Wednesday brought the news that Medium the publishing platform that Ev Williams, the co-founder of Twitter, spent five years building, will make significant job cuts, close offices, and restructure its platform. Yet, as Bloomberg's Leonid Bershidsky noted, despite the company's initial success, Williams "found himself in traditional-publishing purgatory, cutting 50 employees and searching for a new business model. There could be no better proof that delivery methods matter little and content is king."
In the post outlining the changes, Williams explained that he had lost faith in advertising:
Upon further reflection, it’s clear that the broken system is ad-driven media on the internet. It simply doesn’t serve people. In fact, it’s not designed to. The vast majority of articles, videos, and other “content” we all consume on a daily basis is paid for — directly or indirectly — by corporations who are funding it in order to advance their goals. And it is measured, amplified, and rewarded based on its ability to do that. Period. As a result, we get…well, what we get. And it’s getting worse.
To this, Bershidsky writes: "It's an emotionally convincing argument. In a strange echo on the same day, Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who gave the world Edward Snowden, made similar accusations against The Washington Post. The newspaper, according to Greenwald, spreads falsely sensationalistic but 'richly rewarded' stories, ensuring their viral distribution but not making an effort to convey the retractions in a similar way. One example he gave was a recent story about Russian hackers allegedly penetrating a Vermont utility, which was widely shared on social networks but turned out to be untrue. "
He goes on to state: "It's hard to disagree with both Williams and Greenwald about the ad-driven model's effect on content. To make money for the publisher, a web page just needs to stay open a few seconds. It doesn't matter if the story has any substance. Besides, many 'readers' who repost links to stories never get beyond the headline, and in many cases ads aren't even seen by humans, so it's irrelevant if there's any content next to the ads."
Another particularly striking section of the Medium post reads as follows:
People who write and share ideas should be rewarded on their ability to enlighten and inform, not simply their ability to attract a few seconds of attention. We believe there are millions of thinking people who want to deepen their understanding of the world and are dissatisfied with what they get from traditional news and their social feeds. We believe that a better system — one that serves people — is possible. In fact, it’s imperative.
Williams go to state, "So, we are shifting our resources and attention to defining a new model for writers and creators to be rewarded, based on the value they’re creating for people. And toward building a transformational product for curious humans who want to get smarter about the world every day."
The Medium team does not know what the new model will look like yet, but given the aforementioned, it seems a lot more promising than the vast majority of what is out there right now.