An Epiphany: Reading in Medium

Listen! (source: http://ronmoore.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/speaker-listener.jpg)

I cannot recommend this brilliant meditation on the point of “listening” enough!

In the context of Medium, the idiom of ‘listening’ might as well be ‘reading’. At the moment, Medium presents a nice interface to write posts, develop publications, and share to two popular social networks (Twitter and Facebook) directly from it. Indeed, Medium has turned out to be a great place for sharing stories, anecdotes, and publications. You can see publishers flocking to this site and setting up their shops and inviting people to come and read their stories.

So far so good. At some point, those of us who are here to primarily learn and consume stories from Medium, should now start asking the question, where are the tools in Medium that makes it easy to “read” and consume stories? Where are the tools that make us reflect on the stories in our personal way yet within the ecosystem of Medium we can store, share, and enhance these ideas? Are there tools in Medium that lets us build a community of readers as opposed to only writers? Are there tools that allow introspection, absorption, and filtering the signals from the noise?

Let’s take a look at what Medium offers at the moment towards these. Highlighting is a powerful feature of Medium. Highlighting lets you signal that certain passages are really consumable and worth coming back and keeping in mind. What happens when you highlight a passage? Where does it go after you highlight a passage? I know that I get notification that x (a subscriber who is in my friends’ list) has also highlighted a certain passage in a story that I did. Nice, but, er …, so what? Yet this presents an opportunity of networking, for instance, can we then, built on the highlights, put together a network of highlighted passages that in turn take a life of their own? This could turn out to be important since Medium is quite unlike anything else we have seen in the space of social network or platform (however may you see it). I’d have thought that highlights would be the centre-piece that would help to build a community of “readers” around stories and foster discussion.

How can this be done? What if as you highlight a passage in a story, you also see a running list of who else is highlighting the same passage live (similar to how you get to see who is editing a sentence in Google Docs). At that point, can this lead to a conversation or jumping off to another story? What if Medium were to provide simple plain text tools hovering above the highlights that would let me archive my marginal thoughts next to the stories? At the moment, there are marginal notes to be sent to the authors only, but I’d go one more step and create notes only for myself that I’d come back and revise later.

Interestingly, there are no dearth of reading tools, and much have been sharpened in other apps. For example, Diigo and Annotary allow collaborative highlighting. Diigo also offers annotation tools that let’s people share collectively snippets of thoughts that are then shared across the readers. It would also be nice if Medium were to let me read an article later with an enhanced bookmark and store them to a PDF or an ePub readable format; then in a way that would enable sharing of highlights and snippets of thought, not only would that way of reading would enhance transmission of my reflections and sharing of thoughts across Medium channels, that would in turn lead to generation of more ideas across the board.

At the moment, Medium seems to focus on publications. If Medium were able to bring some focus on the reading experience in its beautiful interface, it would bring about one more paradigm shift as to how we consume text based information on the web. Perhaps it can emerge as truly a medium (pun intended) that is at once visually appealing to share texts and images, and sound bytes, but also a medium where we can read, annotate, and reflect.

Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Environmental Health at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. Also in: https://refind.com/arinbasu

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