Everything old can be new again: Medium’s Katie Zhu on building Collections

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Katie Zhu, the product manager and engineer at Medium, urged media organizations not to be afraid to revisit a product that previously failed at a Friday afternoon session at #SNDSF. For Medium, Collections are good examples of such a product.

Collections are homepages for topic or theme-based content from Medium and they allow users to bring together Medium stories, people, and publications to follow. It took four years for the team to realize how the design of Collections can empower Medium users to curate around an idea, a theme or a community.

Zhu gave #SNDSF attendees a brief history of Medium and Collections. She started off by establishing three key questions to help define a product:

    • Who are we building this for?
    • What needs does it solve from them?
    • How will we measure success?

Collections first came about in 2012 as a way of enabling serialized publishing. However, they prematurely stifled Collections and people no longer published into them. During the past four years, they have revisited two themes: organization and different modes of discovery to better address the three key questions above. Collections are moving Medium from “a better place to read and write things that matter” to “everyone’s stories and ideas,” Zhu said. To measure success, Medium measures the amount of reading time driven from Collections. This is their first step in organizing all of the stories shared on the platform to help their customers to find something good to read. They showcase timely stories with original news value or that tap into the zeitgeist, and authentic, diverse and compelling stories of high quality.

Throughout the past four years of designing and implementing Collections, the staff at Medium have learned about several important things:

  1. The importance of striking a balance between consistency and serendipity: Consistency draws people to come back for their personalized stories, serendipity surprises people and exposes them to new things.
  1. Mobile engagement is way higher than desktop engagement: Readers spend three to four minutes on content when they use their mobile devices, but one to two minutes on their computers.
  1. People love Medium’s top stories: Top stories consistently drive engagement. Even when Medium experimented to put top stories to their last tab, readers still found the top stories and kept reading them.
  1. Bookmarking feature is essential: Bookmarking allows the readers to save articles and read them later. It gives readers a sense of security.