks. Other times, someone wants to log in, say their piece, drop the mic, and walk off, to return when they feel like it. No responses under their post. No corresponding expectation to respond to responses.

We accept that allowing people to turn off responses has two sides. They can avoid toxic trolling but also substantive criticism or others’ worldviews. But our primary goal at Medium is to provide a place for people’s ideas. And while we want great conversations to happen here, we decided that enabling responses should not be the price of admission for an inviting and safe place for expression. So, turning off responses was not new and not a departure.

At the same time, we learned Monday that Medium needs a setting in between “all responses displayed” and “no responses allowed.” We want to keep the safety and control of the option to disable responses but also allow others to respond. So, we’re tweaking the response feature.

  • We’ll stop “disabling” responses for a particular post. Instead, we’ll make responses not displayed at the bottom of a given post. We think this is a material change. The initial post will show no responses below it. People will also be able to respond. But their responses won’t appear at the bottom of the original post, just on the responder’s profile as a post of its own, with the usual link back to the initial post.
  • We’ll give users direct control over whether to make responses not visible under a post, with the click of a button (rather than requesting it by email).

Thanks for bearing with us as we continue to balance between giving writers control over their posts and encouraging open discussion. We know these decisions shape the character of our community and make them with care. As always, let us know what you think.

Lawyer, writer, dreamer, doer.