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by adam mathes
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Having A Website vs. A Web Presence

I was intrigued by Medium when it first launched, but since I couldn’t post anything I sort of forgot about it.

This weekend I was reminded of it when I saw a number of essays on there flow into my feed reader and started thinking about it again.

My initial reaction (posted on my currently on hold publishing platform experiment that pre-dated the renewed interest in simple essay posting sites) was a not particularly constructive statement about what I saw as a new minimalist-twee-corporate aesthetic that I felt was a distraction from a deeper issue of ceding control of your creative output to ephemeral for-profit corporations that are advertiser supported.

(Basically, it’s just not a good way to make important writing last.)

But pushing aside the librarian and long term preservationist in me, and giving it some more thought, an aspect of Medium that seems very interesting is encapsulated in this simple statement:

Posting on Medium (not yet open to everyone) is elegant and easy, and you can do so without the burden of becoming a blogger or worrying about developing an audience.

Ev Williams, Welcome to Medium (emphasis added)

Historically there been two different schools of thought about expression on the web: “everyone should have a website”, and “everyone should have a web presence” and Medium is challenging some aspects of this dichotomy.

Everyone Should Have A Web Site

Let’s say this started with the idea of teaching people HTML in the 90’s, showing them how to FTP files, get web space, etc.

And later evolved with hosting services like GeoCities, and then really gained traction when tools like Pitas.com and Blogger.com helped people create easily updated sites in the form of blogs.

Dave Winer and Anil Dash and others spent 2000-2010 successfully convincing many people and organizations that they should express themselves on the web directly with blogs.

The fundamental assumption is: you should create your own space on the web and put important things there.

As a corollary – you are responsible for getting an audience.

Everyone Should Have A Presence

The other school of thought – which is the ethos behind Wikipedia, Facebook, Reddit, and tons of discussion boards and communities on the web I’d argue is a little different, and more like:

Everyone should have a web presence – they don’t need to actually have their own website because that’s just not what most people need.

The difference between having a presence on a site vs having a site is sort of like the difference between having a favorite restaurant and owning a farm. In the end, both may allow you to eat food, but the level of involvement and work involved is very different.

Social networks, discussion boards, and various other web sites are about being there in some capacity – not about ownership.

Just show up. You don’t have to manage this, you don’t own it. That doesn’t mean you don’t feel ownership of what you contribute – just that the place isn’t yours where it lives.

But, as a bonus, if you do contribute, there’s a lot of people there that are paying attention.

Show Up And Write For Real

Coupled with the above dichotomy (which is really a spectrum when it comes to things like Tumblr, but for simplicity let’s go with it) is that usually the “site” school was coupled with big and serious content – the “presence” school with smaller, more ephemeral contributions (although in aggregate these are often very important too.)

Social networks (historically) were about friend collecting, and short public messages to people with some photographs. (Facebook is now a lot more involved.)

The “create a presence” options generally asked a lot less in terms of the seriousness and length of content (though some discussion boards are extremely verbose.)

What may be really interesting about Medium is can they successfully combine the having a presence school that eliminates so many burdens and responsibilities, with the more serious, long form content that generally is associated with having a website.

Also: can they deliver on creating an audience for this content to eliminate the “posting to the ether” feeling that often stop people from writing on the web.

And where does that path lead?

(Personally, I’m staying here on my free range organic essay web farm for the long haul, but I recognize that lifestyle isn’t for everyone.)

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