This was published on 9/30/14 on hatch, unedited except for a small redaction. See Hatching Inside Medium for context on this collection.

Yesterday, 12 people from Medium product development met for 5.5 hours to answer the question: “What should we focus on next?” Our aim was to define a set of priorities for the next quarter for each team, as well as to identify important projects that did not fit squarely in any team’s domain.

The theme of the day can be summed up thusly:

Make Medium obvious.

It’s Hard

Where we feel we introduce unnecessary friction is in many other parts of the system:

It’s hard to understand the formatting options in our editor.

It’s hard to know who will see your story when you publish.

It’s hard to manage, submit to, and understand collections.

It’s hard to find the stuff you want to read or even understand what type of content is on Medium.

It’s hard to understand why stories show up in your PRL in the order they do.

It’s hard to navigate around the site (especially on mobile).

It’s hard to understand what Medium is, who’s it for, and what should be published there.

Those are just a few of the things that should be easier than they are today.

That’s why, while we started the day saying we need to talk about both incremental improvements and game-changing ideas, we ended up only talking about improvements. And very few of the improvements we discussed involved adding things — they were mostly about making things that are already there make more sense.

You could feel a palpable sense of relief — excitement even — about the idea of cleaning up and fixing various broken bits of the Medium experience.

Here’s some of the specifics, broken out by area:

General

Specifically: Our site navigation is broken. It obfuscates what Medium is and what is possible. And even if you know that, it makes getting around feel tedious. It hasn’t evolved in a long time, and we decided to make fixing this is a major priority. This means looking at the entire site, mapping how it fits together, and reconstituting it in a more coherent way.

This means questioning things like: the left-side shelf, the metabar, post-to-post navigation (read next), and other bits of Medium that keep one part connected to another. In other words, not the middle of story pages or listing pages, but the chrome of the site — which means every page will be affected. This is a high priority, because it’s the framework in which everything else lives. Done well, it makes it easier to add other stuff. In the state it’s in now, it weakens everything — like a bad foundation of a house.

We discussed redesigning the navigation mobile web first. Mobile web is the vehicle for a huge percentage of our traffic, and we often treat it as a second-class citizen. By designing for the small screen, we’ll not only optimize that experience, we’ll force ourselves to simplify and prioritize. We’ll then scale it up to desktop web and translate it to the app.

Because this project doesn’t fall in any one of the project team areas, we are going to have to figure out how to resource it — largely from design.

Discovery & Delivery

In addition to this, D&D will be attempting to give readers — logged in and not — a better understanding about what is on Medium and helping them explore it. One idea everyone got excited about was a category or topical based approach to organization. E.g., be able to browse the best/current stories in, say, Politics or Science, as well as Ferguson or Apple Watch.

We don’t know if we’ll actually tackle this category idea and, if so, how posts would get assigned to categories. (There was a consensus that user tagging wasn’t necessarily the place to start.) But I’m a big fan of the idea of topics potentially having editors that are curating the best stuff under each banner (some of which bubbles up to the homepage). If not this, we’ll find some other way of making it dramatically easier to explore and find the delightful content that is being published every day.

One of the reasons this is such a high priority is because if you don’t understand the system, it’s hard to be excited about publishing there. I suspect improving the reading experience will have a significant effect on publishing metrics.

Writer Success

Educating first-time writers about how our editor works is one area of improvement. Making the process more efficient for repeat writers is another.

Interaction

It’s Easy

It’s as easy to write as possible and clear how to apply just the right amount of formatting and production value.

It’s easy to understand how your story is distributed, build your audience, and know how you’re doing.

It’s easy to find compelling stuff to read, no matter your interests, which compels you to visit often.

It’s easy (and fast) to move around the site, from any device; therefore, browsing Medium is fun, fast, and engaging.

It’s easy to engage with writers and readers to whatever degree you’d like.

When I imagine this, I see a Medium I love.

We’re not done inventing

Once we’ve tidied things up a bit, we’ll have the opportunity to invest on top of a robust framework, rather than bolting things on to a precarious one.

What’s Next

We have a lot to do before the end of the year. It’s going to feel really good when we do it, and I’m confident it’s going to have a huge impact.

CEO of Medium, partner at Obvious Ventures, co-founder of Twitter, curious consumer of ideas