Medium opens up publishing API, adds WordPress plugin, and adds new content partners

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SAN FRANCISCO — Publishing site Medium has unveiled a slew of updates today for its iOS and Android app at an event focused on showcasing how to build a sustainable platform. Company chief executive Evan Williams took the opportunity to set the record straight on what his company is all about: the point is about moving ideas forward.

Within the 45 minute presentation, Williams and his team showcased new tools around the mobile apps around discovery, interacting, and publishing, and what other offerings Medium will do to create a much smarter world. Here’s the tl;dr of the announcements: a form of commenting, better discovery, a publishing API, the ability to migrate your content to Medium without sacrificing your URL, and eventually a way to monetize your work.

Interacting on Medium

When it comes to the interaction on Medium, product manager Brian Ellin spoke  about most people are probably consuming content from the mobile app. Some of the updates to the company’s iOS and Android apps that should be available now include deep linking (just type in the @ symbol and you’ll be able to reference other content on Medium), support for 3D Touch, syncing of stories and drafts, new typography, enhanced ways to interact, better profiles that shows you what people have highlighted and recommended, and features to surface top stories and other recommendations.

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In addition, responses have been added that’s equivalent to commenting. Instead of adding discussions at the bottom, you can respond to any quote. Once compiled, the original post will have a denotation that shows a response crafted. “Every sentence or word can be a spark to encourage you to write,” says Ellin.

What’s interesting is in-line denotations that subtlety show you when someone has responded to a particular part in your article. If you see an asterisk (or star-looking symbol), by tapping on it will show you the response from another user — you’re answering right in context and add some additional insights. “When you know that it’s going to show up in context, it’s going to be easier to compose a response,” says Williams.

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Other updates include better notifications as well as new communication tools that lets you chat directly with the author.

The new version of Medium’s iOS and Android apps are rolling out now.

Discovering by exploring

But being able to compose content isn’t enough — it’s about being about to discover new ideas. To that end, Medium is further leveraging tagging and a recommendation algorithm. The company says that 80 percent of stories are now tagged and those that have at least a keyword tagged are at least three times more likely to be read. You can even follow specific tags, with some having thousands of followers.

Starting today, Medium has added an Explore feature which offers a “ton of new ways to explore great stuff.” In addition to displaying tagged stories you’re interested in along with top stories, Medium will also promote interesting authors, stories deemed “conversation starters”, those that have lots of responses, and of course recommendations curated by Medium’s staff.

“We’re trying to find the best content from whoever wrote it, whenever they wrote it, and bring it to you,” the company said.

Getting it out there by publishing

The last piece of the Medium puzzle is about helping publishers get their work on Medium. Katie Zhu, who works on engineering and product at Medium, says that organizations are turning to her team for help on getting content on the platform. There are those that have built and audience on Medium just like they would with a standalone website — something that’s proven to be a powerful tool for those wanting to get their ideas shared.

To date, there are 1,500 active publishers on Medium, including The Synapse and Those People and Zhu says these publications are garnering hundreds of thousands of readers each month. And brands are paying attention as now The Awl, Discovery Communications, Fusion, How We Get To Next by Steven Johnson, Mic, MSNBC, and Travel + Leisure have joined as content partners.

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In order to facilitate more publisher interest, starting today Medium has partnered with NameCheap to help content creators move their content over to its platform without giving up their web address. This follows along with a release earlier this year of support for custom domains.

Additionally, a publishing API has been made available for people to easily share their content on Medium that uses OAuth2 for authentication. Zhu says that the company has built a great tool for writing, but it’s not the main value — it’s the publishing network. Through this API, content creators can share their story on the platform from anywhere. The API supports Markdown and HTML content formats, canonical URLs for cross-posting, and the full range of licenses available on Medium.

The API will be available in limited early access today with plans to open it to the public in the future.

Other partnerships announced today is with Ulysses and iWriter to port content over to Medium, as well as the introduction of a WordPress plugin. Medium is also launching an IFTTT channel designed to help publishers create their own interactions with its platform.

In the future, there will be new ways for publishers to monetize their work on Medium, but more details will be revealed “in the coming months.” The company did say that the user experience as well as their users’ needs and rights will “be front and center.”

A more modern brand

Medium's new logo

Medium has also debuted a brand new logo and brand. While not drastically different from its letterhead “M”, it adds a bit more creativity to the company image. The previous version is reserved, but now it’s all about thinking forward. — better reflects of what Medium is about and highlights “modern ideas”.

Rethink publishing

When Medium first came onto the scene, many thought that it would be equivalent to the likes of WordPress, Tumblr, Live Journal, and even Blogger, which was created by Williams before it was acquired by Google. It wasn’t a service where anyone could just create an account and then blurt out whatever they’re feeling. No, in fact, it was a matter of curating who could really publish.

Williams spoke about the problem that his team set out to accomplish over the past 16 years, starting back when Blogger was created. “It was a fun side project,” he said. However, “as the web grew, we realized it (open free publishing) wasn’t just only fun, but potentially important.” It wasn’t just about the content, but about the ideas that were being shared: “What else could make the world a smarter, better world than that?”

“Today, putting stuff out on the Internet today is easy. Our devices are constantly connected and we have a variety of apps to put content out there,” Williams explained. “It’s easy to trivialize all this stuff, but the fact that billions of people have the power of the printing press at their finger tips is a huge idea. It’s a huge advance for society.”

Medium has tried to establish a culture whereby people could expect to receive insightful posts about issues instead of what people did that day. Williams has said in the past that there’s “more people publishing” on the site every day, but it’s facing competition from a lot of entities. Will its seamless reading and writing experience across both the web and mobile, along with its interesting take on offering content creators increased exposure really help it standout in the crowd?

Playing with house money

The announcement of these product updates and partnerships comes as the company celebrates raising a $57 million Series B investment round led by Andreessen Horowitz. This came nearly two years since the last raise of $25 million. Certainly the company isn’t struggling for funds. But now it looks like it wants to begin playing with house money to kick things in high gear.

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Launched in 2012, Medium’s original vision was to be a “new place on the Internet where people share ideas and stories.” Prior to today it was reported that more than 20,000 people were composing content on the platform each week. It has become a place used by people to pen “personal news”, while others have used it to write thoughtful pieces, and even defend their ideas on how to make the world a better place.

Even brands like BMW has found Medium interesting — in 2014, the car manufacturer became the publishing platform’s first collections sponsor, rolling out paid content.

To date, Medium has only made one acquisition: long-form journalism site Matter. More than a year later, Matter relaunched as a digital magazine.

It shouldn’t come to a surprise to know that the publishing industry is an unrelenting monster and it takes a lot emerge victorious. Medium finds itself neck-deep in this and has been looking to help push along original content on its site by bringing on board former Wired journalist Steven Levy to create the publication Backchannel. Powered by Medium, Levy’s team has covered a wide range of topics, including about how Steve Jobs “fleeced” Carly Fiorina, Chicago’s use of sensors to improve services, Internet access in Cuba, how Harper Reed became President Obama’s first chief technology officer, and Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s progress.

Other updates include rethinking how people accessed content. Earlier this year, Medium introduced Letters, a new way that delivers blog posts straight to your inbox.

It’s about “moving ideas forward”

“Medium is a network that taps the collective intelligence of the audience,” Williams remarked in the beginning of his presentation. The hope is that these updates will enable people to share ideas without encountering the negative feedback loops creators often encounter in the current publishing space.

“Medium is the default place to share perspectives on a number of issues that matter. As increasingly the place to find the best opinion and commentary for what’s happening in the world.”

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