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Matthew But­t­er­ick on the downside of Medium

Like all non­sense, it’s in­tended to be easy to swal­low. But Mr. Williams’s ar­gu­ment is flawed in at least three ways:

  1. It makes no sense in the con­text of to­day’s web. If Medium had launched 10 years ago, it would’ve been as­ton­ish­ing. But it didn’t. To­day, the costs of web pub­lish­ing—in­clud­ing de­sign—have de­clined to al­most zero. Rel­a­tive to to­day’s web, Medium is not cre­at­ing new pos­si­bil­i­ties, but in­stead clos­ing them off. To pre­vail, Medium needs to per­suade you that you don’t care about the broader ex­pres­sive pos­si­bil­i­ties of web publishing.

  2. It sets up a false di­chotomy about writ­ing tools. Mr. Williams de­picts the writer’s choice as Medium vs. com­pli­cated tools like Word. Not ac­cu­rate. First, dif­fer­ent tools ex­ist for dif­fer­ent needs. It would be silly to use Word to make a web page, but equally silly to use Medium to pre­pare a print-on-de­mand pa­per­back. Sec­ond, any­one who’s used cur­rent blog­ging tools ap­pre­ci­ates that web pub­lish­ing has be­come heav­ily au­to­mated. Much of the for­mat­ting can be han­dled au­to­mat­i­cally (e.g., via Word­Press themes) or man­u­ally, as you prefer.

  3. You’re giv­ing up far more than de­sign choice. Mr. Williams de­scribes Medium’s key ben­e­fit as res­cu­ing writ­ers from the “ter­ri­ble dis­trac­tion” of for­mat­ting chores. But con­sider the cost. Though he’s bait­ing the hook with de­sign, he’s also ask­ing you, the writer, to let him con­trol how you of­fer your work to read­ers. Mean­ing, to get the full ben­e­fit of Medium’s de­sign, you have to let your story live on Medium, send all your read­ers to Medium, have your work per­ma­nently en­tan­gled with other sto­ries on Medium, and so on—a sig­nif­i­cant concession.

Read the essay, The Billionaire's Typewriter, here.


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