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We Asked Stuff; You Told Us Even More Stuff

A roundup post of some of the things we learned from the Talkback community survey

Photo by Matt Wiebe

On Mar. 1, we announced Talkback, a new Medium publication for people who use Medium to talk with the people who make Medium. We also launched a survey that asked broad questions to gauge what users currently do, aspire to do more, love, and, well, don’t love about Medium right now.

We received over 800 responses to the survey. I was delighted by how thoughtful and concise the responses were. I suppose on a platform of avid readers and writers, I should expect nothing less.

Without further ado, let’s dive into what we learned (or confirmed, since a lot of the information we received was stuff you’d already told us and we’ve been working on) and some insight into what we’re going to do with everything you said.

Here’s what people read a lot on Medium right now

This word cloud is probably going to surprise no one, but it does elegantly visualize valuable information for us and helps emphasize the actions we need to take.

Engaged Medium readers and writers read a lot about technology, business, and personal stories (including life experiences and advice). This is sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy: These general topics were first to appear on the platform and therefore have the largest base of writers and readership, but we all know that you want more than that.

Here’s what people want to read more of on Medium

Both of these word clouds analyze every single word that was written into the answer box for these questions, and I made sure that every single word was drawn into the final image we created.

Holy s*&t.

Yeah, you want to read more of everything.

While this data still returns a strong desire to read more of what’s already on the platform (understandable, given that’s what people like to read right now), there’s a huge desire for so much more.

Breaking it down analytically, we saw a strong trend towards the following topics:

  • Fiction (and other creative writing, including poetry)
  • International news and opinions
  • Lifestyle insights and hobbies (music, food, pop culture, sports)
  • Health of all sorts (healthcare, fitness, mental health)
  • Experts/AMA-style pieces from all viewpoints and topics

Secondary topics we saw trending frequently included:

  • Posts in languages other than English
  • Local news, current events, and non-mainstream issues

While these are topics many of you spoke up about and ones we will be focusing on to help amplify and incubate first, the real takeaway from the wide swath of answers you gave was this: We need a better way for people to find their tribe — be it likeminded people, a specific topic, or anything in between. People are already writing about most of these topics — but in order to have more people write and foster more conversations, we need to help you find each other, teach each other, and promote each other.

Most people felt part of a community on Medium

Photo by Marion Michele

The wording of this header is important: People who took our survey felt at least somewhat part of a community on Medium. This is very different from feeling like they are part of the Medium community. Speaking frankly, I think the notion of a “Medium community” to be superficial at best: Medium is made up of many different communities, both large and small. Medium is a platform — it’s the tie that binds people together, but you are here for what’s on the platform.

This is a question I will likely ask on a regular basis as a way to gauge if what we’re doing is working. For the 20ish percent of you that never felt part of a community: You might not want to be part of a community, and that’s cool. But some of you probably want to be, and we’re here to help you find your people. And for the 45ish percent of you who feel part of a community sometimes? We’re going to work to make you feel part of something whenever you want (which is hopefully whenever you visit).

Here’s what you love about Medium

It’s always great to validate what you think you are doing well and find out what people are happy with so that we can put our attention and resources towards improvements that are most impactful. It’s like that adage “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” — but expanding it to be more of “if it isn’t broken or is working well enough, go fix something else first.”

Here’s what we found you love the most about Medium:

Quality — of our tech, home stream, recommendations, the people, the writing, the comments.

“Maybe this is weird, but I don’t look for topics, I look for anything honest, insightful, and well written. That can be about work, business, society, life, art, anything.”

Ease — of writing, editing, navigating.

“The platform is wonderful to use. Period. Simple, seamless, and it saves everything.”

Variety — of topics and people.

“The broad range of topics. Not every story appeals to me but there seems to always be something posted that piques my interest.”

Audience — again, the variety was a trend here, but people who said that they loved the audiences on Medium also spoke about the ease of using Medium and the ability to find and grow that audience, or find the audience with whom you want to interact.

“The fact that it manages to offer aspects of a social network without losing the consistent tone and atmosphere of a publication platform, ie, it feels welcoming, deep, without being alienating or offensive.”

Algorithm — related to the quality trend, folks were very happy with our algorithm and how it helped them find new content.

“Everything. Beautiful design, great algorithms, discovery of articles, meaningful layout, organisation of the topics, too many good things to fit in a little box like this.”

Here’s what you would fix first about Medium

As with every product, things can always be improved. In order to get to the heart of what needs the most attention right now, we asked what you would fix first, if you had the power to choose. By limiting you to your top choice (which most of you adhered to, by the way — thanks for that), we were able to gauge the biggest pain points, helping confirm what we already believed to be true and, in some cases, exposing some areas that needed attention sooner than we originally might have assumed.

While these are the top issues identified, they are far from the entire wish list you gave us through the survey. Rest assured, the complete list is ranked and archived for our reference.

Improved profile pages

By far, this was the most requested first fix. I highlighted my profile as a great worst-case scenario of how responses can drown out the fully fleshed-out stories I want to emphasize in order to draw in more readers and create more conversations.

How we’re working on this: Suffice it to say, we didn’t need a survey to tell us that this was not only a big issue but also one a lot of Medium users care deeply about. In short: We’re working on it, and some improvements to the profile page are on the cusp of going into effect (when it happens, you’ll see that original posts are elevated, and shorter responses displayed prominently have been de-prioritized).

To understand where we’re coming from here, let’s talk stats. Responses are growing like crazy on Medium, and that’s awesome. Original posts have doubled in recent months, but responses have grown by 250 percent. So while we want to ensure your profiles look their best and highlight the original posts you pour so much time, energy, and thought into, we also want to celebrate the responses that are fueling so much discussion and discovery on the platform.

Back to the problem: The number one job of your profile is to represent your identity, as a writer, a reader, or both. Our initial fixes include filtering shorter responses out of the “More by” section so that area is filled with original posts and meaty, post-style responses. In addition, we’ve added a “Responses” area to the profile stream, similar to the way we show highlights and recommendations, so that your shorter responses are still accessible.

An improved method for finding new stuff to read

Many people asked for better ways to curate topics or create lists of articles. Being able to discover new and different content or have ways to find cool stuff to read beyond our current Top 10, and Explore and Search functionalities was high on the list of fixes. Conversely, writers wanted better methods for their writing to be discovered.

How we’re working on this: Our recent announcement of collections is a huge first step in helping solve this pain point. While collections are still in their infancy (and currently only available on iOS and Android — they will be on the web in the coming weeks), they are V1 in our efforts to create better, more discoverable homes for a more diverse content. Over the coming months, we will be iterating on this concept, collecting your thoughts, and further expanding on what we’ve begun. In the meantime, we have a dedicated curation team working on collections, along with early testers, creating new collections that will provide posts on different topics from a wide array of people.

Looking further into the future, the team is putting significant effort into ways to further personalize the feed and make sure it always has interesting and relevant stuff for you to read, every time you open Medium. There are lots of ideas on the table for how to do this, including things like being able to bring in stories from elsewhere on Medium that match your interests, even if you aren’t following them explicitly (but have clearly shown us that you are into that topic area). We’ll be able to talk more on this later once we figure out how it’s all going to work — so don’t hold us to any of the ideas we’re tossing around here. It’s all open for discussion.

Other notable areas you’d rank high on the list for improvement

More tools: This want spanned every kind of tool imaginable but weighted most heavily around publication tools. We’re on the same page with you in this regard and are already actively working on some cool stuff (more on that in the coming weeks). Beyond that you also sent in some excellent ideas that we’ve surfaced with the team. Creating better tools for you is something that’s always a work in progress, so don’t expect us to stop thinking about this — ever.

Mobile parity and in general, mobile love: Lots of people read Medium on their phones, but quite a few also write on their phone (or manage publications) and want full functionality from desktop on mobile. Speaking plainly for the sake of full transparency: We don’t have plans to enable full parity on this front right now. Reading on the go is the primary function of our app, and we still have a long way to go to make that experience awesome. Until we nail that, it doesn’t make a ton of sense to start adding new stuff that might potentially make things messier. That being said, we are working to fix bugs on the writing and editing front and are looking to make it possible to write, edit, and read in an offline mode (something that many of you wanted — shout out to the BART commuter who writes on his phone).

Foreign-language content: The need and desire for international content, in foreign languages, is a hot topic. Being able to set stories or publications to host dual languages and better ways to search for content in specific languages were top asks. This is another area we’re still getting started on, but we do have several international publications created by Medium in a bunch of languages. Beyond that, there are at least 16 other user-run publications in foreign languages on the platform.

Footnotes: We have created a solution for this. If you want to put a footnote at the bottom of your article, you can now type 1, then ^, then [number you want to make superscript].

Option for narration (a la audiobooks) for all posts if folks want to make a recording: Some community publications are already experimenting with this concept, and we’re big fans.

More stats: We could not agree with you more on this count, and we’re exploring ways to surface the stats that are most meaningful to writers and publications. We want to provide both readers and writers with the most important metrics in order to ascertain what’s working and what’s interesting, and help make your decisions on where and how to spend your time easier. (To the chap who asked for literal pie charts showing him what kinds of topics he reads the most, we’re not adding that, but I loved your gumption.)

Where we go from here

As I stated in the introduction post: This is only the beginning. From here, we’re going to continue having conversations with you — both in this publication and out in the wild of Medium — to get to the heart of what you are thinking about and looking for in terms of platform features as well as community needs. We’ll also continue to push out articles that help make Medium work better for you.

We’re also working on more programs to help people find their tribes on Medium (that’s what I call those communities that about 25 percent of you said you feel part of already), and make them more amazing than they currently are today.

As always, leave your thoughts on what’s here — and what you want to see next.

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elizabeth tobey

elizabeth tobey

East coaster with a secret SF love affair. I enjoy juxtaposing things. Also: Cheese and tiny dachshunds.

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