A blockchain-powered Medium could be a game changer and set a precedent in the news publishing industry, in line with the vision of his founder
I read with great interest the recent post by Ev Williams about how the news publishing business could and will evolve /shift away from the ad based business towards a subscription based approach (with probably both approaches co-existing). The recent storms of fake news and catastrophic trade-offs in user experiences caused by the attention/advertising equation calls for something much better and that can only happy if someone pays consistently for quality.
The only thing that went wrong was the inevitable. Business always optimizes for where the money comes from, and advertisers weren’t in it for the public good. Which means they eventually got the better end of the deal, with the rest of us suffering through an experience that was necessarily compromised.
The music business already saw that transition, the movie/tv business too. It’s a matter of time before this arrives to the news business beyond the state of experimentation we currently live upon. The future will point in favor of convenient paid-for bundles that will align users and publisher interests. What will those bundles be remain to be seen. But news-as-a-subscription will be a thing. It always was, the first 20 years of the internet created a parenthesis which is about to be closed. Be ready for your $5/$15 a month for all you can eat ad-free news service
Medium is in an interesting position. They have managed to pull-off a fantastic community of contributors via an elegant platform. They have managed to build a thriving community of writers and readers and start to create micro-bundles of news and paid-for services to improve the reading experience, rewarding that way contributors. But their model could be substantially better if they were building their approach on Blockchain technologies: improve ownership of content, facilitate frictionless payment, enable readers as contributors, more transparent feedback system.
Ev Williams nearly hints at the solution, but dismissing it too fast.
If everyone had a digital wallet in their browser and was willing to do micro-payments as they cruise around the web, that might be a solution. But that’s very unlikely
He’s right in a way. Current solutions won’t make it possible: they are too complicated, costly and different from country to country. But that is totally possible with blockchains technologies. I don’t know at this point if they should have a MediumCoin of use whatever token of coin existing out there. But that’s not the point. They could leverage existing, already adopted crypto-coins (by design supra national) wallet technologies and opt-in for a decentralized infrastructure to make that possible *today*.
Here is what a blockchain-powered Medium could enable.
Ownership of Content
Right now your Medium content is on Medium servers. The notion of ownership is critical to contributors, there is a tacit contract that the content you write for medium is not yours. That is not right. There is should a guarantee that no matter what (even in case of disappearance of Medium as a company), the content should always be there for you and readers. A blockchain based approach could improve that by guaranteeing a content is owned by its contributor and guaranteeing the identity of his contributor (using for example Civic or uPort or TheKey identity providers instead of or in addition to Twitter/Facebook connect). But the content would also be available forever because it would be “hosted” on the blockchain (maybe using Filecoin or another IPFS based system) and would be be depending on Medium servers. Medium role would be to enable the access, curation and edition of this content.
It goes without saying but Medium would reward the original content with its own token and would reinforce the sense of ownership providing at the same time a ledger certificate the content is yours.
At this stage you have to pull out your credit card to pay your Medium pro subscription. But imagine Medium would host a crypto wallet in your account and would enable you to forward your crypto to this wallet and pay in crypto whatever you need to.
Also you could not only pay for your recurring subscription that way, but you could also reward contributors with extra payment if you feel like it. Medium has a “Clap” system to applaud for quality, which could be associated to micro transaction and the “like” is associated with a real reward. Tipping has been tried before but never successfully, because tied to antiquated payment systems…This could be game changing. A clap = a payment
Contributors would be rewarded in crypto in their Medium Wallet wherever they are in the world and could even know trace the origins at the user level. Contributors today do not know who pays for what, and that is a major big deal (think followers but x 1000 more important)
Medium could also more easily reward curators/aggregators (think channels like Hackernoon who depend only on Ads for now) by having more visibility and transparency on how the traffic to content is allocated and consumed.
Readers as contributors
I have seen myself spending significant time fixing typos of Medium writers or even correcting their errors. Imagine a system that would reward the readers in crypto credit (MediumCoin)? For making Medium content better. This should be rewarded: it’s not. I am sure many Medium readers leave “private notes” for this things. They do that naturally but there are not incentives to make this efficient and consistent. This cannot be done with transitional fiat payment systems. it’s just too heavy and costly.
Let’s go further: imagine a retribution system where readers would be paid to translate the content in their own native language. Medium is mostly available in English. There is no better person on earth that someone speaking a native language and liking a content to translate something. I know about this. I have done it for Techcrunch in the early days.
Users as product contributors
Users of Medium know the platform inside-out, maybe better than their creators. They have unique insights (Medium please fix for your comments system) . But I am certain they keep it for themselves and could with the right incentives make it better by sharing those insights. If medium had the right incentive in place powered by crypto and they could create a virtuous cycle to make Medium a better place. For example their feedback channel could reward users at 1 level for any idea submitted and another for any idea accepted and the transparency enabled by the blockchain would make that reliable and fair.
Why medium can pull this off
The reason Medium more than any other publishing company can do it (maybe Reddit can too), is that the quantity of quality crypto content on this platform is stunning. If you have any doubt about it, check this. This is probably, and by far, one of the best sources of information and learning on this industry thanks to its contributors. They would be the first to adopt and welcome such a shift. This would set an example for the industry and set a precedent. Who knows, maybe by doing that Medium could even become an umbrella aggregator/bundler for other publishers under their new system and bring publishing to a new era. News bundles are the future without any doubt and the industry needs the right infrastructure and incentive mechanisms to make it possible. Blockchain technologies would certainly help
Steemit (which is weirdly looking like Medium, which i am sure in on their radar by now) already does that but does not have a footprint, size and community of Medium. Refind (who also has a very Medium-like design and approach applied to bookmarks and discovery) is another community driven community that is implementing a token system to reward its contributors (without any ICO for now). And to be clear Medium does not have to do an ICO to get this going. They could simply accept existing crypto assets or airdrop their new coin to the community to bootstrap the network effect, the way Refind did it.
Timing and further thoughts
So when could Medium start to work on this and how could it deploy it? I believe they could start today. They could start with a simple news category (hint: crypto) and invite users to use Airdropped their tokens to contribute to content. Each writer/commenter would receive some tokens as they contribute with a simple rule: 1 comment = 1 token, 1 article = 10 tokens. Their wallet would increase as they use the service. Medium would then enable those same users to “pay” for accessing paywall-ed content in that category. The inner economics of that vertical would be an indication of whether this could be extended to more categories and features (eg translating). The cost of testing this approach is minor and its impact could be major.
Unlike Telegram where the usage of the upcoming token is still unclear and not boostraped at the network level, it could be in that case growing organically with its community
Readers what do you think? Ev Williams are you listening?