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Is “Medium” Disruptive, or Just Inspired Incremental Innovation?

There has been a lot of buzz around the just-launched publishing platform Medium, from Evan Williams and Biz Stone of Obvious Corporation (which also funded Twitter and other successful startups, including some that aren’t Internet companies).  Medium is a new blogging and publishing platform, for uploading and making collections of text and images.  …At least I think it is?  Evan’s post explains a little more about what Medium is, and what it has the potential to be, but the information is still pretty ambiguous, although inspiringly ambitious.  Plus, the full features of Medium are only gradually being rolled out to users; for now anyone with a Twitter account can read posts and provide feedback.  To me, the design is elegant, minimalist, and unlike anything I’ve ever seen, but GigaOm said “it looks a lot like a mashup of Pinterest and Tumblr” and Gizmodo called it a “Frankensteinish PinTumblReddit.”  (I’ve never used Pinterest, but apparently I’m missing out, if only for the sake of comparing web startups.)  Still, both Evan’s post announcing “Welcome to Medium,” and Biz’s post “Building Medium,” demonstrate a refreshing amount of foresight, combined with hindsight from having launched Blogger in 1999 and Twitter in 2006, plus a healthy dash of contagious optimistic confidence.  They have a lot of details down, including even, believe it or not, a memorable Terms of Service, which is admirably readable, carefully thought-out, explicitly encourages user feedback, doesn’t purport to own users’ intellectual property, and even contains an Interlude.

The two co-founders both wrote posts that acknowledged the innovation of their new service, and the voids it can fill.  It’s unclear yet whether this service will be construed as disruptive, or if it is more of an incremental innovation, building on the development of online communication from their prior sites (like Blogger and Twitter), and other existing platforms and services.


When you consider we’ve been publishing on paper for over 500 years and on the Internet for only a couple decades, it’s no surprise we haven’t figured it all out. It’s still early days. . . . It’s easy to forget this given how much pointless and destructive media is in the world. But there’s also more great stuff than ever before—and we haven’t even scratched the surface of what our smart devices and our networks that connect most of the planet might enable.


There is so much room for improvement and innovation in the publishing space right now because it’s operating on outdated legacy concepts. Everything from the way we consume content to how that content is created needs re-imagining.

As they both make clear, the Internet is still so new, and social norms are capable of major or minor disruption, just as business models are.  This new communication platform could be the future of publishing and blogging, but even if it isn’t, it’s getting a lot of people to care and participate in this new service, and hopefully making competitors rethink a lot of their outdated assumptions.  So, is Medium disruptive?  I think it’s too soon to tell.  I know I’m pretty excited about it.


Some, if not all of society’s most useful innovations are the byproduct of competition. In fact, although it may sound counterintuitive, innovation often flourishes when an incumbent is threatened by a new entrant because the threat of losing users to the competition drives product improvement. The Internet and the products and companies it has enabled are no exception; companies need to constantly stay on their toes, as the next startup is ready to knock them down with a better product.