Is Medium a Serpent Eating Its Own Tail?
You needn’t hang around Medium for long to be struck by the number of stories on Medium about Medium: how it works, how to make money here, analyses of top stories, second-guessing how the algorithms work, and so on. The platform hosts a vast self-referential sub-genre about writing on the platform.
You’d expect Medium itself to have a few introductory articles and guidelines, and it does. But there are seemingly thousands of unofficial “how to write on Medium” stories — many of them successful — and their number increases daily. It seems there’s an unquenchable thirst among Medium readers for stories about Medium.
I have no issue with that.
One of the delights of the platform is that — within certain ethical and legal limits — writers here can write whatever they wish for whatever reasons they choose. And readers, likewise, are under no obligation to read — even while they have a rich and diverse range of stories to browse through.
Medium stories about Medium
When it comes to Medium stories about Medium, my question is, why? Why so many? Why this insatiable appetite for more?
Stories on Medium about Medium fall into several different sub-categories.
Success and failure stories
People are genuinely and happily surprised with their success story — or demoralized about how it didn’t work out for them — and want to share their thoughts and feelings about it. Perfectly natural; and if you’re a competent storyteller, you’ll find people love reading about other people’s successes and failures.
Stories of success and failure in any field of endeavor are always popular. They serve to inspire readers, give them a yardstick against which to measure their own experience, offer cautionary tales, and help them to avoid other’s mistakes. Few people start writing on Medium “just for the heck of it.” They have an objective— to make money, to build an audience, to connect with other writers. Success and failure stories encourage and inspire other writers to achieve their goals.
Scammy “get rich quick” click-bait stories
“How I made [insert huge sum of money] in just [insert short period of time] without doing [insert difficult thing]” stories appeal to people’s laziness, greed, and credulity and have been the bread and butter of scammy blogs since the dawn of the pixel. They’re bound to show up here, too.
But Medium won’t curate stories like this and few publications accept them, either. Often, as you’d expect, these stories end with a gimmicky call-to-action, encouraging the reader to buy the author’s “course,” “training,” or sign up to a newsletter so they can be bombarded with emails trying to up-sell affiliate products. It’s all so 1990s, it’s hard to believe it’s still happening in the 21st century!
But a fool and his money are easily parted, as the saying goes. And, as the 19th century showman, P. T. Barnum is reputed to have said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”
Hardworking writers sharing their knowledge and experience with newbies
Writers who have spent a long time learning how to optimize their use of the platform realize they can capitalize on that knowledge and experience while helping others, simply by writing about it. And why not? That’s a win-win.
These articles are rich repositories of real knowledge and useful tips based on hard work, experience, and thoughtful reflection. For many new writers, these generous authors share invaluable insights and ideas to help them get started or make the learning curve a little less steep.
And if the writers of such stories make a few cents, or even a few bucks, on the back of them, it’s because they’ve written something useful that others are keen to read. So, if they’re rewarded for that, it’s only what they deserve and no one should resent it.
Given the number of hackers, techies, and data crunchers on Medium, it’s little surprise that some will turn their talents to Medium itself. Whether the results are much practical use to Medium writers is another question. But there’s something infinitely fascinating about all those tantalizing graphs and charts!
A story as old as storytelling itself
Copy-catting is as old as storytelling.
Most of the Book of Genesis is plagiarized from earlier Assyro-Babylonian mythology. Tolkien wrote the Lord of the Rings and spawned a new genre in “high fantasy.” George Lucas credited Joseph Campbell with the Star Wars “hero’s journey” structure. And Dan Brown look-a-like thrillers are the staple of Amazon’s Kindle publishing empire.
So, if one person has success with a Medium story about Medium, you can guarantee many duplicates will soon follow.
Don’t expect the flow to slow down any time soon. It would be a strong-willed writer who could resist writing one.
In fact, I might just have done it, too.
A Note About Ouroboros
The image at the top of this story is Ouroboros— the Ancient Greek symbol of the serpent, or dragon, eating its own tail. It represents the endlessly self-repeating cycle of existence. Now you know!