So, Medium Went Back To Curation And I Can Already See Potential Problems
Editors will be curators, and they'll get paid. But wow. More questions than answers
Y’all, Medium changed again. The first change is good, so let’s go there first.
Remember the nonsense about needing to drive external views to be “worthy” of a Boost? I wrote about that on Jan. 6. First post of the New Year.
That’s toast. Poof, gone. Last week, in a post called “A new Boost for top stories” CEO Tony posted some updates.
Here’s what he said.
“Authors shouldn’t be required to build their own audience or mailing list to share their ideas and knowledge. Often, the best writing comes from people who don’t want to be audience builders.” — Tony Stubblebine (source)
Gah. Let’s unpack that a little.
Please. If you’re a writer, you probably should be an audience builder. You don’t have to do it in a smarmy or pushy, used car salesman sort of way. Fact is, the internet is too big and no platform is going to take care of building an audience for you.
But at the same time?
Whether you do or don’t have an audience should not be a factor in deciding whether your writing is good enough for a boost. So I’m glad they threw that idea on the dud pile. Also? Kudos to them for seeing that it was a bad idea and changing it.
Not so fast, Horatio, here’s the rub
Wow, that’s some badly butchered Shakespeare. There’s a scene where Hamlet says “There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
So, now that driving external traffic isn’t the measure of quality, what is?
It appears curation is back. By real humans. We talk turkey in a minute. lol. Basically, it’s a 3 step process that works like this,
Publication editors send in suggestions.
Medium staff checks to see if the suggestions meet distributions standards
The “algorithm” decides who would like to read those stories
Don’t get caught up in the editors part yet, okay? We’ll go there shortly.
In the past, when Medium had human curation before, it was staff curating stories. And honestly, it was a nightmare. Can you guess why?
Most of the “how to make money on Medium” folks and the tip writers used to tell writers if your story doesn’t get curated, email Medium and ask them to look again. If they don’t reply, ask again. Maybe they got busy and didn’t see your email.
Medium staff were bombarded with “hey, why didn’t I get curated” emails.
Facebook was full of oh no, I didn’t get curated posts. Someone inevitably replied to share the medium curators email. Here. Email and ask them to look again. Maybe they just missed it. Can’t hurt to ask, right?
Well yes, it actually can. And it did.
Honestly, we ruined the first round of curation. Collectively speaking.
As an editor, I know how hard it is to tell someone their story just isn’t that good. It’s hard to stomp on feelings. I would not have wanted to be on the receiving end of that email address, if you know what I mean.
End result was so much stuff was getting curated that curation didn’t mean anything anymore. They had to stop manual curation. We did that. Not me and maybe not you, but the writer pool as a whole. We killed curation by demanding it.
So they’re trying again, but with editors as the curators.
But which editors?
They are starting with 15 publication editors, but ultimately, the goal is to include any publication that want to be included.
Again, here’s what Tony said:
“We are currently working with 15 publication editors to find and submit story suggestions for the Boost. We will be onboarding 15 more publications, and our goal is to work with all publications that want to participate. However, we do need some ramp-up time…
— Tony Stubblebine (source)
He goes on to explain how they see this working.
Incidentally, if you’re an editor and you want to play, there’s a link to apply to be part of the curation program. You can find it in this post.
Editors will go out onto Medium as a whole and find good stories. Not just in their own publication, but on Medium as a whole. Editors will then “recommend” those stories to Medium staff. Basically saying here, I think this is worthy of a Boost.
Medium staff will then look at the stories. If they Boost the story suggested, that’s when the algorithm kicks in. The robots decide who is a good match to read it based on interests and reading history.
How big a boost are we talking? Pretty big.
In the past, people said curation didn’t matter anymore. And they’re right. It did get to where it didn’t matter. Because when everything is curated, curation becomes pretty much a nothing burger. This time, they want it to be significant.
Again, here’s what Tony said…
“How big is the Boost? We had a soft launch for the Boost for a few weeks, so that we could test the algorithmic changes. In that period, we’ve seen boosts between 500 views and 100,000 views. Our goal is that every Boosted story should get at least 500 extra views within the first week.” — Tony Stubblebine (source)
Getting views has been real hard the last year at Medium. So making a promise of at least 500 extra views is going to sound really exciting to a lot of writers.
The range puzzles me. Mostly because it’s unexplained.
How will they decide if a story gets an extra 500 views or an extra 100K views? What’s the criteria for being gifted with 100K views as opposed to 500 views.
No idea. It wasn’t explained.
Is it based on how many people follow the topic? How well written it is? Is there some criteria that determined how big a boost each story gets? No idea. Not explained.
And who gets to decide that? Medium? The editors? The algorithm? Does it depend on how many people follow the topic the article falls under?
No idea. Not explained.
Mom always said I ask too many darn questions. True enough.
Plus? Editors will be paid for successful curation
Here’s another one. Medium isn’t expecting editors to go hunting for “good” stories out of the goodness of their hearts. Nope. They’ll get paid.
Here’s what Tony said…
“Curators will be paid for their work based on the number of stories that they successfully nominate for Boost.”— Tony Stubblebine (source)
Notice it doesn’t say for the number submitted, but the number successfully nominated. So if some eager editor “suggests” 100 stories, but only 5 of them are successful at getting Boosted, the editor gets paid for finding 5 successful Boosts.
And there’s criteria. In a second post, he posted the criteria for the new capital-B Boost, here’s the criteria a story must meet.
Is it Constructive? Is it Original?
Does the author speak from Relevant Experience?
Is the story Well-crafted? Does it feel Memorable?
There’s a whole bunch of stuff that will disqualify a story, too. No clickbait. No posts about Medium. No erotica or inflammatory posts. No attacks or call-outs. No politicians seeking donations, no unverifiable claims that could be harmful.
That’s not the whole list. The list of what doesn’t qualify is much (much!) longer than the list of qualities they’re looking for in a good story.
Which makes sense. Because we’ve all read Medium, right? Sorry, truth.
I have more questions than Medium has answers
What are they going to do about editors that bomb Medium with everything that comes through their publication? Because you know that’s going to happen.
What are they going to do to make sure editors don’t play favorites and just submit the top writers over and over again? Because I can totally see editors wanting to submit stories by the top writers hoping for the sweet finder fees.
What about editors that join and only submit their stories. Over and over. Pick me, pick me. Are there “rules” for editors that we don’t know unless we are chosen to curate stories? That would make sense. But I have no idea.
How much are editors going to get paid?
And where is that money going to come from? The writer pay pool? Because we’ve already seen a whack in pay. Do we really need another one? I mean, it seems inevitable. Where else would it come from. But crikey.
I dunno. Just seems to me everytime humans are involved, things get more complicated than they need to be. I guess time will tell.
Curious to know what you think…
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Curation is necessary on any platform with a low barrier to entry if the goal is for high-quality writing to rise to the top. Over-relying on an algorithm for content discovery and distribution inevitably trains writers to game the system for views which, in turn, leads to the regurgitation of the same "how to" and "tips for" articles ad infinitum. Maybe an algorithm with a sophisticated enough AI could manage it, but they haven't cracked that code yet.
I agree that curation wasn't a success the first time around. It's hard to know exactly why without having a clear picture of what went on behind the scenes, but one thing I know for certain is that Medium did a poor job of communicating why an article might be passed up for curation. They had some guidelines squirreled away somewhere, but I remember it didn't answer all of my questions. Some Medium writers had some good theories, but much of what they were sharing was conjecture. This lack of clear communication leads me to believe that Medium either didn't have clear criteria for curation or they didn't apply it evenly, which would serve to erode the effectiveness of curation over time. I also suspect they weren't discerning enough with curation.
I like the idea of incentivizing editors to find content that would get a successful boost, especially with guidelines in place disqualifying content that's clickbait, inflammatory, etc. As to your question about editors that "bomb Medium with everything that comes through their publication," I would hope that, if they are instituting anti-spam, anti-clickbait measures, they would penalize editors that engage in some of that same behavior. I also think that editors will naturally refrain from spamming since it behooves them to achieve a high submission-to-boost ratio. I guess time will tell. Thanks for putting these updates together.
Medium and Tony don't know what they want to be when they grow up, if ever. I have never seen or determined a clear mission for the platform. The actions I've observed over the past three years do not align to "to deepen readers' understanding of the world and to empower writers to share their best work and biggest ideas." Instead, I see ever changing responses to abuse of the system/algorithm.