Every once in a while, news events occur that aren't really connected in a literal sense, but clearly share something beneath the hood, in the sense that they are part of a broader trend of some kind. Facebook's recent launch of a new version of its Notes feature and word of a new $57-million funding round for content platform Medium definitely fall into that kind of category.
If you didn't even know that Facebook even had a Notes feature, let alone a new version of one, don't feel bad. It is a little-known aspect of the giant social network, a feature that has existed since at least 2008 but is rarely used.
For the most part, that's because Notes hasn't been promoted much by Facebook. But it's also likely a result of how terrible the feature looked before, which made it much less appealing as a place for a user to post their writing, especially when compared with some of the other platforms and blog-hosting services that are out there. That has all changed with the latest redesign, however, which launched earlier this week.
The new Notes is much cleaner-looking, with tons of white space, large images and a design that stretches across the page. More than anything, it looks an awful lot like Medium—to the point where when the new Notes launched as a limited beta, some wondered whether it had been designed by Geoff Teehan and/or Jon Lax, who were part of the team that designed Medium and now both work at Facebook. But it wasn't.
The real Medium, meanwhile, just announced that it has closed a new $57-million round of funding, led by Andreessen Horowitz. AH also led a similarly-sized round in BuzzFeed last year. The fund's co-founder, of course—Marc Andreessen—created the world's first web browser in 1992, and later became a co-founder of Netscape Communications.
Medium was founded by former Twitter CEO (and Blogger co-founder) Evan Williams in 2012, and has become a leading platform for web publishing, as online content has moved away from individually-hosted blogs and towards distributed platforms. Andreessen Horowitz partner Benedict Evans, as it happens, wrote a very perceptive post about this exact phenomenon recently, entitled "Platforms, Distribution and Audience."
And now we get to the part where these two seemingly unrelated news events are joined together, because Facebook clearly wants to become a distributed media platform in much the same way that Medium does. And whenever a company with a $260-billion market cap wants to get into the same business as you, it's probably worth paying attention (the new funding values Medium, which has virtually no revenue, at about $400 million).
It's not just the redesign of Notes that suggests Facebook's media-related intentions. There are other signs as well, including the ambitious "Instant Articles" project, in which it is trying to get news organizations and other media entities to publish their content directly to the network. The Washington Post recently said it is going to post 100% of its stories there.
In a blog post (on Medium of course) about the new funding round, Medium's head of operations, Andy Doyle, said the company wants to become "the dominant pipeline for connecting quality content and conversation." But if that's one of the company's core goals, isn't Facebook always going to be able to trump that? It has more than a billion users every day, and an all-powerful ranking algorithm.
Medium has said it is also working on a number of enhancements, including the ability for content creators to incorporate some kind of subscription or payment option. It plans to announce a number of features and partnerships next month.
Just because Facebook has redesigned Notes and is partnering with media companies, of course, doesn't mean that it will be able to attract the readers and partners it wants to, or that its attention won't wander and eventually be directed elsewhere. But for Medium and other content platforms, it can't be counted out—which is perhaps why the startup decided now might be a good time to raise some cash.