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22.05.18

Sending the Wrong Message

Posted 22nd May 2018

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Kate Lee, “Introducing The Message”, 22nd April 2014:

“One of the tenets underpinning Medium is that people write better together – or, as Ev has written, “Don’t write alone.”

In that spirit, The Message is a new collection for collaborative writing. We’ve gathered twelve writers and thinkers across technology, media, culture, and academia to publish together in one place—and demonstrate that the sum is greater than its parts. Think of it as a modern version of Dorothy Parker’s Algonquin Round Table, whose members, in the course of conversing on a constant basis, collaborated on creative projects. We hope that, like the Round Table, The Message will allow for a flowering of ideas, robust debate, and thoughtful discourse.”

And so it did. Over the next year and a half, The Message published such things as the story of Tilde.Club, forcing your child to play old videogames, or how to scale Kim Kardashian’s backend. And while it never became a must-visit publication for me, I often found myself on there without even realising it.

And then, in 2016, it spluttered to a halt. Three articles about the Berenstain Bears in January, a piece about Zuckerberg and India in February, and then finally a piece about some fellow called Alexander Heffner on May 22nd. That was two years ago to the very day.

Since then: nothing. Not a single article published. Crucially: not a “we’re closing, goodbye, but there’s loads of other cool stuff on Medium”. Absolutely sod all. The Twitter feed is silent too. The project just… stopped.

OK, so it’s not exactly hard to find out exactly what happened, at least in vague terms. See this article on Business Insider, from June 2015:

“Two weeks ago, publishing platform Medium — which has become known for tech and culture blogs like Matter, Backchannel, The Nib, and The Message — announced a change in its direction.

Medium now wants to become more of a social network rather than a publishing platform. But this comes at a great cost to its full-time and freelance staff, people familiar with the matter told Business Insider.”

And although the article goes on to state that The Message was undergoing some “reshuffling”, rather than shutting down entirely… clearly plans changed. And the mention of budget cuts probably tell you all you need to know.

*   *   *

Medium itself is still going strong, of course. Here’s a blog about their latest developments. Which – and let me be absolutely clear about this – I couldn’t give a rat’s ass about.

Because I can’t forget how they dealt with the death of The Message. How they didn’t have respect for the publication’s readers, how they didn’t bother to do an official goodbye post. How they just abandoned it, and moved on to whatever the company set its eyes upon next.

How frankly, they couldn’t be bothered to do something like this. Wind up the project respectfully, and move on.

And why do I care so much? Because communication with your readers is everything when it comes to ending projects like this. I can deal with it on a personal blog, which is often just one person with far too much going on in their life. It’s not ideal, but it’s at least understandable. But Medium is a commercial company, and there are simply higher expectations. If you have an audience who is bothering to read what you’re putting out there, you owe it to them to actually tell them your publication is closing. As far as I can tell, Medium has made absolutely no official statement about The Message whatsoever. As much as anything else: it’s just rude.

There’s also some rather unpleasant implications which come from not shutting down The Message correctly: it gives the distinct impression that the company never cared about this set of writing in the first place, despite the words quoted at the top of this article. Because if they cared, they’d want to give it a dignified end. So if they didn’t care about this, how do I know they actually give a stuff about what they say they care about now?

Finally, and perhaps worst of all: it gives me absolutely no confidence that Medium will treat its current readers and writers with any respect whatsoever. If the company wants to change tack, they’ll change tack, perhaps silently, and damn everything else.

That’s their right, of course, and good luck to them. But I don’t trust a company like that with my words.

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