An Open Letter to Medium: Are You Sure You Realize the Consequences of Your New Author Incentives?

Medium is tweaking the rules authors need to play by in order to get readers, and that might make this place feel a lot more like TikTok.

Aaron Dinin, PhD

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Image courtesy Andrea Piacquadio via Pexels

Dear Tony Stubblebine and the Medium Team:

I’ve read your updates that Medium is going to start heavily prioritizing comments (“replies” in medium parlance) when it decides whether or not to recommend articles to users. When the news came out a few weeks ago, I wasn’t particularly bothered by it. However, I just had a piece of content go viral on TikTok and Instagram, and that virality was driven entirely by the comments. I want to share that story as a warning, and I want to ask if you’re truly prepared for Medium to become a platform that prioritizes generating comments.

To be clear, I’ve had Medium articles go viral. But “Medium viral” is nothing compared with “TikTok viral” or “Instagram viral.” Going viral on Medium means you’ll get 20k or 30k views with a couple thousand “likes” (i.e. “claps”), and a handful of “comments” (i.e. “replies”). And, because Medium is generally a well-educated and civil community, the most disparaging of those comments are rarely worse than a friendly reader pointing out a comma splice.

That’s not what happens when you go viral on platforms like TikTok and Instagram. Within 96 hours of my viral post, it had over 6 million views, nearly 700,000 likes, and more than 1,700 soul-crushing comments.

I’m describing the comments as “soul-crushing” because I’m not sure of a better way to explain how they’ve made me feel. Literally, for 96 straight hours, my phone has been buzzing every 3 to 4 minutes with a new comment that’s likely doing one of the following six contradictory things:

  • Calling me an evil capitalist
  • Calling me a genius capitalist
  • Calling me an evil socialist
  • Calling me a genius socialist
  • Accusing me of teaching people to lie
  • Praising me for teaching people to succeed

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Aaron Dinin, PhD

I teach entrepreneurship at Duke. Software Engineer. PhD in English. I write about the mistakes entrepreneurs make since I’ve made plenty. More @ aarondinin.com