His site, Talking Point Memo, is a creature of the open web, and these days most of what the tech industry develops is designed to seduce content off the open web and into silos, where it can be locked away from the rest of the web, and monetized in mysterious ways. The seduction, for users, is in the form of shiny objects that animate and scroll in interesting ways. And for authors and idea people it’s exposure and brand-awareness.
Yesterday, after reading this piece I said something similar, that I prefer not to point to pieces that are posted on Medium. That preference has grown almost to a prohibition, that no matter how good or interesting an idea is, if it’s expressed on Medium, I won’t promote it. I know my promotion isn’t worth that much, but I thought it was worth saying, so that people who post stuff there at least know that there is a small cost associated with posting it there.
I think I understand what Medium is doing, and that over time it’s going to take people to the same kind of place Twitter took us. When Twitter came out it was of the web. They had a wonderful API that made all kinds of things possible, if you factored out the unreliability of the system. We were shown something, that once it worked, would serve as a notification system for the web. We loved the idea. The problem is this, that once it got reliable, the openness was foreclosed on. We were evicted, forced to take our dreams somewhere else. Medium is reliable from Day One, after all it’s just a website and this is 2013, so that’s not particularly hard to do. But what happens if the day comes when people insist on having stuff on Medium, and reject content that isn’t there, the way at least some people do, today, with Flipboard? And what if they add features that make it impossible for it to be on the open web. Then we’re screwed, as we were screwed by Twitter. I think Evan Williams is that crafty, as are the Flipboard guys, but I’m pretty sure they’re aiming at the same place, even though they’re starting at different ends of the spectrum. The place Twitter is at today. With a big Do Not Enter sign for developers, that eventually will turn into a similar sign for other role-players.
Will there come a day when Josh Marshall’s content is not welcome in any of these places? Would you have foreseen the day that developers would be excluded from the Twitter platform? The one thing that’s fairly certain, is that they will be able to continue publishing to their website for the indefinite future. That the tech industry and its investors have no control over that.
Now, I don’t know any of this, but I’ve got an intuition about it, and I act on these intuitions. And I was glad to see Josh Marshall, who is not a technologist, stand up for his own interests. There’s a lot we can do with that sentiment. And maybe if more people stick to the open web, and resist the pull of the silos, it will force the silos to be a little nicer to the people who create their success.
Think about that when Twitter does its IPO next month. How much of your creativity did you pour into their success, and how much do you get to participate in the windfall? Not very much? Then maybe you should learn from the experience.