Evan Williams is at it again. Just as he did with Blogger and Twitter, he is looking to change the way we consume the news.
The way Williams sees it, most news outlets simply don't get it. He blames journalists who "don't really understand what they're writing about" for leaving readers misinformed (and uninformed) and uninspired. Medium, which allows people to hop on and publish without first having to register a website, "will change our definition of professional writing," he says. "Or at least expand it."
That's a tall order. Here's why Williams thinks Medium can pull it off.
Goodbye, pageviews; hello, engagement
Instead of continuing the race for the click-iest content, Williams said he's looking for the longest scroll. Medium's algorithm will provide users with their next suggested stories based on how long they spend scrolling through (in other words, reading) a particular article. Williams is looking to give readers value, and leave them informed. He believes time spent, over pageviews, is where that can be found. "Time spent is not actually a value in itself, but in a world where people have infinite choices, it's a pretty good measure if people are getting value," says Williams.
Willing to pay for good content.
Yes, most of its viral posts--including Peter Shih's 10 Things I Hate About You: San Francisco Edition--are contributed for free. But, Williams' goal here is to make "viral information more substantive," and that means they're willing to pay for it. Medium has bankrolled Epic Magazine, a long-form journalism site run by non-fiction veterans Joshua Davis and Joshuah Bearman, who will provide them with some of their best, magazine-worthy content. Check out Davis' 10,000-word piece, The Mercenary. Medium is also paying David Axe, the war correspondent, for his long-form pieces on technology in combat in his section War is Boring.
Build now, monetize later
One thing Medium lacks is a proper business model. That's by design, Williams says. He told TechCrunch that "Web People," those in Silicon Valley who ran successful companies through the dot-com bubble, "are more sustainable because they kept going. Because they're driven to create, they're attracted to the web because of its creative potential." He continued, "They weren't scared away when it seemed like it wasn't an instant path to riches. They were persistent." He's a believer in product first, money last.
Although Medium's financial future is still mysterious, it does have two revenue drivers (although small). Evan Hansen, a senior editor at Medium (formerly of Wired), told TechCrunch that they have built in a feature that allows users to buy some of the longer articles as eBooks on the Kindle. But, since those articles are free to begin with, that won't be the answer to monetization. Another option, which they have already started doing, is to license their technology to other media outlets. Mother Jones has stories on Medium, and Gawker has reposted Medium's content to their site. We'll just have to wait and see. We now know that no initial business model didn't stop Twitter, which recently filed for its IPO.