Rethinking What I Know About Medium, As A WordPress Developer


One of the many ways we’ve talked about Gutenberg is comparing its usability to CMS’s like Medium. This comparison assumes that the primary reason that Medium is often a go-to for blogs is the quality of the interface.

With this in mind, it’s logical to assume the reason people sometimes choose Medium over WordPress is the quality of their writing experience. I’m not arguing that Medium’s writing experience isn’t excellent. It is, and I enjoy reading the site lot.

At the same time, people seem to be employing tweetstorms more and more. I know plenty, from personal experience,  about how poor the tweetstorm writing experience is. Typing in content blocks limited to 140 280 characters, with no editing is sub-optimal.

As terrible as the experience of writing a tweet storm is and how great Medium’s flow is, I author Tweetstorms, not Medium posts.

In this article, I want to look at other reasons could be choosing Medium over WordPress and how we as an ecosystem can improve in response.

Convenience Over Control

Inside of WordPress, we talk a lot about the importance of owning your own data. I am a firm believer in the open-source ideology behind that. But I don’t think that ideal is what has driven WordPress’ growth.

It’s long past time to acknowledge that WordPress is not an easy solution. This isn’t a bad thing. WordPress is solving more complex challenges, which take more skill to build and maintain. It powers a larger variety of websites and therefore needs to be ready for more customization.

That’s fine, but the tradeoff of saying “we’re not just for blogs” is that cost of maintaining a self-hosted WordPress site, just in terms of time, isn’t really worth it if all you’re doing is blogging.

For example, I’ve been trying to read as much as I can about blockchain technology recently. It feels weird to me everytime I go to the blog for an open-source, peer to peer platform and find it’s using Medium. WordPress just feels like it would be such a better fit.

But, I also know from experience what it feels like to build a product and a WordPress site for that product. It can be stressful, especially if you’re not a site designer. I’d rather be working on my plugin than the website for my plugin. The appeal of having my site just work is pretty strong.

Why stay on top of security for your blog where Medium or will do that for you, for free?

Of course, there is real value in owning your own data. has always done a great job of making it easy for users to take their data with them if they go self-hosted. This is an excellent model to follow. Because with Medium, you could lose all your content if you choose to switch to a more capable CMS.

Anyone who is developing solutions on top of or in parallel to WordPress to a Medium or Squarespace-like onboarding process should keep this in mind. Innovating for user experience on top of open-source has a major advantage over a closed system like Wix.

User lock-in is a feature of those types of platforms, whereas with a solution built on WordPress transitioning away is easier to do. It’s hard to sell clients on increased short-term cost in exchange for long-term pay off that might not come — IE never growing out of the existing platform. This means that any platform seeking to make WordPress on-boarding or ongoing usage easier can use this to provide benefit over a walled garden solution.

Perception of Network Effects

I’ve been thinking about publishing a post using Medium for a while. To be honest, I think that publishing on Medium will lead to more exposure than writing for my own blog. Though I don’t have any evidence to support this idea, it feels true to me.

Sure, I could test that theory. But that’s not really the point. That perception is the point. This is not just because is a more popular domain than mine, which is an important signal for search rankings.

What is really attractive to me about Medium, as a writer is their recommended content system. Medium is the only site I will consider reading a recommended post that isn’t by the same author.

Anywhere else I see that pattern implemented, it’s a “churn box.” Six posts, almost always the same, that I just can’t seem to convince I don’t want a low APR credit card or a miracle weight loss cure.

The quality of the recommendations on Medium is impressive. Personally, I don’t know how to rank for those, and I’d rather own my own content and focus on SEO and social. Again, this is an argument for increased short-term cost and time, in exchange for the possibility of long-term gain. This just isn’t how most people are wired.

In WordPress, there are plenty of good ways to create a recommended posts service for the same site. For example, Jetpack’s module is very good and offloads the processor-intensive parts of the system to Automattic’s servers.

But, to continue to win with publishers, WordPress — as an ecosystem and platform — needs to convince potential users that we can deliver something that people will engage with. StudioPress/ Copyblogger is a great example of this done well. They have provided the technical tools — a framework that provides what you need to do on page, technical SEO well — along with SEO training.

In my recent article about how WordPress will change when we embrace more blockchain-based technology talked about new models for monetizing content without ads. The ability to move past advertising-driven online media is exciting not just because ads are annoying, but because it could bring faster value directly to the content creator.

Medium recently introduced the clap, a strangely named like button that they say will be used as a signal in distributing compensation to content creators. This is a promising change. In a distributed network of content, such as WordPress, a unified like button could not only be a part of compensating content but also ranking recommended content.

More Than Interface

Yes, Medium’s writing experience is great, and I like the minimalist design of the content. It is a real win for writers and readers in both departments. What they have done already challenges us in the WordPress world to design differently and that’s great.

But, I think if our goal is to stay relevant versus Medium, or Shopify, or Wix etc. we need to think about more than an interface. The lower cost of entry, different responsibility for maintenance and perception of better network effects are also major factors. We can be inspired by what they have done right, in order to do better by taking advantage of the unique properties of WordPress and open-source.

WordPress can absolutely appeal to a blogger and an enterprise company right now as it is, but adding these features would make it even more extensive and push the CMS even closer to powering the remainder of the web.

Josh is a WordPress developer and educator. He is Founder/ Lead Developer/ Space Astronaut Grade 3 for Caldera Labs, makers of awesome WordPress tools including Caldera Forms — a drag and drop, responsive WordPress form builder. He teaches WordPress development at Caldera Learn.

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