Medium, serialization and the death of Matter

Talking of Medium, as we were, Matt Locke had a great idea on how Medium could bring a new but familiar business model to the journalism web:

There is another, intriguing possibility – building a business model around publishing episodic series of content. Audiences understand this model – we’ve been brought up on TV seasons for decades. But freed from the schedule, we’re now consuming episodic series in new ways, from bingeing Netflix box sets to subscribing to podcasts and returning to the cinema for the latest episode in our favourite superhero franchise.

What a good idea! Luckily Medium has Bobbie Johnson on board, who between Ghost Boat and Matter has been responsible at least two serialised product that made editorial sense. Matter, in its early days, was very much that. You essentially subscribed to a series of eBooks delivering longform science and tech journalism. It was great, and I missed it when Medium bought and absorbed it. Still, lots of opportunity here, right?

Oh, wait:

Kinda puts lie to the idea that it was mainly people in sales and support that got cut, doesn’t it?

Happily, it looks like Bobbie has something up his sleeve:

Matter didn’t matter to Ev

But what how about Matter itself? It was started as a Kickstarter several years ago, acquired by Medium, and then eventually spun off as its own content studio.

Well, this e-mail arrived during the Trump inauguration:

Medium dead

So, that’s that. Another journalism experiment launched, acquired and killed. Matter RIP. You did reader-support longform right – until you were killed.

  • I have to say, as someone who is actually still using Medium, it has one glaring, painful, screamingly agonizing problem:

    It’s a monoculture.

    And by that what I mean is that 95% of the content on Medium is written from the perspective of the young, hip, extremely Left, extremely progressive, heavily US coastal, heavily US urban, self-selected elite. That’s the voice. There’s no way to escape that voice. All the suggested content that comes to you via your Dashboard has that voice. Definitely all of the Editorial Picks have that very same voice. Unless you aggressively silo your reading, go out of your way to prune your feeds, maybe even go so far as to only read the content of a few Publications (I’m fond of “War Is Boring”), every article on the site feels like it’s coming from the same people, the same community, the same political beliefs, the same everything.

    No good social media platform which intends to serve the needs of enough people to make advertising to them worthwhile can thus live.

    People in media talk a lot about the “echo chamber” – but largely when talking about other people. Someone else is only tuned into their own “echo chamber” when they don’t like your piece, or they disagree with your position, or frankly they would have rather not had to read it. And that, somewhat often, is true.

    But there’s another problem that only talking about “echo chambers” misses, and that’s that without the ability to focus your interests on people with whom you empathize and whom you believe empathize with you – you just don’t care. It’s one of the same problems with using Twitter and one of the problems that underlies their inability to properly monetize. Unless you have enough different voices which are, by some means, clustered in the same conceptual space, using the service is drinking from a fire hose. It’s just a broad spatter that flings itself in your face.

    I’ve said it before and I will undoubtedly say it until the end of time, but curation is at an all-time low right now and at an all-time high in terms of what consumers need. Traditional publishing interfaces could easily shift over to being at least part-time curators and find a new life – but they won’t. Curation is a thing that you could actually sell, but people won’t actually do that. In the absence of meta-social curation mechanisms, sites which focus on curating content from other places, entire platforms become self curated monocultures.

    Medium is a monoculture. No one seems to think that’s a problem. Twitter is increasingly a monoculture in the only people who think that’s a problem are the ones who are being shadow banned, having their accounts locked for no reason, or are increasingly feeling excluded from the dynamic of the site. As a result, they are going to places like, which as a result provides its own monoculture which will probably flourish for a little bit, and then implode.

    Matter was an interesting journalistic experiment. I don’t blame them a bit for taking the money when Medium offered it; I’d have done the same thing. But it played to the monoculture. It was a hothouse flower. I wasn’t surprised to see it get cut as part of the realignment.

    It didn’t have to. Matter certainly had the opportunity to grow beyond speaking to a very small segment of the online population; it just chose not to, and being backed by Medium didn’t encourage it to.

    Which is a shame. Someone ought to try to do that. But at this point it will have to be someone outside of the hip progressive technocratic monoculture, because at this point there’s only so much incest a species can take.