How Medium Makes It Easier To Write

The UX Fundamentals That Make Writing More Approachable

Writing on my phone is one of the most productive things I do. I can write on my way to the gym, while I wait in line for coffee, or when I’m bored at a restaurant ignoring my friends. All I have to do is pick up my phone and write.

Writing on my laptop is an entirely different experience. It’s more disciplined, less distracted. I sit in my room like a lowly derelict, accumulating both waste and prose. After a few minutes I’m hacking away like some sort of expert. Let’s just say it’s productive in another way.

For me (and I suspect a few of you), both of these worlds are necessary for a good piece of writing. We need the ability to add to a piece whenever we want, but we also need the ability to sit down with it—alone—and pick away at its details. This is where Medium comes in.

Medium allows us to easily travel between these two worlds. The result is that writing becomes more natural. If you’re trying to polish off a piece for class, then, or maybe for work, or—even better—just for fun, Medium can help. To understand how, though, we need to look at what life was like before Medium.

Life Before Medium

A few years before I hopped aboard the Medium train, I was trapped in a universe with nothing but Apple’s Note and Microsoft Word. I would use Note on my phone and Word at my desk. The problem came when I wanted to ship something from one of these worlds to the other.

The first problem was that I actually had to send something. This was annoying. But second was that neither app was coded to play well with others. When I sent something from one device to another, then, different annoying things would happen.

When I transferred something from Note to Word, for instance, my apostrophes would get transmogrified into these weird hieroglyphic-like characters, and any numbers I used in the form of a list (mostly for sources) would get converted into zeros. It’s like two solar systems of code collided and my document was the result. To do much of anything with this post-collision piece, I would first have to undo this damage.

When I sent something in the opposite direction (from Word to my phone), a different annoying thing would happen: my file wouldn’t adapt correctly to the screen. To read it, then, I would have to zoom in and scroll from one end of a sentence to the other. Only one word accurately describes this situation—ugh.

As you can see, life before Medium made writing across worlds a little difficult. Things I wrote on my phone would, for the most part, stay on my phone, and things I wrote on my laptop would do the same. Both worlds remained safely circumscribed and untainted by each other’s presence. This made it difficult to work on a piece as much as I wanted.

A Psychology of Barriers

Each of these little annoyances acted as a barrier between me and my writing. And, as a rule, the more barriers that exist between you and something you want to do, the less motivated you’ll be to do that thing.

The above principle holds for most aspects of life. It even holds across species. In rats and mice, for instance, the more times they have to press a lever to get a reward, the less motivated they’ll be to get that reward. After a certain point, they’ll give up entirely (what researchers call the “breakpoint”). With writing, then, the more barriers we have to hurtle, the less interested we’ll be.

But desire also plays a role. If these rats and mice are particularly motivated to get that reward—say they’re working for cocaine or something—they’ll press that lever a whole lot more times. They’ll be much more willing to work, in other words, because they really want that reward. The same goes for us: if we really want to write, these barriers won’t mean much.

The problem, then, comes when we’re not that motivated. Maybe we’re between projects or rushing to class. If we have to navigate an unadapted Word document or download some notes from our phone, we’ll probably feel less inclined to write.

Breaking Down Barriers

The destruction of these barriers is a basic principle in UX. In general, the rule is to reduce the number of barriers between you and something you want so it’ll be easy to come back for more when you want these things.

Take Amazon, for instance. Amazon will save your username, password, credit card information, and even show you things that other people who share your shopping habits also buy. Now you’ll see more of the things you want and it’ll only take a few clicks to buy them. Joyous day! The number of barriers between you and your wants (in this case buying things) has thinned.

Now take Twitter. Twitter will similarly save your preferences, show you things you want to see, and generally make your experience using it less cumbersome. Now, if you get the impulse, it’ll be easy to read some articles or disparage some random stranger. Again, the distance between you and your wants has shrunk.

Most of the above is done with things like cookies, pixels, and local storage—little bits of code that recognize and track your online behavior. Collectively, these work to associate your device’s IP address (essentially its social security number) with your preferences, clicking tendencies, shopping habits, etc. This enables them to tailor their product specifically to you. The bits of code more important for writing, though, have a slightly different aim.

UX Fundamentals

The UX fundamentals essential to our story are those that exterminate the boundaries between us and our different devices. These are the sine qua non of any modern day app, and work to blend together worlds that would otherwise remain disjunct.

Medium takes such fundamentals and applies them to writing. It uploads our drafts to one place so we don’t have to send them anywhere. It adapts our text to fit the screen so we don’t have to zoom in and scroll around. And, most importantly, it makes any edit we craft on one device show up on the others. Every barrier, in other words, that once stood between us and our writing has crumbled. Now we can write wherever, whenever.

Now, I know what you might be thinking: Google Docs. Google Docs similarly allows us to work from any device at any time, saves our edits across platforms, and adapts our text to fit the screen. So why am I arguing for Medium?

Well, as great as good ol’ Google Docs may be, it doesn’t remedy all of our problems. It doesn’t, for instance, let us swipe the keyboard out of the way while writing from our phone. This makes it hard to flip between reading and writing. It’s also wildly cluttered with editing options. This obnoxious complexity is a little tedious. So while it’s certainly better than Word or Note, it still puts more barriers between us and our writing than Medium.

By eliminating such barriers, Medium makes it easier to write. It takes our prose, moves it closer to reach, and—by doing so—makes writing more approachable. So when Darwin famously wrote that “man has an instinctive tendency to speak,” but not “to bake, brew, or write,” he was only right for his time. In the Age of Medium, we can write whenever we want.

Other Fun Things

  1. Header photo cred: goo.gl/JfASDa
  2. The technique most often used to find the breakpoint is called the progressive ratio. You can read more about it here.
  3. If you want to learn how other tech companies utilze code to make our lives easier, you can read about some of Facebook’s methods here, and Google’s here. I think Twitter’s are the most laudably transparent, though.

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I used to drum in a hair metal band. Now I read and write. Get my work for free on Twitter @toochoicetaylor. | Biology | Evolution | Neuroscience |