Giving Medium a shot at living up to user expectations

Why Medium makes it to my daily reading list

Nick DeNardis Medium profile
My Medium profile

Last year I purged as many incoming requests for my attention as possible. Medium has become something I’ve adopted, enjoy and think it’s worth giving it a shot to stick around.

Video games or watching too many movies wasn’t the problem, to be honest I’ve never done much of either. It was the little things that stole my attention without even realizing it. The small things that I did habitually on a daily, hours or immediate basis that forced me to become deliberate about my time.

Things I’ve purged checking daily

  • Instagram, Twitter, Facebook timelines
  • HTML email newsletters
  • Push notification for basically anything on my phone

Things that have stood the test of time

  • Email marked as Primary
  • Nuzzle email digest
  • Quora email digest
  • Medium digest
  • Podcasts while driving/running

Medium is for stories, how to’s and personality

Personal stories, interviews and experiences define how opinions are shaped and Medium sets the perfect environment for these stories.

I’ve tried Pocket, Instapaper, and various other tools to strip away the cruft from sites to create the ideal reading environment. Medium accomplishes this without requiring me to leave the site.

Content curation on the Medium homepage and email have been spot on and they promise to make it better. For me it’s the combination of recommendations by friends, popular items from topics I follow and a few off the wall stories that I wouldn’t have searched out myself. This mix has made it feel far less like typical sites that focus on a descending list of popular articles, but more like a personalized newsletter.

Writing/cross promoting content on Medium

Many OG blogger, including myself, believe my content isn’t safe long term on Medium. They are profiting from me and if they shut down tomorrow all my content and following go *poof* without a way to redirect.

I still maintain my own domain, blog, and email list for content ownership but like others, attention and discovery are slim. The few articles I have posted to Medium include the standard “Originally posted at…” final line to let people know I am more than Medium articles.

This fear is something that Medium should embrace, it means people are putting hard work into the content they produce here. They don’t consider it throw away content and are conscious about their investment.

Hope for the future

I have hope that Medium will do the right thing and embrace content creators and consumers genuinely to squash these fears. I’m giving Medium a chance to succeed and you should too. It will be pretty clear in a few months with how many people vote with their feet (dollars).

The #NewNewTwitter in screenshots, my thoughts

Interested in the #NewNewTwitter? I was totally bummed by their “rolling out the redesigned Twitter over the next few weeks” and realization that it could be weeks before I could play with the desktop version. I have been following their changes for some time. By chance I tried their trick of updating my mobile app and what do you know, within a few hours I got the #NewNewTwitter on my desktop.

Playing around with it a bit I found some things I really like and others that I’m not a fan of. I break them down below.

Timeline

Actually pretty clean and I love the inline conversation view. Not a fan of having to click three times to get photos to appear large though. It took me a minute to figure out that there is “Compose a new Tweet…” input on the left side right under my user information, I actually find this quicker.

@Connect

They did a great job taking the information overload of the “Activity” tab and bringing some sanity to it. I found that the “Activity” is now located in the #Discover area, not gone, just placed with the “not exactly related to me” stuff.

Conversations

Clicking on a tweet brings up the conversation inline. I like this because the three column sidebar before just wasn’t enough room, especially if you didn’t have a high resolution monitor. I wish it brought up the entire conversation though, not just the replied to and replied tweets.

Lists

Again the interface took another hit against lists. This time they tucked them away under the User icon -> Lists. At least this time you can get to them all on one page instead of only seeing half and having to click another link to get to the full list in the #NewTwitter interface.

List Timeline

I really like the list timeline because it acts like the regular timeline. But my biggest complaint is the lack of context around what you’re looking at. I feel like this page needs a header or breadcrumbs or something to identify the list. Maybe it’s just me but the top left of the page feels too much like a user profile.

Direct Messages

If you use DM’s at all you already know they took a huge UI hit in the mobile interface and now it is confirmed they are equally as hidden in the web interface. Hidden behind two clicks, Profile -> Direct Messages. As you can see from the shot below they don’t even get a full timeline view. It’s a shame.

DM Conversations

Clicking in to a DM conversation the window doesn’t expand and space is pretty limited. For me this just isn’t enough room, I would prefer if more of the conversation was in view or at least you could resize the window. The style of the conversation is very nice, just wish it wasn’t squeezed in a tiny window.

The Little Things

When focusing on the search box all your saves searches come up below. This is a nice change from the drop down menu in the older interface. It puts the search in the same context as the user’s action.

As you move through your timeline and click to view and open photos/videos/conversations the tweets start to space out. As soon as you open a tweet they offer a nice little “Close all open Tweets” button at the top of the page. Nice little big detail.

Final Thoughts

Don’t get me wrong, I really do like the direction Twitter is going with the increased emphasis on conversations but I just can’t get past their continued hate toward Lists and now Direct Messages. By trying to pull in new users to explore they are excluding the seasoned users, but I guess that is what the Tweetdeck redesign is for.

Do you have the #NewNewTwitter yet? If so, what do you think?

Opinion: Alternative to “mailto” to avoid spam bots

Question:

Is there a reason to use or not use mailto over forms for contact with people? I thought hiding the email from bots was ideal.

Opinion:

Personally I have never seen or implemented an alternative to “mailto” that hasn’t impacted the visitor’s experience. I have seen some slick forms that people have made instead of mailto’s but then they come with their own set of challenges because bots continue to take advantage of them.

It is pretty hard to mask an email completely from bots without impacting the user experience negatively. From my point of view I have always leaned to making sure the user experience the best and dealing with the spam through good spam filters or some other means like passing forms through Akismet before actually sending email.

On the flip side if the user doesn’t have their default email client set clicking on a mailto link can be problematic. Since a lot of users use a web based email client it is likely. I would say it depends on your audience and how they use your site. There is no standard rule but if most of your users wouldn’t have their client set then a form is probably your best option.

I haven’t found anything that is fool proof and the spam filters on email clients have been getting better and better. I think masking an address is just a bandaid on a larger problem that you as one person can’t fix. It just takes one “unmasked” reference to a certain email address and all your hard work to keep that address secret has been wasted. I say let the spam bots find natural addresses and think they are getting through and reduce the annoyance with something they can’t immediately see, your email spam filters.

Your Turn:

Have you seen or implemented an alternative to “mailto” that you have actually been happy with?

Opinion: Should images be used in header H1 tags?

Question:

Recently, I saw you call out the negatives of using images instead of textual H1s. I’m completely on your side, but saw Matt Cutts recently speak about the design benefits of using a graphic head, and simply alt-tagging the H1 image with your text. There are some obvious aesthetic benefit possibilities with that approach, and I wanted to know if you thought that was an “acceptable” solution.

Answer:

Thanks for asking this question, I was actually just thinking about this the other day. Here is my stance, when ever possible using real type in the header is the best solution, if that is not possible using a print friendly (logo with white background) IMG inside of an H1 will suffice as long as the appropriate ALT text is defined. After talking to and watching a few people use screen readers the ALT text does work as if it was just text on the page.

Nothing beats real text for accessibility, filesize and search engine optimization but I realize that is not always possible. Depending on the logo you may be able to use some web fonts to replicate it natively but that is probably limited for most people. The likely solution would be using an image that would print well inside of an H1 using a real IMG tag with the appropriate ALT text defined. What I mean by a printable image is one with a white background and black type. This will ensure when someone prints the page it doesn’t look funky with a block solid color background and inverted logo as if it were displayed on the web.

To transform the printer friendly IMG I suggest using CSS to hide it and replace it for on screen viewing with part of a sprite. This will allow you to use the existing style of the site for various platforms, if you are using media queries. Since printing from the browser doesn’t typically have the “print background colors” option turned on this is the best approach to make your site look good on paper, screen and load quickly since you are using sprites.

I explain an example implementation in a blog post I wrote early last year:
http://wcs.wayne.edu/blog/2010/03/26/tweaks-to-the-global-header-and-footer/

 

Opinion: Should online academic bulletins be separate websites?

Question:

I recently started at a higher ed instution to manage their websites (in desperate need of an overhaul). I’m new to the higher education space and am still feeling my way around. One of the issues that have recently come up is Academic Bulletins. They want to get a system/software to post the bulletins online. From what I can tell about bulletins I’m having a hard time understanding the purpose of the bulletin. It would seem to me all the content in the bulletin should be found on the website (history, mission, academic calendar, degrees, course description, etc.). I’m told someone might want to print the bulletin out to read, but a) every web page should be printable b) I have a hard time believing a college aged individual would be interested in printing a 100 page document to read about the history of a college and all the undergraduate degrees they offer. But my saying it isn’t enough. I remember you speaking about duplicate content and unwieldy magazine formats and was wondering if you have any advice, understanding or research you can offer. Or a direction to point me in for further research.

Answer:

Thanks for the question, it is a complicated one. From the end users perspective there are two ways to look at the bulletin. The first is a self standing document that is a legal contract of the requirements and courses from when the student entered the school. The second is a wealth of information that needs to be references at various points within the student’s career at the school.

Traditionally the bulletin has been thought of as an independent document that is compiled by a single office, typically the office of the registrar and then sent off to print and then distributed throughout campus. More recently as institutions are trying to save costs the print run have been smaller and students are demanding more information online the solution has been to just dump the document online. The problem is they are still being thought of as an individual “site”. This may still need to be the case for legal reasons, I’m not sure I buy the “someone will print it out to read it” argument. The content of the document is all static and it doesn’t change from day to day so any content management system can create and maintain the pages but in my opinion the content of the document goes far beyond that.

You are correct, the content of the bulletin is redundant, about, history, contact information, course descriptions, etc. The key is to start thinking of it as either a central source of information or just a collection of external information. My preference is the first mainly because it keeps the control of the content with a central source and if executed correctly it can reduce the workload of numerous staff on campus.

I advocate for the bulletin to be online as an independent website to keep the legal requirements fulfilled. I also advocate for the content to be entered into a system that allows bits and pieces of it to be pulled to other areas of the website seamlessly. I am not familiar with every content management system out there and it might take a little bit of customization but ideally if the central source can publish the information about the degree, courses, requirements, contact information of every program on campus that information can also be pulled directly to that school/college/department website and be updated from that central source each semester, year, etc. This would allow for consistent information managed by a central source and continuously updated in multiple locations at once. The end user would not have to jump between sites and re-orient themselves with navigation. It also makes the departments look like they are on top of their game by always having current information. This alleviates them from having to manage academic information and allows them to re-focus their time on department specific information/resources.

I am not familiar with all the CMS’s out there that manage bulletins so this is where I open it up to my readers to help. How do you manage your academic bulletin?