Twitter co-founder Evan Williams plans to disrupt publishing as we know it

15 Aug 2012

Twitter co-founder Evan Williams at a TechCrunch conference in 2008. Photo by Brian Solis

Former Twitter CEO Evan Williams’ new venture Medium, in his own words, endeavours to ‘re-imagine publishing.’ The new platform appears to encourage blogging without the burden of becoming a blogger and bring the sensibilities of print to the web.

Williams certainly has the pedigree to embark on a quest to redefine publishing when you consider his contributions so far to the self-publishing phenomena that spawned social media.

Williams, along with Meg Hourihan, in 1999 founded Pyra Labs which brought Blogger to the world. Google acquired Pyra (and Blogger) in 2003.

Williams left Google in 2004 to join Odeo and then the Obvious Corporation in 2006, out of which Twitter emerged.

Medium is Williams’ newest venture to come out of The Obvious Corporation, which has the following mission statement: “The Obvious Corporation is more of a philosophy than a company or product. We focus our long-term view on ideas and technology that can be generally described as ‘world positive.’ When opportunities resonate with our worldview, we do what makes sense to help them succeed.”

Bringing traditional publishing sensibilities to self-publishing

According to Williams’ blog post on Medium, despite the self-publishing phenomena that rages via WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr, Twitter and even Facebook, something is still missing. The missing component is print sensibilities, such as good layout and design that have yet to resonate widely on the web – a gap no doubt former Apple CEO Steve Jobs endeavoured to plug with the iPad and an opportunity being seized upon by Flipboard and Google’s Currents.

“1999 was the year we launched Blogger,” Williams said in his blog.

“Ideas that seemed radical at the time – that anyone, anywhere could and should publish their thoughts to the global internet audience (for free) – are now taken for granted.

“Still, some things haven’t evolved as much as we would have expected. Lots of services have successfully lowered the bar for sharing information, but there’s been less progress toward raising the quality of what’s produced. While it’s great that you can be a one-person media company, it’d be even better if there were more ways you could work with others.

“And in many ways, the web is still mimicking print concepts, while not even catching up to it in terms of layout, design, and clarity of experience.

“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.”

What is Medium?

Well, the structure organises posts in to “collections” (defined by a theme and a template) and the idea is to give people context and structure to post stories, photos and ideas. The highest-rated posts show up at the top and users are encouraged to post only at a rate they are comfortable with.

Will it disrupt publishing as we know it? It may not disrupt the publishing industry – which has its own opportunities and challenges, thanks to the internet and the mobile web – but it would be interesting to see how it levels off against established blogging platforms like Blogger and WordPress, not to mention Tumblr and of course sleek software like Flipboard.

At present, Medium is only available to users with a Twitter account to read and post feedback.

Article posting is currently limited to a small invited list of Medium associates, but Williams promises this will be expanded soon and he encourages potential users to get registering.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years