Medium today introduced Series, a mobile-friendly story format that lets users post photos and short-form text pieces in collections that grow over time. Series visually resemble Snapchat stories but have two key differences: they’re permanent, and users can create as many different series as they want. At a time when Medium is still fumbling toward a business model, the launch of Series represents a new strategy for growth. By building its first storytelling tool native to the phone, the company is trying to capture people who don’t write the lengthy, text-based pieces for which Medium is known.
Medium told Wired that Series are best suited to telling stories with incremental updates, such as a man working to be able to dunk a basketball. It’s also easy to imagine them being used for bite-sized public journaling, of the sort that you might use to describe your weight loss or keep a travel diary. In a blog post, the company calls them “a new way to tell deeper, more meaningful stories that develop over time.”
Still, it’s a curious ambition for a product that is clearly designed to appeal to the mainstream. The rapidly spreading stories format teaches users to share casually, and in large volume, almost as an afterthought. Series posts can contain a much smaller amount of text than a traditional Medium post, making them feel like glorified captions. Series may inspire some great photo essays and some popular journals, but they’re also so different from Medium’s core product that it’s fair to ask how the products will ultimately coexist.
Medium is announcing Series two months after laying off a third of its staff amid a search for a new business model. At the time, Medium founder Ev Williams said the company would explore unspecified alternatives to advertising based on page views, which he called a “broken system.” “We are shifting our resources and attention to defining a new model for writers and creators to be rewarded, based on the value they’re creating for people,” Williams wrote. “And toward building a transformational product for curious humans who want to get smarter about the world every day.”
That post was called “Renewing Medium’s focus.” Series feels like a different focus altogether. At launch it contains no advertising, though vertical feed-based advertising is spreading rapidly across Snapchat, Instagram, and smaller apps like Timehop. Will Series incorporate these kinds of ads as well, while somehow compensating creators based on metrics other than page views? Medium isn’t saying, and I suspect at this point it doesn’t really know.
At this point it’s hard to tell whether Series represents Medium’s best guess at the future of mobile media creation, or something more experimental. If it succeeds, it’s easy to imagine Medium eventually de-emphasizing its core blogging product, which represents a large and risky bet on the declining desktop web. (At least to the extent that that’s where most Medium posts are created.) And if it flops, Medium can get rid of it and fall back on its core customer base of thought leaders, politicians, and startup founders apologizing for things.
But Medium can’t afford to flop forever. The company still has plenty of money in the bank, but it’s never been less clear what Medium’s ultimate business will be. Even if Series is a hit, it will be a hit alongside deeply similar stories products offered by Snapchat, Instagram, and (soon) Facebook and Facebook Messenger. Viewed in that light, Series starts looking less like a big swing and more like a commodity.
Series is rolling out today on Android, iOS, and the web. (On Android you can view Series but not create them.)