Not since 1998 when blogging was first introduced to the world has writing changed. Recently, four platforms made by start-ups and individuals have done more to change writing than anyone else in the world.
Since 1998, publishing and media companies have spent their time trying to adapt their processes and save their businesses. For the most part, they’ve done so by creating online versions of their traditional businesses. They’ve spent years tweaking the knobs to get a digital publishing working based on the traditional model of Content -> Readership -> Advertising.
Meanwhile, start-up after start-up have each expanded what how and what people could write. Blogger, WordPress, Tumblr and Twitter have one after an other opened new doors for how everyday people could express themselves. Even then, only after following consumers did media companies adopt those platforms.
Tumblr and Twitter are the two most recent platforms attaining a global reach, but in terms of “writing,” blogging is still the most recent invention.
The most popular tech sites (what I’m most familiar with) have used blogging and and hyper-accelerated the traditional publishing model. They post more than a dozen stories a day, and they pride themselves on publishing stories as fast as possible after news happens.
Medium, Branch, Svbtle & The Mavenist
When I see Medium or Branch (I remember Branch when it was launched as Roundtable last year) I see two different platforms working to pushing people’s ideas about what writing can be online.
They aren’t alone though, Svbtle & The Mavenist are two earlier platforms that broke writing free from only existing in a blog with comments.
These ideas are about more than how to connect users to advertisers. I don’t think there’s any right answer yet, but to me they seem to be about sharing good ideas, good writing, and connecting users to them. Their approaches are different than the traditional publishing model, and have the potential to change the world.
Look at how blogging has changed the world in the past 14 years, and imagine what the world would look like after four more blogging revolutions.
It’s about time for change to happen.
The Common Attributes These Platforms Share
These platforms share some common attributes:
- They value design
- They are exclusive
- They don’t have comments
- The focus is always on the writing
- They are all start-ups
These platforms were each designed to strengthen the connection between reader and writing. Each platform is unique in how it does this.
Branch and The Mavenist are dialogues and focus on the exchange of ideas.
Medium collects people stories in certain topics and lets them add photos to best deliver an emotional message.
Svbtle is a blogging network for individuals that through colour and symbols communicates identity.
These platforms are all invite only, presumably the owners want to control the quality of the writing above all else. The fact that none of them support comments furthers the idea of control and quality.
These four platforms have made a distinction between themselves and traditional platforms who have pursued a model of large user bases, high readership, high engagement, frequent publishing, and advertising based revenues.
This idea of The Masses vs. Great Design comes up again with these publishing platforms. This isn’t like App.net where you are paying for a service (People who think that paying for something is elitist are stupid). Developers use control to create the best experiences.
Platforms for Good Writing
It’s refreshing to see platforms based on ideals, not on revenues. That may change in the future, but just like Digg and Twitter, they started with a vision, not a pitch to advertisers.
Their writing isn’t content to be consumed or a tool to drive users to ads. The writing is art, valuable in and of it self.
Good writing is hard, so crafting large experiences around it takes a lot of effort. Good writing can happen anywhere, but because it takes so much effort on the web it’s taken a back seat to reblogging, sharing of other people’s work, and shallow engagement.
Made by Start-ups
These four platforms were built by start-ups, and like all start-ups they are experimenting and seeing what works.
These platforms don’t have any business models yet, but their focus on user experience like I’ve mentioned before, makes it seem unlikely that they’ll follow the advertising funded model of traditional publications.
Because of the people behind it, Medium is the one platform out of the four that’s attracting the most attention. So far only a few of the developers’ friends have been invited, yet people are already criticizing it.
People are criticizing Medium before it’s even had the chance to become anything!
The criticisms come largely from old techies ideologically attached to protocols like RSS and other ideas which normal people don’t care about. They think platforms need to be open in the sense of both available to everyone, and in the sense of data access & APIs. These old guys are threatened by new platforms and visions of the future that leaves them and their values behind.
I wonder if they would care so much about an exclusive community of music, photographs, or films.
There are worse problems to be concerned about than people building new platforms or being creative.
The critics should take the model of these platforms and build their own if they care so much. When you make something, you get to decide what it is. Yours is the only opinion that matters.