Saturday morning as a reader on Medium.
I’m in Boston, staying with family, but escaping to a Caffé Nero in the morning for quiet reading.
This Saturday, I got a nice taste of what I was hoping Medium could become. I’ve been called delusional recently for saying that the best of Medium is better than the best of the NYTimes. Saturday was one of those days for me where I was happier to be reading Medium than Kindle, NYTimes or Twitter. Weekend mornings with coffee and Medium. It should be a thing.
Below are the great things I read, all from my feed, using my own taste as a reader, and musing about how quality is being defined on Medium these days. Quality is a topic that is a high priority for me, but which is nevertheless decided through the work of thousands.
The future of hot takes.
Our incentives and recommendation algorithms used to reward hot takes and as a result we had authors mass-manufacturing strong and interesting opinions that often had a fatal flaw: they were phony takes that the author didn’t actually believe. It’s wouldn’t be possible to prove them phony in a court of law, but readers know that a lot of hot takes are performance art and don’t have any substance (and in the opinion of many subscribers, aren’t worth paying for).
But then I was pleasantly surprised to read two (essentially) hot takes today that helped me categorize and file away two recent news stories: the Musk vs. Zuckerberg cage match and the Titanic. I perceive an authenticity behind both of these takes. Maybe you will to:
If you take a step back and think about it, it’s depressing. What are we doing? What have we become? To quote the late, great fictional-ish billionaire of our time, Logan Roy: “you are not serious people.”
Wealthy explorers, curious about a horrific maritime tragedy, go to investigate… and become their own macabre maritime tragedy. I suppose in this metaphor, the explorers are the dire wolves. The top of the food chain with everything in their favor, driven by a kind of hunger.
It helps that I know both of those authors. Neither were boosted.
Is this the best running publication in the world?
Some people at Medium believe recent changes will bring about a new era of Medium publications. Our prior era was defined by quantity over quality. I was one of those publishers. We didn’t have the tools to be picky. But in the world of boosting, a publication can go recruit a more select group of authors and focus on selectivity.
So I’m wondering if Runner’s Life is one of those new breed of publications (despite being on Medium for a long time). Runner’s World’s old editor-in-chief is writing there (Amby Burfoot), seemingly focusing on saying whatever he thinks is worth saying. There’s no question for me as a reader that he’s a more interesting writer here than he was when he was writing shorter mass-market magazine pieces for Runner’s World.
The Runner’s Life piece that was in my feed today, by kinesiologist David Liira, was about threshold training. This topic is popular right bow because of the Ingebrigtsen family. I’m no expert, but the thing I’ve soaked up most is to run threshold more often but to exhaustion less often.
This is BY FAR the biggest mistake people make when attempting to train threshold. They get excited. Things don’t feel hard enough and they want to push.
Now I wonder, Runner’s Life is so good, who will notice and what will that look like.
I’m a novice user of the networked note taking tool Obsidian which means I have a lot of interest in second brains, but my skillset for using a tool like Obsidian is limited.
The main benefit here is that you’re not obliged to rigorously tag every one of your notes. There is the peace of mind that you can complete the project and tag notes later on, once you’ve realised what category they lie in. This is also because in Building a Second Brain, tags aren’t the primary method of organisation.
I don’t mean to start a war or competition with the NYTimes, but I do think they are a great point of comparison as high quality, valuable writing that people are happy to pay for.
On this Saturday, I had popped over to the NYTimes to read their coverage of the coup/non-coup in Russia. The coverage was well-written and professional, but also by definition pointless. Nobody really knows what is going on over there.
So, which was more valuable to my life, the NYTimes Russia coverage or Theo’s article on tagging strategies in Obsidian? Obviously this tagging article. High quality publications for niche’s you care about is why I think Medium has a shot at being a more valuable subscription than the NYTimes. Much more valuable.
Speaking of Russia.
Since there are multiple factions within the security elite of Russia, the outcome of that coup is hard to predict. But the likely outcome would be a stronger regime, with Putin now under the control of populist, ethno-nationalist hardliners, and with a valid excuse to cut its losses in Ukraine.
I had to dig a bit on Paul’s background. He’s a former BBC journalist and what I think we get with his writing outside of mainstream media is to hear what he really thinks. That’s always a problem with the traditional journalism. Again, not trying to pick a fight with journalism, just using it as a point of comparison.
Evergreen angles on current topics.
David Casalaspi, PhD’s piece Are Some People Psychologically Predisposed To Authoritarianism? fits a lot of current events but is basically evergreen background information. I think this is a good example of how Medium can be a different thing than the breathlessly vague low information updates that define a lot of news events.
Today, the most commonly used measure of the authoritarian personality is a set of four survey questions that ask respondents about — of all things — their views on child-rearing, ascertaining if they feel children should grow up in a way that produces independence and curiosity or obedience and respect for one’s elders. This measure is highly imperfect and contested and may just be an indicator of some other construct highly correlated with the authoritarian impulse, such as a preference for group conformity over individual autonomy. Still, it was this measure of the “authoritarian mindset” that one researcher found to be the only major predictor of whether or not a Republican voter in the 2016 Presidential Primary had supported Trump or one of his rivals.
One more political thing.
I love that Barack Obama blogs here and especially I love that he (or likely his team) feel comfortable posting things here that aren’t exactly bangers.
Here is a transcript from his talk at a conference I’ve never heard of SNF Nostos. I’m always struck by the way Obama takes an “everything is fine” stance by reminding us of how humans normally behave.
I’ve often said that what makes the United States exceptional is actually not the size of our military or the size of our economy, although those things are remarkable achievements. But what makes us unique is we’re one of the few big countries that is also multiracial, multiethnic, multi-religious. And so far at least, we’ve been able to manage this experiment that says we can get along and we can live together. Now, we’ve done that imperfectly. There’s been a history of slavery and Jim Crow and discrimination against various ethnic groups. But we represent people from every corner of the globe and the basic central idea of America, not always the reality, but the central idea of America is somehow we can all find a place and live together and work together and respect each other.
I don’t know quite how to tie these stories together. Certainly the message isn’t: be president of the USA in order to succeed on Medium. But I do think there is a thread in this collection about authentic writing. I don’t spot any AI writing in there. I don’t spot any content mills. I see a lot of first hand experience in the writing, which supports the authenticity. What should you write about? Your life. Things you are passionate about. Things you are working on.