Medium’s Complex Simplicity is Awful

by on December 3, 2022

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been helping out with our corporate blog, a Medium publication. Medium is utterly awful for the purpose of corporate blogging.

Disclaimer: Some of the things described here are so molar-crushingly bad that I suspect they are in fact not true. Perhaps it’s the lack of any detailed documentation for Medium, the mad navigation system, or clever-silly interaction design that hides things from you. So if anyone knows differently, please let me know.

It starts simple

A Medium publication is an option whereby you can create a separate blog to your own Medium page, give it any name you want, and accept submissions to it from other Medium users. Both you or they can write an article using a Medium account (paid or unpaid), ask you for access (although there’s no mechanism for this within Medium), and once you add their Medium ID to a list of “writers” for your publication, they can submit their articles to it. You can then review the article, modify it if need be, and publish it. It then appears as an entry in your publication under their name.

Simple enough. But as I’ve learned from bitter experience, so much on Medium appears simple when in fact it’s maddeningly complicated.

The first problem is that Medium allows contributors to publish to their own Medium pages as well as to your publication. The interaction design of the submission process positively encourages it. So if they accidentally publish to their account while submitting to yours, it means your SEO will be diluted and they can get followers and traffic for their article independently of the one on your publication. This sort of defeats a lot of the point for a corporate blog.

But far worse than this is the fact that the act of publishing their article on your publication doesn’t make it read only to them. So if they decide later to bear a grudge, or their account is compromised, you might be waking up to an unexpected call from your boss about why there’s midget porn on the company’s website. Any changes they make to their article at any time will turn up silently at your end. And there’s nothing you can do about it.

Another stunning omission is that we also can’t tell what the email address of any of our contributors is. Nor is there any way to contact them beyond perhaps posting a comment on one of their articles (if they have any). We ask contributors in our organisation to create Medium accounts with email addresses on our domain so that at least we can maybe prevent them from hacking us after they leave. But we have no way of knowing that they’re in fact doing this.

Similarly, there is no way for anyone to know who the admin of a publication is unless that’s stated on their profile. And you still can’t contact them.

Those are the broad brushstrokes. But there’s more.

When you publish a story submitted by another account, there is an option (on by default) to email a notification to the account’s followers. But where does that link go? Is it to the article on your publication or is it to that account’s page? If the latter, what happens if it’s not published on the account’s Medium page? Who knows –  and there’s no documentation on this either.

There can only be one Admin (the account that created the publication), and zero or more Editors and Writers. Yet when you log into your account, there is no indication of what level of access you have. So you have to guess by the absence of certain functions (eg as an Editor you can add/delete writers but not other Editors). For a long time, we couldn’t understand why we couldn’t edit the layout of the publication. It turned out that what we thought was the Admin login was in fact an Editor. The Admin was on somebody’s else’s address who thought they were an Editor. And of course (see above) there’s no indication of who has the Admin rights and how to contact them.

Medium’s aggressively minimalist visual style and often simply random navigation conventions mean you have to waste time learning and remembering how each screen works. For example, some pages have your account settings and associated menu items for managing your publication in the top right. But sometimes that just disappears and you have to find a tiny ellipsis menu instead with a sub-set of functions in it. You have to then hit the browser’s back button in the hope that you can get out and back to a function in the previous page. And sometimes your account settings move to the bottom left! It’s like they want to confuse you. 

There are also – too complex to mention – several other quirks and kinks in the UX that make the whole experience very tiring, confusing and angst-ridden. 

This is not quality.

Our use of Medium pre-dates my involvement with our blog, and we’re too invested now to move (we have thought about migrating to LinkedIn but I know less about that). So we plough on. But the lack of design skills on Medium’s UX team is pretty shocking.

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *