What happens when you post in Medium

elizabeth tobey brings up a very interesting point in explaining how Medium delivers stories to you. Three assumptions are intriguing here — time, place, and control.

Speaking about time, you would normally think that stories published first in time show up first and therefore served or pushed higher up vertically in your reading stream. So, people writing from a certain time zone (say from Japan, Australia, or NZ) or at a certain time would have a higher chance to show up on your stream compared with people from Europe or the US for the same topic. Why does that not happen?

Second, the inherent assumption that, you start scrolling from top down rather than down upwards or sideways, speaks of a mindset that people read digital content online in the same way they read books or papers. Yet the practice of designing reading content ‘pages’ is different. This is where orientation of space becomes an issue. Of course it is very human that we start reading stories from the top (at least I do ) but then what happens if I decide to scan everything first and then randomly pick up a story or start sideways from the tags, or read the breadcrumbs, not necessarily from left to right but right to left. Do we have the option of rearranging the links in the breadcrumb of Medium? We don’t at the time, but if we did, what would happen to the presentation?

Third, Medium supposes that what is interesting to you and people you follow and publishers you follow and writers who post to certain tags are also “relevant” to you. But relevance is context dependent. The content that is relevant now may change tomorrow. The interestingness of a story, on the other hand, is context invariant, and will still remain same even if the relevance changes.

What is interesting is not necessarily relevant, nor what is relevant necessarily interesting. Yet should a content delivery app such as Medium conflate the two?

There is a risk of adopting these assumptions of time, space, and interestingness strategy to push stories to the readers. It will or at least, has the potential to push a certain kind of ‘propagated ideas’ to the top of my news feed.

Would I necessarily like this? I am not sure. If this is the case, then the advice that you be “ruthless with the people you follow” goes against this grain of thought as the more and diverse people you will follow, the more and diverse and interesting stories will float up your feed. Medium’s growth is necessarily tied to the people we follow and so is the ‘interestingness’ and serendipity of findings here. I try to follow as many people as I find on Medium, as well as tags, and I would think this would mess up my storyline. Some days they do, and some days I miss my favourite writers although I know they must have written something hidden deep in the pile, somewhere.

Anyway, the point here is not necessarily to criticise this strategy to push stories ot the readers or users of Medium. It is more of a caveat for me as a reader or user of Medium that to best curate my own feeds in ways that lets me read the stories I want to read (relevant and interesting, not either/or), or feeds that I want to receive from my friends, and others. The direction I understand is one way (that is, I get to see stories up front from people I follow rather than also get to read stories from people who follow me but whom, for one reason or another, I have not followed back).

Great job, Medium. Keep it up.

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

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