Mark Thomas Miller

Medium vs. the personal website

I’ve noticed something strange. Every time I open an email newsletter and click on an email link to read someone’s newest article, I find myself thinking, I hope this isn’t on Medium.

Why? I’ve been asking myself the same thing. I love reading on Medium’s platform. I think they have some of the most talented designers on Earth. They’ve done a wonderful job creating their experiences: the typography is exquisite, the spacing is perfect, and the features are solid.

But there’s a certain feeling that Medium isn’t able to provide.

Medium seems to be a hotel with carefully selected furnishings. Authors’ content fits perfectly into little blocks: Julie Zhou’s posts feel the same as Barack Obama’s, which feel the same as Evan Williams’. You can always tell when you’re on Medium because the structure, the font, the underlying feeling is the same.

And this creates a disconnect – like I’m losing part of the person on the other side.

The contrast to Medium is the personal blog. If Medium is a hotel, the blog is a house. I find blogs to be more intimate and raw than a simple content feed; a blog allows you to see a person’s “body language”.

tobias-site

The home page of Tobias van Schneider’s personal website.

tobias-medium

This is his “home” on Medium.

Humans are able to form complex opinions in fractions of a second, and I believe the way Medium is structured doesn’t support the visual cues that we need to make decisions. It relies on content, ideas, and beautiful design, but can’t touch the vast uniqueness of a personal website. Put simply, when you read something on Medium, it feels like Medium.

Medium’s perfection is its downfall. It replaces humanistic touches with the perfect design to consume content, and in doing so, it replaces the human: everyone begins to look the same. Maybe that’s what they want.

While that subtle concept separates personal blogs from the vast idea hub that is Medium, we can still learn some enormous lessons from its popularity.

What can we learn from Medium?

Medium’s popularity points to a trend: blogs need to adopt better design practices.

I believe that a large part of Medium’s growth comes from its undivided attention to two things: the experience of reading and writing. While it seems obvious, these are most personal blogs’ weaknesses. A large portion of the Internet is still a relic of the early 2000’s: sidebars, advertisements, popups, and 13 pixel Arial font on the left side of the screen.

Three simple guidelines could dramatically improve blogs:

  1. The use of great typography. Fonts should be readable and convey the appropriate tone to fit peoples’ writing.
  2. Content should be prioritized. Peoples’ writing should be the most prominent aspect of a page.
  3. Readers should never be annoyed. Sidebars, advertisements, and popups should be minimized or removed.

These are three simple, but crucial, implementations that need to happen in personal blogging. If more sites followed these guidelines, I believe we’d see less migration elsewhere.

And that’s only one side of the coin: improvements also need to be made to the content creation process. We need to write with something that connects us intimately with our content:

Void

Void: a minimal writing plugin for WordPress.

In an ideal world, your writing and publishing is connected as closely as possible. Medium does it exceptionally well, and their reading experience is one of the best in the industry, but there’s nothing stopping personal blogs from adopting the same practices.

Wrapping Up

I like Medium, and I want to see it live into the future. However, I see using Medium over a personal blog as a long-term mistake. There are too many passionate, unique, and talented individuals to contain to a sterile platform where everyone looks and feels the same.

We should take Medium’s popularity as a sign that it’s time to adopt better design practices into our own sites. If we want to move the transfer of information forward, we need to take advantage of a very core element of the human condition: connection.

Personal sites simply do this better.