Mediums and messages
Last week, I saw this tweet:
You should check out this website Medium, it’s like The Onion for tech & design https://t.co/tkVPeBROlR
— Dan W (@iamdanw) February 12, 2014
The article that it links to is entitled “Washing Machine for Men: Redefining Washing Machine User Interface”, written by Peter Fabor, posted on Medium.
Now, Medium is not ‘the Onion for tech & design’. It is supposed to be a ‘beautiful space for writing’, and ‘a new place on the Internet where people share ideas and stories that are longer than 140 characters and not just for friends’. I don’t think Medium is supposed to be satirical, and I’m pretty certain that the aforementioned article isn’t. No, I’m sure that the writer of “Washing Machine for Men” is truly, awfully serious.
You can think whatever you like about the content of the article itself. I think it’s ridiculous, a symptom of what often passes for ‘User Experience Design’ at the moment: poorly researched, extrapolated from personal experience, and with no real sense of how the designed objects are actually used in the real world. Plus some (however well-intentioned) outright sexism for good measure: “imagine, that your washing machine talks with you as your mom does”.
But that, in and of itself, is not what interested me about this article. What interested me was the fact that the tone of Medium as a writing and sharing platform gives this article (and all others on Medium) a weight that lends a certain credibility to the writing. Medium looks like an ‘official’ tech-industry publication in the same way that the Onion looks like a real newspaper.
Medium began as an exclusive invite-only platform (a strategy which, I assume, was intended to set the overall tone of the content for the publication), but it has since been opened up to the general public. What this means is that now, anyone can write there, on whatever they like, and share it with the world. Medium looks beautiful, or at least, it looks very on-trend when it comes to current perceptions of screen beauty in web-design. The images are large, the typography is thoughtful, the way comments are displayed (which can be done per paragraph) is a clever interaction pattern. The ‘written by…’ (complete with avatars) and ‘published in…’ make it look like the writer is a contributor to an exclusive online magazine. It looks as if the writer has been invited to write the article.
@iamdanw‘s tweet is a joke, and it’s a joke because of this juxtaposition: Medium helps tech industry writers seem credible by utilising the Medium’s stylistic tone which, inadvertently or not, gives the writing a credible tone, deserving or not.