Medium articles written about Medium are automatically disqualified from distribution, according to the Official Standards…but it seems like things keep changing and that some meta posts have been distributed, anyway. If this post gets distributed and a lot of people read it, then I will have the last laugh. If this post does not get distributed, then no one will laugh at me because 0 people will read it. It’s a win-win!
Regardless of whether or not they meet distribution standards, there is lots of good Medium content on how to make a successful post, how to pass the 100 follower count, and how to get curated. This article by Jennifer Geer, I would say, is the best meta post I have found because it is well-written and provides factually accurate new information. The rules of the Medium process and the Medium algorithm keep changing. There is tons of good content, but then I am not sure if it remains accurate content.
Before ending the introduction, let me just name a few reasons why I think one of my blog posts just so happened to get popular:
- The BetterProgramming editor, who not only legitimized it but also apparently pushed it on HackerNews and possibly on Reddit
- Controversy. To say that “software engineering is in demand” AND that “it is hard to get a software engineering job” are two controversial statements (er…one controversial statement. But some people would still debate what “in demand” really means, and to what extent it applies). The way Smack put it is that it divided people into two camps — the camp of people who agreed it was hard to get a job, and the camp of people who wanted to call the first camp idiots for not getting jobs. They debated
- This blog’s consistency and the article’s subtitle. I had been consistently posting weekly on this blog under the same “theme” (by which I mean software development/software engineering) and it was the first time I realized you could include subtitles
I have heard/read that there is no real “luck” in writing viral Medium content, so long as you follow some tips and rules, but my post WAS lucky because it got popular for reasons I did not understand at the time and have not successfully replicated since.
Additional Notes on the Article Itself
(If you are just here to read about Medium blogging, feel free to skip this section).
Was this blog post’s popularity surprising? Of course it was. If I remember correctly, the blog had maybe a dozen clicks and two reads per article, zero followers, and was so closely tied to a parody website I made called CORGICorpoaration that my first thought was fear that people would call me a fake. After reading the article again, I was no longer worried…I thought it was pretty obvious this was a parody company. To be clear, everything else I write on this blog is true. It is more of a pen name now, though admittedly the original purpose was to write parody content for a made-up startup.
I guess maybe you could say it was supposed to be a little bit like Shlinkedin, but that would be giving it way too much credit. Shlinkedin is a masterpiece.
My absolute favorite thing to come out of this was a podcast episode by Tech Team Weekly. They are a British channel, and relatively small because they are very new, but they are also three people with their own reputations in software engineering and technology. I think they provided the most interesting points and counterpoints.
I really like their story, though. They put up a job description. They gave candidates coding challenges, presumably so they could avoid the “stupid” white-boarding process. Then some mysterious candidate attempted to hire another developer to do the work for him! They were forced to “win the bid” and take on the task, just so they could figure out who the cheater was.
This is all to suggest that hiring is difficult from the other side of the table, too. I noticed that HR and manager comments on my Medium article tended to be buried at the bottom, and I think this is no coincidence; interviewing candidates are tired. They are tired of getting rejected in final interviews and feeling like they wasted time. They are tired of specific requirements, recruiters who “ghost them” for no apparent reason — sometimes when a manager even hints at being ready to make them an offer — and studying things that are not commonly used in their day-to-day work. They are tired for a variety of reasons, and emotions run deep, but this is also the kind of thing people in many professional fields face.
My article tried its best from not stating an opinion on the interview process, even though the main thesis (that the job search is difficult) was a strong opinion in and of itself. Maybe it was out of anger, or frustration, or a desire to make some creative expression…or maybe it was just something I wanted to link to people outside of tech when they argued about how easy it should be for computer science majors to find jobs. In any case, I did not expect the popularity.
But then the discussions that followed actually did something amazing: They actually proposed some interesting solutions.
- The top comment on Medium discussed the importance of featuring personal projects
- Someone on HackerNews said it would be fairly easy to vet candidates if our code was not proprietary, and we could review previous company code. Some people really disagree, but I still found it interesting
- Take-home challenges, though this is difficult for the reason stated in the video
- 30-minute chat, 1–3 month work trial period. This makes a lot more sense, but also has some obvious dangers
- Acceptance. Some people said to just accept the process as it stands now. In a perfect world, as the podcast argues, no one would lie on their resumes and people would be just as impressive as they were on paper. We do not have a better system
I do not remember if other many other people mentioned this, and it is just from me…but why not provide coding challenges that are actually similar to what people do in the field? Frontend developer? Take some endpoints and create a UI. Backend developer? Work on a simple API. Can you use things like Google or StackOverflow in the process? Well sure, but there is a strict time limit and they watch you do it.
I did want to throw out there that my current company does not do white boarding. I think my specific field is a little different. Instead, they ask the typical technical interviewing trivia about things like computer science fundamentals, data structures, and specific language syntax.
Most of the discussion about the article moved away from the article content itself. This was almost better. The article prompted discussion among people in the field, and for a brief time (and in certain threads) it seemed to be very productive.
Medium Blog Concept #1: Curation
(Did you just skip to this section? Okay, welcome back).
This article is on curation, but I am a little concerned that it may be outdated. Before, and according to the article, the concept was a bit like this: Employed people called curators would take a look at your content, and if they liked it they would push it along and it would get a lot more popular. This is what I had thought happened in my own blog post. I saw “chosen for further distribution,” meaning someone at the Medium office liked it enough to give it attention. Great.
“Chosen for further distribution” means curated, but I am not sure if curators are still human and I have had very mixed success with “chosen for further distribution.” To really bring the point home, two articles on my main account finally cracked “chosen for further distribution” after this blog has done it a few times…and they both have almost (or actually) 0 reads. Apparently they were promoted internally, no one clicked them, and that was that. One of them literally has 0 reads, so who curated it?
The post that was popular, though, was curated. It is quite possible that content cannot get very far without curation, but that curation is not necessarily the key to success. I have a couple of posts on my main blog that got a few thousand hits, almost 100% of which was external traffic.
Medium Blog Concept #2: Publications
If only for the bragging rights, I am slightly disappointed that I have been on two publications as Curt Corginia but zero on my main blog. All my main blog ever did was attempt to get on Slackjaw twice. Alex Baia rejected my first entry, then never responded to my second attempt, “Why Alex Baia is the greatest human being in existence.”
I think this is probably as good a time as any to admit that my most popular blog post did not follow some rules you typically have to follow to get popular, and I do not recommend this. I have no idea if I will ever replicate this level of popularity with the same “strategy.”
- It is a very good idea to submit your articles to publications, which legitimizes them and gives them more attention. You can think of this as a credential over what would otherwise just be an anonymous blog post. I did not do this on my article; it got internal traffic on its own and the BetterProgramming editor reached out to me later
- It is a very good idea to promote your articles on other social media, for example on Twitter and Reddit. Though I posted my article on Facebook (and apparently no one read it), the publicity came from other people. Other people posted it on Reddit. The editor is the one who got it trending on HackerNews, possibly because people on HackerNews already respect him
- It is a very good idea to engage with other writers on Medium, comment a lot, and build relationships you can leverage. I did not do any of these things and only started to engage with other people on Medium after this post got popular (with the exception of the Slackjaw editor I tried to submit to)
My Experience with Publications has been 100% Positive
When I received a private note from an editor at BetterProgramming, I was worried and needed 24 hours to ask about it. I asked friends and family, who really had no idea. They did not use Medium and were probably not even sure why every article has the same seven unsplash photos, or what it is I gain from writing these, or what exactly the point is of allowing everyone to clap between 1 and 50 times for a comment or post.
I thought maybe I would be required to put the article behind a paywall, or he wanted me to delete it (Slackjaw familiarized me with the process of submitting a draft; would already published content require deletion?). Neither was the case — in fact, he highly discouraged me from submitting a draft because this would have been duplicate content and might have taken down the account then and there. Instead, I simply had “BetterProgramming” added to it. I did not have to put it behind a paywall, though he said he encouraged it, I got a more legitimate-looking hyperlink, and though things were pretty quiet for a day or so after, he did the work of making a dying post explode again via HackerNews.
I noticed seven or so people went on to share the BetterProgramming link on Reddit. Two were more or less ignored, two were actually downvoted more than they were upvoted, but then two were upvoted something like 90% of the time with thousands of likes. Was this also his doing? I have no idea, but it would make sense to distribute your publication’s content via Reddit shares.
Once again, on a different post, I ignored my own advice and did not attempt to solicit a publication. Another editor found my piece and I said “yes” in an instant, even though I had been familiar with BetterProgramming and had no idea what Age of Awareness was. I have a personal theory that this blog’s content getting curated was based on the “heat” created from the popular post, and that the heat has since died down, but this is complete speculation.
I learned more about Muskett and listened to his podcast. I was very impressed and do not regret my decision. That being said, hearing from him was probably the best thing to come from this second experience with an editor. I am grateful for the followers I gained through Age of Awareness, but it really was quite small.
Syndication (or Declined Syndication, I should say)
I do not really want to mention the editor here, or the company that asked to syndicate my post. As far as I am concerned, the only relationship I have with them is a time they offered to give my most popular post yet another resurgence (it was declining again) for more or less doing nothing.
But this company made me uncomfortable at best. They were sort of like a job search tool, only they had lots of negative publicity and allegations they were a scam company. To be clear, or for the record, the editor himself looked very impressive to me. He even dangled the possibility of becoming a paid writer for them.
Though it is my dream to quit my job as a software engineer so that I can blog full-time about software engineering, I declined.
There is quite a bit of meta content out there on how to gain 100 Medium followers, including pages where people simply put up their names and other people follow them. I have more than 100 followers now, but virtually all of them came because of the one popular article.
This is anecdotal, but I went on a random camping trip with another person who said she was interested in blogging. She said maybe it would be a travel blog, and we both joked with a few people “a generation up” in our Meetup group about how quickly we would sell out if we had sponsors.
This was just a joke (ish). I think the equivalent of selling out on Medium is producing clickbait and intentionally soliciting controversy. Did I already do that, though? Of course not. The distribution guidelines forbid clickbait, therefore every popular post you ever see on Medium.com with a clickbait title is actually not clickbait. Checkmate, clickbait-caller-outers.
Theming is important. Like she said, if people actually like your content and see lots of unrelated blog posts, they are less inclined to follow you. My main account has everything from my thoughts on The Queen’s Gambit (it was AWESOME) to something about my Security+ certification to something about repurposing an old Java program I wrote with Vue.js. It has 19 followers and some of them are real-life friends.
I blog because John Sonmez said it was a good idea. He mentioned the importance of consistency, as well as a lot of stuff about brand-building. I imagine building a brand on your alternate account was not part of his grand vision.
Let us keep this as short as possible. One Medium account took my popular article almost word-for-word, but rephrased things badly. He removed all citations, put the whole thing in italics for some reason, and then misinterpreted what a lot of the sentences meant (he changed “software is broad,” for example, to “broad is a word that can be used to describe a piece of software”). I have already vented about this on my main blog.
This was just some account with one article (mine) and not much attention, though. What was way more interesting, and probably not plagiarism, was a really popular YouTube channel with more than 100,000 subscribers. The owner of this channel named her video the exact same thing…fine…then had a portion of her video that covered the exact same four bulleted points in the middle of my article. She even used some of the same phrasing, and she made no mention of the article.
So I wrote her some emails. I wrote some comments on the channel. That night she changed her description and provided a link to my article. Was I satisfied? Not really. If hearing me mentioned on a small British podcast with maybe 100 views on its YouTube version made my week, imagine how happy it would have made me for a YouTube channel of this scale to have taken the five seconds to say, “I was reading this article on BetterProgramming…”
Also, she did not really cite it. She added “lots of AWESOME content has already been written on this” to her description. Also, she apparently deleted my comment asking to be cited. But she did exactly what I asked, so what more is there to say? It was not word-for-word, and possibly not even plagiarism, but if she read it and was inspired by it than why not at least mention that?
She did not respond to my messages but did as I asked. I imagine she is annoyed I never said “thank you,” just as I remain annoyed she never said “sorry.”
I enjoy writing, and I have blogged quite a bit on Tumblr and my own website before someone named Wei introduced me to Medium. Medium, in my opinion, has the best interface and is the most likely to give your work attention via a Google search.
On Tumblr, I used to set a timer for ten minutes every time I wrote a post…posting there is rapid. I have written about politics. I have written about the satisfaction I got out of making a smoothie in a Nutribullet, then drinking it out of the same cup I used to make it. In essence, I write about everything under the sun.
Medium is not that. Either because of theming or just because the format of Medium seems to require a certain kind of content, these posts probably take me an average of five hours each to write.
If I was going to write somewhere, I figured it might as well be here. This could take my attention. If all it becomes is a place for pouring out some thoughts and summarizing a few interview experiences, fine. The writing will take place, regardless.
In the world of coding, or software, or whatever it is you want to call it, there are a lot of unknowns. Will this company accept me? What will they ask? What will the team lead have in store for me on Monday? Will they use my feature? Will they not use my feature? In all that uncertainty, writing on platforms like this just feels like such a sure thing. Maybe that company will never reach us again, but we can work through a coding problem and blog about it right now. Maybe this feature will be used and maybe we will get to work on that new technology everyone is talking about, but we can research it and write about it right now.
But if all I did was write, then there would be nothing to write about.